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Before I start this piece, I want to take a moment to recognize the loss of Kobe Bryant. Sometimes you don’t realize the impact someone has on your life until they’re gone. It goes to show the energy and pull people have. You don’t need to meet someone to be inspired and appreciate what they’ve put out into the world. And I know there were allegations against him at one point in his career, but that doesn’t mean his footprint didn’t leave a meaningful mark on so many people’s lives, including mine, which I was shocked to recognize on Sunday once I heard the news. Kobe was a basketball player… a sport I never watched (I’ve always been much more drawn to football), so why did his passing bring me to tears? No, it’s not because he was young and with his daughter, though that’s certainly an added horror. It’s because he lived an authentic life which permeated throughout the world. He accomplished what he intended to even when people didn’t like him, even when people thought he should be more easy going, or ‘just relax.’ He was a role model to me, and I didn’t even realize it until Sunday night when I couldn’t fall asleep. So, thank you, Kobe, for lighting a fire under so many of us, showing how fleeting our time can be, and showing that we can accomplish whatever we damn desire. Rest In Peace.
And with that, we’ll begin.
If you let it… if you’re open… the universe just seems to connect everything. While I map out a lot of what I intend to put out on the blog, I don’t spend time consuming myself in whatever world I’m about to dive in for the upcoming week. I guess you could say I would not be a method actor. But as I was scrolling through to select whether I wanted a calorie burn, speed endurance, or high intensity workout at the gym, I realized it was time to choose a new show (I’m not one that can just listen to music or podcasts while I’m running on a treadmill). I briefly scrolled through Netflix, which is intimidating to navigate at this point, so I just as quickly jumped out, as I heard a song I’d danced to as a child over the speaker. Everybody sing it with me… come togetherrrrr, riiiight now… over me). BAM – I needed to watch a dance show. So I hopped on Hulu and searched ‘dance’ and Jennifer Lopez’s face came up… I’d seen clips from her World Of Dance show but I’d never carved out time to watch a full episode. Click, and a 30 second ad… um, why are there ads when our subscription is ‘ad free’?
From the start, I was sucked in, reminded of my first dance recital to Mickey Mouse’s Birthday Party and how I quickly developed such a passion to perform, but not just perform – the collaboration and creativity this medium allowed became almost equally appealing.
I won’t pretend to walk you through my first dance class when I was three, because I don’t remember it. I just have images of me jumping over carpet squares and sitting with my legs out in front of me, learning to point and flex my toes and feet.
As the years passed, I was introduced to new styles of dance… jazz, ballet, lyrical, tap, hip hop, acro, contemporary. Aside from ballet, I’d say each of these were my favorite form at different points in my life. I shutter from my memories of perfect posture, a slicked bun, with pink tights and a black leotard.
When I think about what I loved so much about the sport (hell yes, it’s a sport), it wasn’t really a way to escape, which I know rings true for many. At first, I loved the way my body naturally moved to match the sounds of a song, also known as ‘musicality.’ Then, I started to appreciate learning something visually (I think a lot of us are visual learners – thanks, YouTube). The small routines our teacher would put together for a quick run across the floor were special; we all got to show our strength and flexibility as we did a pirouette into a kick, into a sashay leap. And every year, for each class, we learned about two minutes worth of choreography. We’d stand against the mirror eagerly awaiting where we’d be placed for the number. We would watch ourselves repeat each step the teacher showed us, and become more confident by the end of every class. Then, a couple months before the recital, we would get measured for our glitzy costumes. Once we had the routine memorized (I can still recall some of them) and our costumes were back in, it was time for dress rehearsal – time for everyone to dance FULL OUT. Big smiles, smooth lines, pointed toes. Then suddenly, it was time for the big show… my mom and I arrived at the local college and found our way to the dressing room downstairs. Only the competition girls got to set up shop in the green room (and I was determined to make it there). Everyone set up their rack of clothing and had a case full of makeup, hairspray, bobby pins, spare tights… honestly, the list goes onnnnn.
From what I can dredge up, I wasn’t nervous to go out on stage in front of a large audience with the lights beaming down, allowing every rhinestone to shimmer. The music pulsed through my limbs, and my body moved in the way it was taught. My smile was genuine, as I knew my family sat watching and supporting me. I felt seen. Something about the combination of preparation, rocking a red lipstick, glistening in my costume, standing on stage, and delivering a performance seemed to fuel me.
Once I was seven or eight, I decided it was time to try out for The Dance Studio’s competitive team. They told me to go try another sport… kidding, I made it and suddenly everything was heightened, in the best way. I spent all of my time between school and dance and I was in heaven. Because we lived in a small town, we would have to travel for dance competitions and get a hotel. We’d practice our routines by the pool, in the hallway, and during breakfast, and I’ll just say, our moms should’ve been on Dance Moms – they deserved that spotlight.
Not only did we perform the numbers we brought to the competition, we’d take classes from renowned dancers who would teach us their own routines which we’d perform in groups in front of each other. That was intimidating… everyone was so beautiful, so talented, and seemed to pick everything up so quickly. I finally felt the nerves hit as we lined up in the wings with our frilly skirts on, waiting for the host to announce, “and now, please put your hands together for the Junior division team, performing ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.’”
There were three or four judges sitting in front of us, writing things down; every un-synchronized turn, every toe that wasn’t perfectly pointed, if someone didn’t have a smile on their face. At some competitions, we even have the option to purchase the recordings from the judges, as they were verbalizing everything (positive and negative) they saw. That could be brutal…
Once the extremely long day ended, all competitors would flood the stage and sit together as a studio, holding hands, waiting to see how they placed. The butterflies would come back as a middle aged man wearing all black said our studio name and we’d all clenched hands a little tighter.
“And to wrap up the junior division group, first place goes to number 345… Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!”
We screamed, we cried, we ran up to get our trophy.
“Congratulations, girls. Tell us who choreographed this number and what studio you’re with!”
One of the older girls grabbed the microphone, “Our amazing dance teacher, Donna Casey choreographed this number and we’re with THE DANCE STUDIO!”
We would always get push back from the host, like ‘I know you’re with the dance studio… which dance studio?’ which always turned into a nice little back and forth.
We’d get dinner together as a group after the competition, and almost none of us bothered to take off our makeup or let our hair down – I think we all enjoyed the extra attention from restaurant patrons (as if the spotlight all weekend wasn’t enough).
I never got sick of competing but once all of my closest friends left the studio and started on the high school’s pom squad, I knew that would be my path once I “graduated” middle school.
Once the upcoming freshman and sophomores made the squad, upperclassman would coordinate with our parents to “kidnap” us in the middle of the night as part of their initiation. We’d have to race around the courthouse square and compete in obstacles; whoever was last had to walk back home (joking… I actually don’t remember what the loser had to do). Once they got through their scare tactics, we’d head back to one house and let the older girls get us ready for school. They told our parents to pack an ugly dress, and put lipstick all over our face and teased the shit out of our hair… essentially, we looked like conservative prostitutes doing the walk of shame.
Then it was practice time… we no longer had our choreographer, it was on us to put together routines for half time and pep assemblies. We got to choose the music and the outfits (within the dress code, of course) and the formations… it was exhilarating. Now, we weren’t dancing in front of four judges, we were dancing in front of hundreds and hundreds of judges (our peers) and it felt like winning the lottery when we’d get a standing ovation from them. Not that I’ve won the lottery, but I’ll let you know if the feeling is the same if that ever happens.
We’d go away for summer camp each year and connect with other squads; we’d have crumping battles, and dance together to ‘Peanut Butter Jelly Time’, and stay up too late without being too tired the next day. When we were in Vegas one year, we went to lunch on the strip and took about a zillion photos using our Polaroids or pink Canon cameras.
I loved these girls. I still love them. But as we all graduated, naturally, we were busy making new lives for ourselves in college, trying on new identities.
Some of us continued to dance – I had a season with the Suns, Sarafina (hey, girl… you know I’m gonna tag you in this post) is traveling the world, with a career in dance, Piper became Miss Arizona with dance as her talent. And I’m sure all of us hear certain songs and immediately go back to an age in our minds, when we were all best friends… sisters, really.
I owe so much to this medium. I gained confidence in myself, I learned how to work with others, I realized how creative I am, I recognized my love for performance, and I know to always POINT MY TOES. So, this one’s for you, Donna, and all my fellow performers, and of course, my parents, for affording me the opportunity to do what I loved for so many years.
Now, let’s all sit back and wait for JLo to CRUSH the halftime performance this Sunday.
Committed To Curiosity