As many aspiring dancers know, juggling school and dance can be a challenge. But for 17-year-old Amanda Winkler, the two worlds were one. Amanda, who graduated this spring, was a member of the Lyons Township High School’s Eurythmic Dance Company (EDC) in LaGrange, IL. After the final bell rings, this group of dancers doesn’t head for the studio—they stay at school, where they take dance classes and rehearse for their annual year-end show. The company also gives students the opportunity to choreograph their own work; Amanda began creating pieces for EDC her sophomore year (she was named the company’s Outstanding Choreographer twice!).
This spring, one of Amanda’s pieces was chosen to be part of the student choreography showcase at the National High School Dance Festival (NHSDF) in Miami, FL. The festival took place over four days in March, and more than 1,500 students from 100-plus high schools took dance classes together, auditioned for scholarships and performed in various concerts. Amanda documented the experience for Dance Spirit. —Katie Rolnick
Sunday, March 14
I’m leaving for the National High School Dance Festival in three days, and even though it will be my second time, I still don’t think it’s hit me. In addition to taking classes and performing a piece by guest choreographer Joseph Holmes, three other EDC members and I will be performing a contemporary dance I choreographed called Good Intentions. The piece is set to a Vitamin String Quartet instrumental version of the song “Misery Business.” The dance is about relationships between girls—how we’re so desperate to be a part of a group that we stay close to people who hurt us.
Tonight I’m staying up late working on choreography for tomorrow’s rehearsal, and I have a ton of schoolwork to get done before we leave.
Wednesday, March 17
Happy St. Patrick’s Day—and wow, what a day it has been! After fourth period, we took a bus to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. On the ride there, I found a little blue box and a card from my mom in my carry-on (a preshow tradition she began my freshman year). Inside the box was a beautiful crystal shamrock necklace; the note wished me luck and told me how proud she is of me. I couldn’t help but tear up. Love you, Mom!
We landed in Miami, and on the ride to our hotel, the back door of the shuttle bus flew open! We didn’t see any bags fall out during the debacle, but once we arrived at the hotel, we realized that our assistant director, Ms. Caccitolo, was missing her suitcase. Along with the cash budget from our school, we lost part of our costumes for Holmes’s piece. I hope we can figure out our costume situation by the time we perform on Friday!
Thursday, March 18
We woke up this morning to clear blue skies and the beautiful Miami sun. After checking in at the New World School of the Arts, we spent the morning trying to find replacements for the missing costume pieces. We had been to three fabric stores when we got a call: Someone found the suitcase! Now we could enjoy the festival knowing our stuff was on its way.
Friday, March 19
We woke up early for Robert Solomon’s 8 am modern class, and right after class I met up with the rest of EDC to get ready to perform Holmes’s piece at the 11 am informal concert. I was nervous before we went on, but we nailed it!
Afterward, we didn’t have time to relax because we were off to our next class: jazz with Ric Rose. I wish I could’ve stayed for the entire class, but the Good Intentions cast had to leave early to go to tech rehearsal for the student choreography showcase.
Tech went well, and before the show we returned to our dressing room, where we met some dancers from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. We had a blast hanging out and poking fun at each other’s accents.
Then it was show time. Waiting in the wings, I had a feeling that I’d never experienced before. My stomach was flipping over a million times per minute, and I had a goofy smile on my face. I looked at the other EDC dancers, three of my best friends, and said everything that I needed to say to them at that moment: “Thank you.”
As we performed, I could only see some of the theater’s 1,500 seats because of the glare of the stage lights. But judging by the crowd’s roar when our music ended, I imagined an infinite number of rows extending beyond the balcony. As I came forward to take my own bow as the choreographer, I felt invincible.
Tonight, at the end of the festival’s gala concert, they announced the winner of the Outstanding Choreographer Award. I didn’t win, but that’s OK. Performing on that stage was the experience of a lifetime, and the love from my friends and family was all I needed. When we got back to the hotel, it was past 1 am. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I plopped down on my bed.
Saturday, March 20
I woke up at 6:30 am and felt like a zombie. But with our performances behind us, today was all about having fun! I took modern class with Paul Win, Afro-modern with Dewarne Long and jazz with Elijah Alhadji Gibson, which was an awesome blend of jazz, modern and hip hop. By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted.
Sunday March 21
Flip flops seemed like a good idea this morning in Miami, but when we landed in Chicago, we were greeted with snow. Welcome back to the Midwest!