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My mom was a dancer growing up, and she went on to become a dance teacher, so I've really grown up in the studio. I started classes when I was 2, and by the time I was 9, I was training at The Dance Club and knew I wanted to dedicate all my time to dance.
I started competing my first year at TDC. We attend a few regional competition and convention events each year, like New York City Dance Alliance, NUVO, and JUMP, and travel to Nationals in NYC every other year. I also attend additional events alone throughout the year to perform my solo. I did my first solo when I was 11, and I remember it so specifically: It was to the song "Proud Mary," and I rehearsed it with my mom. There were moments when we'd butt heads and it was a struggle, but it was the first time I remember having a relationship with my mom through dance, realizing that we shared the same passion.
(photo by Misty Matthews, courtesy Mathews)
I've always loved taking classes—I spend up to 30 hours per week at the studio—but performing at competition is my favorite. You only get two to three minutes onstage, which is very little time to showcase your talent and personality, and I love the challenge. In those few minutes, I get to lay it all out on the floor, dance with my heart, and show the audience what I'm capable of. I'm usually in around nine group routines each year, too, and I love getting to be with the amazing girls on my team. Rehearsals are a time when we really bond as a unit and get to know each other better, and the moments we have onstage together are special and unique.
I've always dreamed of going to college for dance. After that, who knows? I'd love to go on tour and travel the world dancing for people, either with a singer, in a Broadway show, or as part of a convention. And I know spending so much time at competitions now is helping me get there.
Zoe with her New York City Dance Alliance Teen High Score Soloist plaque (courtesy Zoe Watts)
Since college is my main focus, I'm staying as close as I can to NYCDA, which has a huge college scholarship program and tons of opportunities to help prepare dancers for their futures. The faculty members are amazing and nurturing, and they're willing to do whatever they can to help dancers get a college education. I compete so I can pursue these dreams and goals I have for the future, and so I can showcase my talents along the way.
One of the main reasons I'm continually motivated to keep trying—even if I fail—is because I know everything is a learning experience. Last year, I had some pretty rough times with my solo at competition. They say winning isn't everything, and I'm finally capable of agreeing with that. It's fun to win and it can boost your self-esteem, but I grow the most when I don't win. It's hard to realize that when you're going through it, or if you're new and inexperienced in the dance world. But once you figure that out, forget about the scores and the placements, and just dance—that's when you improve the most.
A version of this story appeared in the October 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "I'm a Comp Kid."