Kickin' it with KayCee Stroh

KayCee Stroh was 2 years old when she started dancing, and only 5 when she had figured out her life’s goal. “That’s when I told my family I was meant to be a famous triple threat,” she says. “I always knew I was supposed to do something big.”


Growing up in Salt Lake City, UT, with two older, dancing sisters and a mom who worked as a secretary in her studio, dance was always an integral part of KayCee’s life. She traveled to competitions and conventions, studied with the best (Marguerite Derricks, Joe Tremaine and Chris Dupre among them). The girl had plans. But genetics had given her a boxy frame and a slow thyroid; KayCee was usually larger than the dancers around her. She was turned down for spots on teams and graded down in competitions. She was a star, but being a “bigger” star always seemed to stop her from becoming a “big” star.


Then High School Musical happened.


In the spring of 2005, KayCee was performing with a professional company she had formed called Sojurn Dance Company. She bumped into Bonnie Story, a Utah-based choreographer who had recently been hired to work on this as-yet-unknown Disney movie. Story suggested KayCee audition, which she did. But within moments of walking into the Treehouse Athletic Club in suburban Salt Lake City, KayCee felt particularly out of place. There were 300 other female dancers, most of them in bra tops and short shorts. KayCee wore an army skirt and a T-shirt. A knee surgery several months earlier had been complicated in recovery by a blood clot. KayCee had been put on bed rest and, unable to dance her typical five hours a day, put on 40 pounds. Her 5'2" frame was now 210 pounds. She was wearing a size 18. Here she was again: an oversized girl in an undersized world. She figured she had no shot, but danced anyway—“just for practice,” she says.


But what KayCee didn’t know was that HSM’s overriding theme was breaking stereotypes, which is exactly what she did when she started to perform the audition number, a blend of jazz and hip hop for which HSM has become known. “She was one of the funkier, freshest energies in the room,” says assistant choreographer Charles “Chucky” Klapow. “She totally knocked it out of the park.”


In front of a crowd of dancers, director Kenny Ortega looked at KayCee and told her, “I don’t know what I’m going to have you do in this film, but I can tell you right now if we have to write something for you, you’re what I’m looking for.”


KayCee landed the role of Martha Cox, a full-figured brainiac with a secret passion for dancing, who breaks out her moves during a song called “Stick to the Status Quo.”


On set, KayCee’s potential as an actress stuck out as much as her character would on screen. “She was so great and had such a classic, beautiful, kind of Courtney Cox beauty—a movie star face,” says Bart Johnson, who plays Coach Jack Bolton, the father of Zac Efron’s character. “I said, ‘You have such a great look. I think you’re a movie star!’”


So did fans. After HSM debuted in January 2006, fans started approaching her and reciting Martha’s memorable line: “Hip hop is my passion. I love to pop and lock and jam and break…” They also loaded her MySpace page with messages like this one from a 14-year-old Oklahoma girl: “Omg! KayCee! I totally love you! You are like an idol to me! I am plus sized and young women like you are a total inspiration!”


“Those are the moments where I realize it’s worth it,” KayCee says. “It’s so worth it to be different.”


The reaction wasn’t lost on the filmmakers. In HSM2, KayCee held one of the 10 most visible student roles. She had more speaking parts and became one of the most prominent dancers in a choreography-intensive movie, some of which happened by chance.


One day during filming, when KayCee was tap dancing in a corner off set, HSM star Corbin Bleu said, “Hey, I like that, KayCee. Teach it to me.” KayCee and Corbin started battling. Ortega saw them and weaved a Corbin-KayCee tap bit into a kitchen stomp scene.


With HSM2, KayCee’s visibility soared. She made appearances around North America to promote the movie, appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” started modeling for the plus-sized clothier Torrid and was profiled in People magazine. While HSM fans were seeing more of KayCee, there was actually less of her to see. She dropped from a size 18 in the first movie to a size 16 for the sequel, and kept dieting and exercising afterward to reach her target size 12, which she reached in time for her head cheerleader role in HSM3.


“As an actress, as a dancer, even as a singer, I feel like my stamina is much better at a 12,” she says. “I’m much happier when I can go to my dance classes and really blow people away and be myself and not be tugging at my shirt because something’s showing. I’m fine with being a thicker girl; I’m proud of that. I just don’t want to be unhealthy.”


KayCee calls size 12 a “compromise”—one that will allow her to keep pursuing so-called “bigger girl” roles in Hollywood—the oddball best friend, the quirky secretary. “I’ll still be different for Hollywood,” she says. “I’ll still be considered big for them, but I’ll be healthy and happy with me, and just feel more confident again.”


Again? KayCee was an unexpected star in a smash movie franchise. What more does it take?


“I’m a lot more confident than I was in high school,” KayCee allows. “It took a lot of time for me to realize that. I am confident, but at a 12, I’m unstoppable!”

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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.


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.)


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, 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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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, 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.


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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