The dance bag is packed with brand new ballet shoes. My favorite “beginning of the year” teaching tools are primed, and my brain is spinning with fun, new music that has just been released. Y’all, I think I am ready, even if my alarm clock is not! 😉 Back to school we go!
New beginnings are always a fantastic time to reflect on the journey thus far. So, I am excited to share my love story with dance, specifically how it has shaped my life. In the hustle bustle of busy scheduling, I rarely take the time to consider exactly how I have become a dance professional. I am sure a walk down memory lane will provide a renewed sense of gratitude for my craft, making the start of the 2017-2018 season even more special!
I am from a small town called Americus in Southwest Georgia. Even though my older, twin sisters took dance until 5th grade, the performing arts were not paramount to my family because Courtney and Whitney were definitely softball girls. We like to joke that I was born and raised playing in Georgia red clay on a softball field. I naturally followed suit by playing in our local softball league for many years; however, when my coaches and parents had to begin disciplining me for performing cartwheels in right field and for constantly perfecting my pigtail braids in the dugout, we learned that this was not for me. (Hey, I thought I was pretty ingenious turning a cartwheel with one hand in a glove! The adults were not so easily impressed…) A solid mixture of my fear for that hurtling ball, my disdain for red dirt stains on beautiful white socks, the endless hours of direct sunlight, and the inevitable shift into fast-pitch was the eventual tipping point for me. A past ball coach has since said to me, “Lauren, aren’t you glad that whole dance and pageant thing worked out for you?” Yes sir. Yes I am!
At four years old, while ambling through the mall with my parents, I saw a pair of glorious, satin pointe shoes in a store window. My sweet folks humored me, and let me pop inside to get a closer look at those ethereal, other-worldly beauties. The store clerk, for some strange reason, allowed me to try on a pair. *Note. As a dance educator, I feel it is my job to insert here: do not try this at home, kids.* As my dad held me up in those pointe shoes, I fell in love. Not long after, I took my first dance class. There were a few years of overlap between several of my afterschool activities including ballet, softball, and piano. Alas, dance won out!
My elementary, middle school and high school years were all marked by countless hours at the studio, annual performances, summer workshops, talent shows, and school dance opportunities like cheerleading. I have always been known for my height, and I spent a ton of time as a child learning to harness these long limbs. Growing up, I felt huge and lanky compared to my petit friends at school, but my height was a plus in the dance world. There, I gained so much self-confidence and I eventually grew to embrace my tall body, stand up straighter, and drop the ever-present shoulder-hunch that I used to mask my insecurities. Dance became my language, and the stage became my home.
My parents were wonderful at providing as many diversified dance experiences to me as possible. Thanks to their sacrifices, I get to say that I danced with the Moscow Ballet of Russia for 2 seasons in a row in their production of The Nutcracker in Columbus, GA. I also danced in The Nutcracker with Dance Alive! of Gainseville, FL as a child. Exposure to the grueling world of auditioning set me up for success in the next phase of my performance background…
The directors of our local Miss America preliminary pageant asked me to compete when I was 15 years old. Since part of the draw towards dance was not having to speak, I was hesitant. I was never comfortable with a microphone. After much persuading on their part, I finally entered and won Teen Miss Historic Southern Plains, which went on to Teen Miss Georgia. Even though I did not win the state title that summer, I was hooked with jazz en pointe as my talent performance. The philanthropic aspect of Miss America requires that each contestant is involved with a personal platform that she agrees to champion for her year of service. At that time, my mother was a recent breast cancer survivor, so my choice of Breast Cancer Awareness was easy. I was exposed to learning interview skills, acquiring fundraising knowledge, studying marketing techniques, having new performance experiences, observing some of our country’s brightest young female role models up close, and gaining healthy lifestyle fitness habits. Thanks to my amazing supporters and coaches, my competition the next summer landed me in the position of Miss Georgia’s Outstanding Teen 2006. I went on to compete at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, the little sister to Miss America. After traveling the entire state and several parts of the country that year, I knew that I wanted to be Miss America one day. While that specific dream was never realized, I did spend the next 6 consecutive years of my life competing for the title of Miss Georgia. I am proud to have been named the first-runner up twice: in 2008 and 2013. In 2008, holding hands with Chasity Hardman while we waited to hear who would be Miss Georgia, I had no idea that I was standing with the next 1st runner-up to Miss America. Throughout the entire decade that I worked towards becoming Miss America, I slowly became my best self, especially as a dancer. Did I deliver stunning, “perfect 10” dances each and every time I competed? No way. However, I did learn to be a professional. I did learn how to work hard. I did learn how to retain difficult choreography quickly. I did learn how to adapt pieces to different stages. I did travel to New York twice to learn choreography. I did learn about theatre and production. I did learn about show business. I did learn about custom costuming. I did learn how to harness and control my fear and nerves. I did learn how to channel frustrations. I did learn how to accept constructive criticism. I did learn about artistic direction. And, I did learn a whole lot about Lauren.
I owe many performance experiences to my years with the Miss America Organization. I have performed with Joey Fatone of N’SYNC and Dancing with the Stars, along with Miss America 2006 Jennifer Berry. I danced and sang for the US Army in a USO-styled show called A Salute to Our Troops. I have entertained on the Miss Georgia stage countless times, and on many other stages across the country too. I have even enjoyed modeling for Sherri Hill, Heather French Henry Miss America 2000, and Mac Duggal in New York, Atlanta and Chicago. I have been a spokesperson for various businesses and charities including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, The American Cancer Society, and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. It truly has been a wild ride. Y’all. I come from a farm, way off the interstate in Smalltown, USA. It is my mentors, teachers, parents, family, friends, bosses and yes, even my critics that have gotten me here- to the best job on the planet!
What role do the performing arts play in my life now? Well, for starters I am a dance teacher, but you know that already! I teach on-site in many different schools for Studio Go all around Atlanta. In addition to instructing for Studio Go, I am the Artistic Director, which means I am responsible for constantly creating dance content, ensuring that our dancers are receiving the most top-notch dance education that we can provide, and coordinating our teachers all over the Southeast. I also teach ballet at several dance studios as well. I am a Production Consultant for various events. I love judging both dance competitions and Miss America local preliminary pageants in several states. I was an emcee at the Miss Georgia’s Outstanding Teen Finals this past summer, and I do hope to continue emceeing for Miss Georgia in the future!
I love the theatre. It is my happy place. That is why I am so extremely appreciative to share the art of dance with tomorrow’s performers every day that I go to work. If you have made it this far in this post, thank you for sticking it out with me as I have looked back and remembered to be grateful. Now, let’s DANCE!