By Hunter Miller
“Rock of Ages” vibrates in my bones. The CD skips as the floor shakes. The dancers’ wrapped feet collide and squeak on the scuffed, gray floor. Three walls of mirrors surround me. A woman’s voice carries over the deafening sounds: “Left hip down!”
I look at the last sentence of the paper taped to the waiting room door: “Do not allow children to eat crayons or color in the Bibles.” At that moment, a girl dressed in all black limps, holding her hip, to the front of the canary-yellow room to sit down. I turn my attention back toward the girl as she winces and says, “I’m going to have to sit this one out and take it easy. I forgot I haven’t danced in two weeks.”
Injuries among these young dancers at the Wilmore Christian School of Ballet can snuff out their dreams of dancing professionally with one wrong twist of the ankle. While injuries and competition are prevalent, this family-like group of dancers thrives on a positive atmosphere of friendship due to the countless hours spent together.
For Emma Lewis, 15, her twisted ankle and strained hamstring forced her to take one month off from dance. Even worse, she had just moved up to a higher level earlier that month. When she came back, she realized how much strength she had lost.
Avadiah Maki, 14, has been dancing for nine years. She attends four dance classes a week and teaches an additional two classes. Her goal is to go to a performing arts school and become a professional dancer. Her dream was put on hold after she missed a competition because she injured both hips and tore her achilles tendon.
Haleigh Davis, 15, has had her share of injuries as well. “I was dropped in partnering and jarred my ankle,” she says while absent-mindedly rolling and stretching her ankle on the chipped red floor.
Although the dancers try and help each other recuperate from their injuries, there is always an unspoken rule between the uninjured dancers to use that time to get further ahead. Lowering her voice and leaning closer, Maki whispers, “People don’t say anything about competition, but it’s always there; especially in the advanced classes.”
Ms. Hannah, one of the instructors, overhears my previous conflict-focused question from across the room at the wooden table she stands next to and says with a bright smile, “This dance school is much different from other ones. We just don’t have much competition or drama here.”
Maki agrees that the intense atmosphere of competition is not as prevalent because it’s a Christian ballet school. “How do I deal with competition from other dancers?” Maki half-smiles, crosses her legs and says, “I try to be happy for the other dancers. I tell myself that this year, this is what I’m doing.”
Leaning back in the metal chair, Dinah Gorham, 14, says, “We are all friends, whether people admit it or not. The competition between us is there to make each other better dancers but also to make us better as a whole. We learn from each other. I try and push myself to be as good as the other dancers are.”
Contrary to what people may think, these dancers are normal teenagers who love to hang out and make each other laugh. The fun and messing around continues until they go onstage. The atmosphere is chaotic. Brooke Scott, 15, and Lewis almost telepathically make eye contact and start giggling as Scott covers her mouth with her hand. Lewis says, “There’s no food allowed in the dressing room, but we sneak it in anyways. That’s the only way we’ll make it.” Besides eating, they also stretch each other, dance in the hallways and go over their parts.
Pointing at Matthew Vanlaningham, 16, Davis volunteers him to tell his well-known story about every dancer’s nightmare. Vanlaningham and Davis look at each other and burst out laughing.
Clearly over the embarrassment that happened five years ago, Vanlaningham composes himself and says, “I was doing my solo, and all of the sudden my mind blanked. I just stood there onstage staring at my mom and making faces at her for 30 seconds. Then I remembered the next steps and started dancing again.”
Davis remembers back to four years ago when she turned the wrong way and stuck out from everyone else. In the finale, Scott started doing jumps while all the other dancers were still on the step before. Similarly, Lewis was in a duet and got ahead of the other person. But they grow even closer together because they know how to laugh off their mistakes and work harder together for the next time.
Davis says, “If we didn’t stick together and encourage each other, the atmosphere at the dance school would completely change. It would be much more competitive.”
She continued, saying, “I have friends who dance at other schools, and they tell me, ‘Haleigh, don’t stop dancing at your school; you are getting really good training.’ And I agree. I absolutely love it.” Davis yawns and stretches her arms after a full day of dancing, only to continue the next afternoon after school.