Inside the Life of a Successful Comp Kid

Katie performing a solo routine. Photo courtesy The Dance Zone.

At 16, Katie Wolfe’s life revolves around competitions and conventions. When she isn’t competing in her hometown of Las Vegas, she’s traveling to competitions around the country with her studio, The Dance Zone, or taking extra dance classes to hone her technique.

Katie knows what she wants—a professional dance career—and she’s making some big sacrifices to achieve it. She even made the controversial decision to homeschool this year instead of continuing to attend her local public high school. Read on to learn how Katie navigates the fast-moving comp scene while keeping up with her schoolwork and non-dance friends. —Ashley Rivers

A Day in the Life

While most of my friends wake up and head straight to school, an average day for me starts with my job, babysitting from 7 am until 8:30 am. Then I come home to begin my schoolwork. This year I started online schooling, which I love. I have seven classes and I meet with my teacher in person on Thursdays.

Up until the middle of last year, I went to a public school where I was in all honors classes. But on top of my dance schedule—I’m at the studio from 2:30 to 8 pm on weekdays and from 8 or 9 am to 3 pm on Saturdays—school was just way too much stress for me. My parents could see how hard I was working to keep up, so they agreed to let me try homeschooling. I’m still getting all the credits I need to go to college and I plan to graduate this June, a year early.

Katie relaxing with girlfriends in Tahoe, CA. Photo courtesy Susan Wolfe.

The biggest challenge about online school is making yourself actually do the work every day. It takes a lot of self-motivation, but I’m pretty good about it. And since I have dance, I really don’t miss the social scene at school.

At The Dance Zone, we take ballet every day no matter what, even though we don’t compete ballet pieces. It’s the base of all dance technique, so it lays the foundation for everything we do. We take a lot of jazz, too, plus some hip hop and tap. I love competing and the rush that comes with it, but I also enjoy taking classes at my studio because that’s when I’m growing the most.

In class, my peers inspire and push me every day. If we see someone taking risks in a combination, that inspires us to take even more risks ourselves. And then we get so much out of just a simple class combination. Most of us plan to make dancing a career, so we save the joking and laughing for outside the classroom. It’s a really positive, supportive atmosphere, and we always try to set a good example for the new, younger dancers on the team.

The Heat Is On

Every fall, our studio brings in guest choreographers like Jacki Ford, Joey Dowling or Andy Pellick, who teach us most of our competition dances for that year. For each routine, the choreographer will come in and teach the piece in one or two days—about five hours total. Then it’s up to us to spend the year cleaning and perfecting the routine. When we work with a choreographer for the first time, sometimes we’ll have to practice for months to perfect his or her style. After we learn the piece, we take notes or write down counts so that we can remember them later in rehearsals. That’s the hardest part—perfecting our timing and style so that we match each other. But we practice so much that by the time we get onstage, it’s in our bodies—we can’t forget it.

Our dance teachers do all of the casting before the choreographers arrive. At the beginning of every year, we fill out a form saying whether we want a solo or if we’d be interested in a duo or trio. Then they watch and see who looks best together and make their decisions.

There’s never any drama. Our teachers are really good about fixing any issues that come up right away and not making a big deal about it. Everyone is super-positive and very kind.

In all, I’ll probably compete eight or nine dances this year—a solo and trio in addition to group numbers. I think competing a solo is a lot less stressful than a group number.

Competing with a group takes much more preparation: going to lots of rehearsals and making sure everyone has all the costume pieces and looks the same. And if you mess up on a group dance, it’s harder to hide. With solos, there’s less to worry about. I mostly practice my solo on my own, and then occasionally work one-on-one with a teacher. And if I mess up, I can wing it or improvise—which I’ve done multiple times!

Dancing in a group routine at NYCDA National with her studio, The Dance Zone. Photo by ProPix/NYCDA.

I think we all get a little nervous before the first time we compete a number onstage. By the time we get offstage, though, we already know if we did a good job or not. We can just feel the energy. But awards all depend on what the judges are looking for. When we do win, it’s exciting. But really, that’s the same feeling I get just by being onstage performing—losing yourself in the adrenaline and the moment. When we don’t place the way we wanted to, we might get a little upset. But the way we feel about our performance is just as important. No matter what happens, we let it go and start fresh in classes the next day.

Looking Forward

My schedule doesn’t leave a lot of time for a social life, but dance is totally worth it to me. I’m always with my dance friends—we’re like a big family. And on weekends, I can hang out with school friends that I’ve known my whole life. This year, I even got to go to a homecoming dance. There are times when my newer friends or people that I’ve just met don’t understand how serious I am about dance. They may say, “You have to dance again?” or “Why can’t you hang out today?” Sometimes I wish I could do more, but I’m not going to miss class, rehearsal or a competition just to hang out. I’m so focused on my career and my future. Most of the time, I’d rather just go to dance.

I’ll only be 17 when I graduate, so I’m not yet sure what I’ll do next. My long-term goal is to join a contemporary ballet company. It would also be fun to dance on a cruise ship or maybe even be a Radio City Rockette. Right now, my parents are helping me look into colleges.

When it’s time to stop competing, I think I’ll always miss it. But I’ll still be dancing. And I’ll be excited for the new challenge of dancing professionally!

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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