What it takes to stay on pointe

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by Anna Leach

“Oh my gosh,” freshman dancer Samantha Spence laughed. “There was this one teacher. If you’re bun wasn’t perfect she would [send you] to the bathroom, and you couldn’t come to class. And then you’d have to make up that class.”

Luckily though, according to Spence, that particular instructor was fired.

Though most of her instructors are not as nitpicky about hair, Spence competes in dance an intense level. Although she has been dancing since age three and competing since second grade, Spence said she didn’t decide to “get more serious” until she was 12 years old; she’s been with The Pulse Competition & Performing Company (CPC) ever since.

At the Pulse Performing Arts Center, CPC is the most advanced level offered. As a result, the time commitment for the 80 person troupe is more intense. Spence is participating in seven styles, jazz, ballet, pointe, modern, lyrical and contemporary, this year; this competition equivalent is seven group numbers plus one solo dance. For someone this involved, the student is typically at the studio all of Saturday (from about 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.), some Sundays, and for a couple of hours night during the school week. Which, for Spence, means three hours after school Monday through Thursday.

This is actually a little less than in previous years, where dance took up four hours per week night rehearsal.

“I didn’t do as many groups [because] I didn’t know how much homework I’d have,” Spence said.

CPC also has a strict policy on missing class; after missing eight classes the dancer starts taken out of numbers and after 12 absences the individual can no longer participate at all. Between this, four annual regional competitions, three annual conventions and bianual national competitions. Spence had to back out of her agreement to join the STA Varsity dance team.

“I thought I could do it,” Spence said. “But when they started adding [classes], [STA dance team] wasn’t going to work out.”

According to Spence, this isn’t the first time she’s had to quit something for CPC; volleyball and gymnastics were eventually cut from her schedule to make room for more time as dance is her top priority. Staying in Kansas City isn’t even a guarantee.

“I’m going to be at STA for at least freshman and sophomore year, but I’m thinking about going to a dance boarding school or taking classes in New York or LA,” Spence said.

But, according to Spence, when an individual wants to be a professional dancer, these are the types of sacrifices that can earn the person a vital for a leg up when it comes to admittance to an elite dance conservatory or a professional company. However, she doesn’t deny the risk of making a career out of her passion.

“That’s the hard part,” Spence said. “There’s a lot to do [in dance], but dance doesn’t have good pay unless you make it big.”

At the same time, while earning a upper tier wage is the goal, as long as she’s in the dance world, Spence thinks she’ll be happy. Becoming a choreographer or owning a studio fall into that category.

“I still want a higher paying job [but] if not, you get to do what you love,” Spence said.

And so, for now, she’s content with the almost countless hours spent practicing. There’s tough parts to dance, but there’s also a lot to love, according to Spence. Between special spirit days and her close relationship with her dance peers, she makes sure to have plenty of fun. Ultimately, she wouldn’t do anything different.

“It’s all totally worth it,” Spence said.

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What it takes to stay on pointe