SPORTSTAKE: Magic and death behind closed doors

By Shelby Fleig

“You. Get up here.”

Mary Ann Lamb just called you out in the senior jazz class. Sprint to the stage and do anythingshe asks.

Shelby Fleig/Sports Columnist

The queen of Broadway wants you to demonstrate the last two eight-counts of her choreography for the senior jazz class. For the love of God, do it perfectly.

“Good girl! Work!” she yells through her headset microphone. “But I want to see your legs up like this!”

The 53-year-old replaces you on the stage, kicks and holds her leg perfectly pressed against her face, turning on one foot all in one motion that sends her headset flying

“Don’t tell my doctor I’m doing this with a broken foot!” she shrieks.

Conventions are taking over the dance world behind closed doors. Those event centers and hotels you drive past on the weekends are full of hundreds of the area’s most dedicated dancers. Dancers who pay the big bucks—anywhere from $100 to $200 a day in most cases—to learn from the best.

Dancers from the likes of the movie Chicago, So You Think You Can Dance and the Michael Jackson world tour are now weaving amongst, grabbing and yelling at a crowd of their biggest fans. Think back to your youth football or basketball camp—did Don Shula or Wilt Chamberlain teach you?

Anyways, you had pads and your brand new cleats on. You were unstoppable.

The dancers at the Showstopper convention at a Ramada in Omaha were unstoppable too. But we didn’t wear pads and cleats. Most wore sports bras and spandex. Some wore shoes. Blood on the dance floor—really. The top of my left foot is rid of most previously existing skin and still bleeding three days later.

What does a dance convention look like?

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Dancers of all shapes and sizes (although mostly six-pack donning girls with slick hair and tiny clothes) fill the room, staring up at one superstar who will teach them the meaning of dance before day’s end. Parents and teachers line the room, some reading, some intently watching and videotaping their children. A few male dancers stand sprinkled within the group in almost every class.

Class starts at 7:45 a.m. Five minute breaks separate the hour-long classes before a 30-minute lunch break where you don’t eat anything because your so exhausted. Then it’s back-to-back classes until evening, when you’re released to the outside world until tomorrow morning.

What does a dance convention smell like?

Sweat. Feet. Deodorant. Sweat.

What does a dance convention feel like?

I can’t speak for everyone, especially because I was one of the oldest dancers there, but it feels like magic and like death.

The magic comes when you’re killing a routine you learned 10 minutes ago in front of one of your idols, who is walking the floor in front of you—simply acknowledging your being.

The death comes when you stop dancing. Your body goes into a kind of shock. Your muscles tighten and any injury you sustained that day only becomes noticeable now that the adrenaline is gone.

Too tired to shower, even though you have too. Too sweaty to move. The muscles in your neck were too sore to chew and swallow. But you go back the next day and do it all again, hitting choreography even harder this time, because it was the best time of your life.


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