Hey, remember that one time? (SYTYCD)

If you’ve been with me a while, you’ll remember my obsession with So You Think You Can Dance last year.
You’ll remember how I last minute got to go to the tour in San Antonio and accidentally happened to meet them.
I grew up in a small town that’s only now starting to grow a bit to where some artists will stop there. And even then, some find it still too small and will cancel shows because of it. Houston and Dallas were just to far of a drive for my parents to justify so we never had the opportunity to go to things like this.
Last year, I made it a point to do all the things I never got to do and had found myself making excuses about in the name of adult responsibility.
(Pro tip: Screw that.)
I filled my year with incredible experiences and adventure, beginning with winning the pointe shoe fitting contest that literally changed my dancing “career,” followed by last year’s SYTYCD tour, and rounding out in July with a trip to Europe (that I’m still paying off but oh my gosh worth it.) (Guys. Harry Potter Studio Tour.)
Things got pretty overwhelmingly busy in my life, and I wasn’t able to follow this season as closely as I wanted to. Jackie (my best friend) would DVR them for me, so I got to see two episodes one day when I was able to drive the 45 minutes to see her, but the rest of them time was too tight. (sad. day.)
I figured maybe it was a good thing–I wouldn’t get emotionally attached to this season and be sad when I wouldn’t be able to go to the tour because really how would that ever happen twice, right?
Still, I followed along on social media: following my favorites from last season that made it through this season, looking up the social media accounts of the dancers everyone was buzzing about, a dance clip here and there when I had a spare minute.

Fast forward to last week.

This is Judy. She is one of the sweet 12-year-olds I met last year’s Nutcracker when she was an 11-year-old. It was my first season with this new studio attached to this company and I wasn’t hip to the groove with the older kids (yes, hi, I talk like a grandpa sometimes) but I love the younger ones anyway so it was a great time. We took a few classes together this summer when they combined levels and I found it to be very encouraging. (Why would I be afraid when the 11-year-old next to me wasn’t, right?) I’ve really seen her grow a lot here recently, especially this summer, and she shows so much promise for the future. Her love for dance is really developing and she’s dedicating herself more than ever before.
Her Mom is a sweet lady who helps me unknot my yarn when it gets crazy while I’m crocheting (I’m 87 I swear) and is overall a kind lady. She’s invited me along to pointe shoe fittings (which sadly I wasn’t able to attend) and overall very inclusive, which I find to be so very kind and wonderful.
For Judy’s birthday, her Mom wanted to take her to a concert she had been dying to see. Unfortunately, Mom ended up in the hospital and had to have surgery. Judy was such a sport through it all (she is seriously such a great kid) which really touched her mom’s heart. Judy has gotten all A’s, and usually for a reward for an A, she gets $10 per A. (My parents did the same thing. Totally works.) This time her Mom wanted to give her something extra for all her hard work and understanding as well as helping her Mom through this tough time. The kicker? She still can’t move her neck enough to drive to San Antonio.
Last week, Mom approached me and asked if I had driven to San Antonio by myself before (she is so considerate) and if I’d be willing to take Judy to SYTYCD. She said she’d buy my ticket and help with gas, and told me her heart in the matter.
Words can’t describe how honored I was that she would trust me with her sweet girl. That she thought of me, and offered to pay my way as well. I checked my schedule, considered the dance class I would miss, and agreed. (I mean, so hard, right?) (My teacher is out of town and it’s the class I’m probably going to switch around anyway.)
She told Judy, got the tickets, and we counted down the days this last week on instagram in excited anticipation.

Little did Judy know that I had insight from last year that would *hopefully* get us to meet them this year.
(And Mom was okay if we came back at 2:30 in the morning.)

We head out after she gets out of school and I get off work yesterday. GPS was being weird and got us a bit turned around, but nothing substantial. We laughed it off with a “remember the time we went the wrong way as soon as we left for SYTYCD?”
We worked on her math, science, and art homework and by the time she finished we were nearly there. We talked excitedly of dance and how cool it was that we were getting to go. I love this kid.

When we arrived, I pointed out the side street near the parking garage.
“See those buses? Those are theirs.  And after the show, if we wait by them, usually they come out and say hi.”
She. Was. Elated.
We got into the parking garage, took the elevator down to the ground floor, and entered the Majestic.
As we waited to show our tickets, an usher said, “Ladies and Gentlemen! Photography is allowed as long as there is no flash.” To which I said, “Can you imagine the pictures I could have gotten with my big camera had I know?!” (Seriously, though. They would have been poster worthy, and not because I’m awesome. We. Were. That. Close.) Judy said, “You could get a picture of Gaby’s feet!” (They’re impressive, y’all.)
We gave our tickets to the lady and she scans them, as she does Judy’s, she says to her, “Are you a dancer?” Judy answered, “Yes.” and the lady said, “You hold yourself like one!”
I’m absolutely beaming in pride. Someone we don’t know saw in Judy what I can see in her. That part that is starting to show and just needs a little bit more to fully come out. Her untapped potential. Judy was so flattered.
We get in line at the merch table and start really getting excited. As we checked out, the lady that helped Judy asked if we were sisters. I said, “Not technically, but basically.” Because really, close enough. The lady said, “You two favor each other!”
We hadn’t even made it to our seats and we’re already so happy.

We show the usher lady our tickets (oh, ps, a lovely usher lady pointed us kindly in a shortcut part of the merch line. I think Judy’s red hair was luck for us) and she tells us it’s all the way down towards the front and to the right. (aka, center)
We were in Row C, seats 115 and 113.
Ya know, third row in the center.
What. Is. Life.
We’re so flipping excited it’s insane.

We looked at our programs, and I asked her to point out her favorites and had her school me on who everyone was. She explained how the Street Vs. Stage went this year and who was which team.

The show began.
(Keep in mind these are on my cell phone… If I had my pro camera, they’d be legit. But honestly, I’m kinda glad I didn’t. You can see the raw moments in these blurry photos. They may not be poster worthy, but they do my heart good. Therefore, they are fab.)

My mind is completely blown.

Last year, I went into it knowing what dances to expect and with hopes of which of my favorites I would see. I knew everyone’s name and could point them out easily. I knew which dance was which by the first 3 seconds in (if that) and the whole thing was a wild ride. This time, coming in not knowing really who can do what or which dances were done this season (except for one I saw in a clip) proved a very different experience. A wonderful one.
There were surprises around every turn, dance moves I didn’t even know existed, perfect technique and executions. My right hand was on my face with my mouth open just about the whole time when I wasn’t taking pictures on my phone.
(I was sort of glad to not have my pro camera. Sure, the pictures would have been wonderful, but it’s no different than seeing it on TV. You’re experience is through a screen. This way I could just enjoy it, only getting a shot here and there for posterity.)

We were so close that the dancer’s could see us when the lights were bright towards us. How do we know? They would make eye contact and wink and stuff. It was so cool.
You could really see how much they put into their art form–the expression, the emotion, the force and passion. You could hear them breathing and see their mouths sing along at appropriate times. You could see their muscles contract and the details of their technique. You could hear them breathing and see the sweat drip off their faces onto the floor or glistening down their backs. You could even hear their feet hit the stage as they landed at times.
I was so glad Judy was there to see how they connected with each other and emoted so well.
There was even one incredible dance they did where it started out with one dancer and a sole lantern on stage. Next thing you know, there are two dancers with lanterns at the foot of the stage. Then two more down the aisle from there, and two more from there. Gaby was literally a couple feet from us, and Hailee not far behind either. Judy was beside herself, these were two of her favorites. The concept of this piece had to be one of my favorites, although favorites are hard to pick. Ever moment is absolutely incredible, with no dead space anywhere between.

I still can’t get over some of the things these people were able to do. I am #teampotato all the way in comparison, haha! But seeing them made me want to be better.

What I really appreciate about SYTYCD in particular is the wide variety of dancers.
In ballet, it tends to be one specific body type that’s favored. You can still dance without that body type, but more often than not if you don’t fit the mold you fall away. Thankfully, this is a stereotype that’s falling away a bit, but it is still very much the norm. Here, I can see dancers of all different body types doing all these different dance styles. I see one girl with thighs like mine, albeit more toned. Her stomach looks like mine, too. Toned, but not necessarily what someone may always consider “flat.” This particularly has been a hard one for me to accept lately because I know before I could get my stomach flat and “beautiful,” but at the expense of my health. If I’m hydrated, it expands a little. I was always made to believe that meant I was lazy, that I was incapable. But clearly it doesn’t. Here was this dancer before me, absolutely beautiful and slaying every single move in every dance she did. You wouldn’t even notice that her stomach wasn’t just like everyone else’s unless it’s something you question in yourself and therefore notice in others. She was perfect.
I looked up at her, watched her danced, and saw that if I continue to work hard it is possible for me to be like that, too. I can work harder on my thighs, stick to the game plan I have. I know I don’t have to worry about my stomach if I’m doing everything I need to do. I know that strength is where I need to work now that my body isn’t rejecting things as much and finally starting to feel normal for the first time in years. And now I had proof that it’s possible to be these things I dream.
(Thanks, Alexia. You really changed a person just by being who you are. I appreciate that more than you could ever know. Keep doing what you’re doing and inspiring lives.)

I also couldn’t get over how well everyone showed emotion and commitment to their roles. Specifically Hailee. She owned each and every part she did with such intensity, I couldn’t comprehend it. She reminded me of my friend Brieanna, whom I met at Bible School and is now starting to break out in the music scene. She’s incredibly talented and has always been a fierce friend that I am grateful for. (Check out Brieanna Grace’s “Good Machine” on Bandcamp.) That same spark Brieanna has always had is in Hailee, too, and dooms them to do great things with their art. I love it so much.

When the show ended, Judy and I decided to beat the crowd and exit out the side door.
As we walked out, I realized we were in the exact place where we needed to be in hopes to meet them.
We lingered a few minutes and one of the workers there told us, “It’ll be about an hour before they can come out. If you want to wait, please do so past the prop boxes so we can get them loaded.” So we did just that.
(I also saw Ray, whom I saw last year and follow on instagram, and a girl who was with them last year whose name I couldn’t remember. It made me happy, almost like I was seeing old friends, even though they have no idea who I am. I have a mad respect for them.)

Judy was exhausted and said she was going to sleep the whole way home. We talked about school she waiting for her the next day and the test she had to look forward to in third period. Time seemed to pass by pretty quickly and we made friends with a few people next to us. I realized that this time there were way fewer people waiting than last year. They didn’t even set up the little cable things to keep us in line or anything.

The dancers would come out and take their stuff to the bus, then come back and see us. Nothing separating us; mingling like old friends.

First person we met was Jaja, who was one of my favorites when she auditioned last year but didn’t make it through.

 I was so glad she came back and auditioned, and especially that she did so well. Meeting her was something I never thought would really happen. I almost wished I would have met her after a few other people first because I was so awkward and had no idea what to say and so tongue tied and everything. But she was kind, and so wonderful. Judy was really excited to meet her since she also had red hair. The whole drive home she’d go back to her picture with Jaja and stare at it, beaming. To say she left inspired is an understatement. Meeting these dancers started to show Judy the commonalities she shared with them and the potential she has in herself. I am so grateful to them, more than I could say.

Next up, we got to meet Derek.

I was particularly taken by him during his solo that night. He had these balances unlike anything I have ever seen.

**There’s a picture but my thing is being stupid and not loading it? But his face is clear but the rest of him is blurry HOW DOES THIS EVEN HAPPEN.

Next we got to meet Megz.

Okay, first off, her jacket is perfect. And I told her this. She was team Street, and one of the only people who was actually older than me. I was really impressed with how well she did any style she was given, and how fluid she can make her body look down to her fingers. (That was my favorite.) She was also one of Judy’s favorite’s, so she was really excited to meet her.

JJ skipped passed us while we were with Megz to keep the momentum going, so next we got to meet Neptune.

 Man, he was so cool! So down to earth and extremely friendly. Not to mention, his dancing was so sick. Like, my mind was blown. He was so kind and really loved Judy. A lot of the dancers did, which was so great. It really meant so much to her, which makes my heart burst with good things.

Next we got to meet Edson.

He had quite the cheering section the row in front of us during the show, and honestly I can see why. His skill level was incredible. He had a really warm personality and was very kind. I think the cheering section girls were there and had just met him. I can see why they were fans!

Next we got to meet Moises.

He was one of the alternates that was able to come, which is pretty cool. I love that they do that. I made him draw himself as he signed my program, and when he did he said, “This is my leg, and this is my foot. Look at how pointed my toes are! This is my favorite move.” It was hilarious. He was really nice and had gotten to do a solo which was really great.

After that, I saw JJ and she wasn’t with any of the other people. It looked like she was looking around to see if there were any more people, so I shouted, “JJ! Wait! Don’t leave us!” She laughed and smiled and came right over to meet Judy and I.

She talked with us about dance and Judy complimented her and talked about dance. She asked, “So you are team stage then?” We said yes, and she had complimented Judy’s dress, which had stripes, and so did her sweater so she said, “We can be team stripes!” She was so incredibly kind. And her sweater was insanely soft. It was crazy to think this was the same fierce team street dancer we had seen tearing up the stage not long before, seeing that she was as sweet as sugar! I love how she is the full package, all wrapped into one! I really enjoyed meeting her.

Next we got to meet Marissa, who was also an alternate.

I kept forgetting that the alternates were alternates. I mean, I had them all draw themselves, but I kept forgetting that they weren’t just like everyone else. They’re so insanely talented, and Marissa was no exception. She really blew my mind, and when I first saw her before consulting my program to figure out who she was, I couldn’t believe she wasn’t top 10. I can tell you, I’d hate to be one of the judges.
She was really friendly, asking how we liked the show and talking with us. I had her draw herself as well and she said, “Oh, I haven’t seen these yet! Can I look at it?” I said of course! And she looked through it. We got a picture and she said she wanted a copy of it. I told her I could tweet it to her, so she wrote her twitter handle by her picture in my program. I love how personable she is. I really felt like we were friends, and not just a fan meeting a dancer. That is a great skill to have, and I’m grateful to have met her. (When I tweeted her the picture the next day, she replied right away. Which I found really kind and also impressive that she was awake so early. hehe. 🙂 )

Next we meet Yorelis, who was another alternate.

Again, can’t believe they are alternates. How these judges decide is beyond me because all of these dancers were mind blowing.
Yorelis really stood out to me, partially because she has such amazing hair and I kept thinking of all the amazing pictures that could come of photo shoots, but mostly because of her insane amount of skill. She also drew herself on the program and we talked about dance. I told her I didn’t know how she does this every day. I mean, they must be so exhausted, we’re wiped out just after Nutcracker I can’t imagine this much intensity. She said, “It’s really not that bad! But I’m really grateful I get to do what I love every day.” And I said, “yes. Never stop doing that. Like, ever.” This really stuck with me, given my current work situation and the potential opportunities I have to (finally) leave there and do more of I love, which is hinging on the fact that what I love doesn’t bring enough income in to really justify quitting the place the sucks up all my times and damages my spirit. But this makes me want to press on. To fight to do what I love and endure until it’s what I can do full on. That I’m not being foolish to prioritize what makes my soul come alive over what society tells me I need. And I’m really fortunate to have the opportunities I have been given to get income doing what I live, even if it’s minimal. Every bit helps.

Next up came Jim, which Judy and I were internally freaking out over.

Judy and I do ballet, so obviously we would be excited about the dancer from Houston Ballet. (duh.)
He was so kind. I told him about Ms. Munro and how she used to be affiliated with Houston Ballet back in the day. (Ballet Mistress. I had to ask yesterday, hahaha) Judy told him he should totally be our Sugar Plum Cavalier since we only have a handful of guys, and we told him about Michael Levine that comes and dances with us. (Corpus Christi Ballet, if anyone is wondering.) We talked ballet and Nutcracker and dance and it was really cool. He was so nice and made us feel like we were just visiting with a friend, not meeting this dancer that has become a legend in the ballet world lately. We got pictures with him and when it came time for him to continue on he said, “I hope to see you again soon!” (Of course I told Ms. Munro about it all and dropped hints that we should totally have him in.)

Next we met Gaby.

She is the Season 12 winner, and sweet as can be. I just started taking Tap this season when Mrs. Julie asked me to take her level III since a few of the older kids were taking tap for the first time and she didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable being the only older ones. “You’re good with patterns, you’ll pick it up just fine!” It’s been fun so far, I’m really grateful to get to learn. Seeing Gaby, especially in her solo, absolutely blew my mind. I literally cannot find words to express how intricate and precise her tapping is. On top of being insanely talented, she’s also good at keeping it interesting. Some people can find tap sort of flat, which I think is ridiculous, but she makes it something anyone can enjoy, even if they don’t realize how difficult what she is doing really is. She talked with Judy about dance and asked her what her favorite styles were. (Judy was pumped to meet her. One of her favorites all season.) She really encouraged her to keep with it keep doing her best.
This is what it’s about, ya know? These dancers inspiring the up-and-comings just by being who they are. A person’s positive influence is invaluable, and I am so grateful to these for being that for Judy. I believe she is really at a pivotal moment in her dancing where she’s about to make a huge breakthrough and show everyone what she is really capable of. The other girls in her class better watch out, because she’s coming for them! I’m also grateful for the inspiration these dancers are for me. More on that at the end.
In my picture with Gaby, Virgil photobombed, which is hilarious.

Next we got to meet Virgil and Alexia at the same time.

Virgil signed the program and Alexia drew herself wonderfully as she signed. (#meyeronfire) They were really fun and really nice. We talked with them and laughed and really enjoyed ourselves. (I wrote about Alexia above. She’s great. Supah fab. And from Utah, but we claim her here in Texas for sure. But Utah is close to Idaho and that’s where Emilee [my name twin] lives so we like it there to. I haven’t been to Utah yet, but it’s on my list.) Alexia seems like a really well rounded dancer. I’m hoping to get to go back and watch this season and see the full picture of how they got here from where they began with their SYTYCD story. Virgil was pretty great as well. Really funny. He was impressive to watch and thrived with anything given to him. He was another one of the really expressive ones that just seemed to stand out.

Lastly, (but we didn’t know it was lastly) we met Hailee.

She was Judy’s absolute favorite. When she walked up to us, I told her this, and she was so excited. She signed our programs and we got pictures with her and we talked with her like old friends. I told her how she was one of the most emotive dancers I have ever seen and how much I appreciate it. She thanked me and we got to talking about dance and all sorts of things. I asked about her knee, since she danced with a brace on. She said, “Funny story!” and showed us the epic floor burn on her knee. “It bleeds like a gun shot wound!” so they wrap it and then put the brace over it to help protect her knee from bleeding all over the place when she dances. She told us that the first night on the bus was a rough adjustment, but she had Netflix so it made it easier. I told her to look up documentaries to fall asleep to and she said she looked up one on dangerous animals in Australia, but it ended up keeping her awake because it was so interesting (and slightly disturbing!) She said she’ll be there in the morning with fun facts about the animals she learns about and that the scariest was this super venomous snake and how much she hates spiders. (same, though.) She really seemed to be such a genuine person (And reminded me of my friend Brieanna, which I wrote about earlier if you skipped all that) and was so warm and friendly. I love when I can leave things like with with a greater respect for the dancers after meeting them than when I arrived. This was definitely true for Hailee, and for all the dancers. Before she left us, she gave us another hug. This really resonated with Judy (and me, too.) Like. How cool is this? Here we are, dancers connecting with other dancers. This time it just happens to be that we are meeting these dancers that are known nationwide and have talent oozing from every part of them.

Everyone was so incredibly kind and friendly. Last year was great and all, but this year really blew me out of the water. They all took time with each of us and really connected with us. I really appreciate it, more than I think I could ever express.
For me, being someone who started dancing well after I could ever be considered for a career, seeing people like this from so many different styles of dance–it stays in my heart; in my soul. I see them, and think, “okay, if I can just work harder, I know I can attain this.” And it came at a good time, seeing that I had just heard back from my doctor and we think we’ve finally figured out what has been making me so sick all these years. Now I have these shining examples in front of me of what is possible if I work hard and I know I can push myself harder and really work for it without having to be afraid of what is going on internally. For the first time in almost 13 years, I can push myself and really work for what I want. Without fear.
Now to just get everything figured out with my back and knee. Hah. But it’s going better! So that’s good.

The world is small, and it’s full of people. We’re all connected in the fact that we’re all human, walking different walks in life, yet all sharing similarities if we take the time to look for them.
I’m blown away and so grateful for the serendipitous moments like these that connect people to people and give the opportunity for inspiration. They’re changing lives, doing what they’re doing. Art is such a deeply personal thing, whatever the medium, and dance is a universal language. Once you decide to be a dancer, you become part of a vast family. We’re connected in ways that are hard to explain unless you’re part of it. I’m grateful to have met these talented members of that family, and so excited for social media to be able to follow along with where they each go next.
I’m rooting for y’all!

Judy was so excited, we talked the whole way home.
She was so taken with how good the picture of she and Jaja came out. She was thrilled to know there was a dancer who had red hair like her. Representation is important. You as a person represent all the similarities you hold with seeming strangers. You can never be everything to everyone, but you never know what you mean to someone. Be you. Be you fiercely. Represent what you are. The world is better for it.