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Dancing with the North Stars

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“Wait a second! Is that our number?” Jackson nodded and we high-fived each other. My first ballroom dance competition was the first time I realized that I was really as good as I said I was. I found out that the most important thing in dancing was to be confident, or act confident. Acting was crucial.

It all started around 6 a.m. I didn’t go to school that day so I could prepare. The coach bus would leave the studio at 2 p.m. So I had several hours to pack. I wasn’t going to be competing that Friday afternoon, but I was still exited beyond belief. My mom braided my hair and we drove to the studio to catch the coach bus. I spent the whole ride listening to my iPod and going over the dance steps in my head. Thus, the ride dragged on for an hour and a half.

Finally, we arrived at the Shakopee ballroom. It was a huge room that reminded me of a cave. The ceiling was covered with some sort of brown shag carpet. I assumed it was to keep the loud music from getting out. It actually looked like a cave, and had an intimidating quality to it. I watched the other dancers perform for several hours, then I finally picked up a program. It actually looked more like a notebook and had over twenty pages. The cover said “Star Of The North State Games, Dancesport Competition.” I quickly flipped through it and noticed that all the dances were separated into 2 minute segments called heats. Then I read something that kind of scared me. My partner, Jackson, and I would be competing in American style tango, which was something we had never learned. We found our teacher and pulled her aside. She gave us a quick lesson but I still didn’t feel prepared.

My partner Jackson was shorter than me. What a big surprise! (sarcasm) He wasn’t shorter by much. He had close cropped hair that stuck straight up like the bristles of a brush. His competing clothes were for a funeral. They were all black and made the cavern like room seem ever more gloomy.

On Saturday I woke up at 4 a.m. and my mom, who was a chaperone, began the slow and sometimes painful process of fixing my hair. This routine was fairly familiar. First my mom would push, pull and comb my hair into a bun, using bobby pins, combs and hairnets. Then she loads it down with hairspray and unbelievable amounts of gel. When that dries, it becomes as hard as a rock. The last step is to attach decorative fake flowers with even more bobby pins.

Our first scheduled dance was in heat 33 at nine o’clock. By the time that rolled around, remarkably, I still wasn’t nervous at all. First it was east coast swing, then rumba. Unfortunately, those were the ones I despised the most. What a way to start! I thought miserably. We lined up at the gate with the other competitors, to enter the floor. The announcer began to speak. “Heat numbers 33 and 34, amateur American rumba and amateur new comers swing semi-finals. American rhythm division. Presenting couple 101, Eric Almeida and Robin Shaw, couple 124 Jackson Davidson and Kelly Howell…” and so on. As each dance couple walked onto the floor he said the names and numbers. The music started and we waited for the tempo to pick up speed. Then we were dancing our hearts out. My feet, clad in two and a half inch heels seemed to barely touch the floor they were moving so fast. I smiled at the audience and the judges. Despite all the times I mixed up, I was having fun.

Afterwards, I decided that I had done horribly and nothing could change my mind about that fact. My friends insisted that I had done well. But I still hoped the judges hadn’t been watching too closely. We danced in many more heats for American rhythm including Cha cha, swing and rumba. That made it all the way to 9:22. I was exhausted and sat down with a bottle of water, reviewing all my mistakes in my mind. It’s a miracle I didn’t trip somebody I thought half heartedly grinning. My friend again insisted I had done great but I wasn’t so sure. I waited in agony until the awards ceremony at noon.

All the dancers were asked to come out onto the dance floor. Why bother? I thought as I followed Jackson onto the floor anyway. We stayed in the back of the crowd. The announcer began to speak and the judges handed out medals one by one. It seemed like everyone had won something but us, I rolled my eyes in anticipation. Then he got to our division. I held my breath. “Heat number 33!” he boomed into the microphone. “In first place east coast swing we have couple 124!” All was silent for a moment. I let out a great whoosh of breath I had been holding. “Wait a second!” I said “Isn’t that our number?” Jackson nodded. We high-fived each other and made our way to the front to accept our totally awesome gold medals, and 50 dollar scholarships. Much to my surprise and delight, we had to stay up there for almost the whole ceremony because we just kept winning. We won first in swing twice, first in cha cha once, along with a 3rd and 5th. In rumba, we got first once and 5th three times. Looking at the program later I realized that all the times our place had fallen below 3rd, we had been against people two levels higher than us.

The smooth dance portion of the competition was about begin. It was 2:00 p.m. and heat number 169 came up. We glided across the floor like a boat on a calm sea as we danced American waltz. We made our movement sharp in American tango, in foxtrot we stayed on our toes. By the time we were done dancing my shoes were biting into my heals and my feet hurt! A great dancer once said ♥ "Dancers are the only athletes who aren't allowed to show how much it hurts." And boy was I living those words right now! The two and a half inch heels were a torture device. But through all the cortès and feather steps I survived. We made it to finals six times, half in the higher levels. And several more medals came our way for a grand total of five gold, six silver, and two bronze along with two fifty dollar scholarships and several certificates for 4th and 5th place. That was the day that my confidence in dancing soared to epic proportions and I realized that my dream of becoming a great dancer was closer than I thought.





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