Evolution of dance

Junior "can't live without it"

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Emma Baker

Junior Kaitlin Keleher goes into an arabesque during one of her performances at Lauritzen Gardens last Sunday. She has been dancing for as long as she can remember and loves any opportunity to get out into the community. “Dance evolved from me being on the competition team, to me just learning to love to perform,” Keleher said. “I always hope I can give the audience a little bit of joy that day because life can’t be great all the time. Sometimes seeing a smile on a performer’s face just helps make your day.”

Emma Baker, Staff reporter

Sweet music slowly begins as seven sparkling dancers waltz through the door and into the limelight. The music intensifies and the young women dance with a passion seen across their gleaming smiles and excited eyes. They leap, spin and split, their toes pointed and bodies fluid with the melody.

For junior Kaitlin Keleher, it’s only natural. She has been dancing at Center Stage Dance since she was 3, beginning with tap and later joining the jazz competition team. But, four years ago, she traded her aluminum bottomed shoes for the leather half soles required for contemporary—a style Keleher says is a creative mix of ballet and jazz.

In those last couple of years, her transformation hasn’t gone unnoticed. 

“The new studio owners taught her a lot more than she was learning with the previous owners,” mother Kerri Keleher said. “She’s learning more of ‘her styles.’”

“Her style” is so much more than a medley of physical techniques, though—it’s dancing with heart.

“When I perform, my entire body is different,” Kaitlin Keleher said. “It’s that adrenaline rush, and so much excitement and energy at one time. I could be lethargic all day, but, as soon as I hit the stage and start performing, it’s like the rest of the day didn’t happen, and I just woke up, ready to go.”

And she was certainly ready for the responsibility it takes to be a team member, jumping forward to teach a class of seven to ten-year-olds every Wednesday.

“Because she is one of our oldest members on the team, it’s really nice for her to use that as a leadership role,” dance instructor Andrea Ford said. “It is important because we have a lot of younger dancers that haven’t really performed at this element or, as we get into competition season, haven’t really competed at that element. So it’s just really nice to have someone who’s older, who has done this before and knows the ropes, to comfort the children that maybe haven’t done this before. She’s definitely an important part of our team.”

To Ford, another pivotal part of an experienced and enjoyable dance team is getting involved in the community. Just this past weekend the Center Stage Dance girls visited a nursing home, performed in Bellevue Dance Academy’s Holiday Spectacular at the Kroc Center and put on two public shows for guests at Lauritzen Gardens.

“I remember when I was a teenager dancing just as much as they are,” Ford said. “To me, being out in the community was such an important part of that. Those are the performances I always found the most joy in because those are the people that ordinarily wouldn’t get the opportunity to go see dance.”

Kaitlin Keleher can agree. Her biggest goal when dancing is to impact the audience and leave them with more joy then they might have had before.

“I love going to the nursing home and just seeing their faces light up,” Kaitlin Keleher said. “It’s so mesmerizing because a lot of the time they don’t get to see that from their own grandchildren or even when they had their children at home. They don’t care if we mess up, they just care that we’re smiling. It was really fun and sweet.” 

But smiles and pride don’t just come from the crowd. Sometimes the biggest cheerleaders are the ones close by at practice, the ones that see a person’s growth each and every week.

“Kaitlin is a hardworking and inspirational dancer,” teammate Macy Lakeman said. “She brings a mother figure and a role model to the team. I love being able to count on her. She makes up any missed practices and never comes to dance class unprepared.”

Keleher is definitely anything but unprepared. Her parents and instructor say her “stick with it” and “get it done” mentality keeps her afloat amid intense dance sessions and her AP and Honors classes.

“Dance has taught me a lot, from technique to responsibility,” Kailtin Keleher said. “It’s a lot of ‘if you don’t know something, you have to catch up.’ You can’t just limp around and not know it.”

Practicing tirelessly and recording herself to study her movements have gotten her to the level she is at today.

“Dance was originally just something I did because I liked doing it, but then I learned that it is a really good outlet for emotions, feeling the music and also impacting the audience,” Kaitlin Keleher said. “It evolved from something my mom said that I should do when I was little, to something I have learned to love. Now, I can’t live without it.”

She hopes to dance as long as her body allows and create a legacy of love for a passion that has shaped her life.