A new level of dance

REED CITY — “You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams.” This quote from Gene Kelly expresses what a true lover of dance feels, whether it is the dancers themselves or those who watch them in amazement.

The art of dance has been around for many years, even before the days of Gene Kelly and other talented dancers who have and continue to entertain audiences in movies and musicals. Competitions, however, bring dancing to a whole new level.

One local dance studio decided several years ago to join the busy life of dance competitions. Stefanya McMuckin, owner of Rhythmic Sky Dance Studios in Big Rapids, competed herself as a child. When she opened her own studio, competitions were something she thought about getting her dancers involved in.

Starting with only a duet in 2007, McGuckin later teamed up with dance instructor Katelyn Mlujeak in 2010 to create the official Rhythm’s Edge Competitive Dance Team. The first team consisted of nine girls and has grown significantly to a team of 27 girls this year, with dancers divided into five different teams depending on their age and skill. Along with the team group dances, a dozen girls performed solos or duets at competitions.

The competition life is not always as easy one. The schedule the girls keep is very similar to that of any sport. Practices can be up to five days a week and every class starts off with an intense workout. Many dance moves they perform require a great deal of strength and balance. Competitions are usually spread out over an entire weekend starting as early as 8 a.m. and running as late as 10 p.m. Even though the schedule is difficult and the practices are long, girls on the team enjoy the many benefits. They take pride in the improvements made in their dance skills and the overall improvements in their health.

Team captain Madilyn Allen has been with the team for three years.

“I have noticed that since being on the team, my dancing ability and confidence has grown tremendously," she said. "The nerves about going out on stage and performing a dance have turned into excitement and wanting to perform better than at the last competition. Also, the team becomes your second family after spending three nights every week practicing and then spending three days together at competitions. You form a special bond with the team.”

Dance moms and dads are busy all weekend helping girls get ready with hair, makeup and costumes or helping with stage props. The team traveled to Battle Creek, Detroit, Frankenmuth and Holland for their competitions this year, and just returned from a week-long Nextar National Competition in Sandusky, Ohio, which included more than 800 teams.

For Laya Griffin, age 10, this was her second year on the team. She performed with the Intermediate team and also did her first solo. Shaking it up to “Proud Mary”, she earned several high awards as well as special judge awards like “Legs for a day” and Showmanship award.

“I love competition dancing because it’s so challenging," Griffin said. "On the very first class they get you all pumped up with energy. By the end of the year you see so much improvement and you are so proud of yourself and your team.”

Rhythm’s Edge earned multiple trophies along with special judge, choreography, most photogenic and studio awards. Closing out the season at nationals, solos, duos and team dances earned high gold and platinum medals and several first in category trophies. The intermediate team earned first place overall in their age group, which gave them the opportunity to compete in the final “Big Show” consisting of only 55 from 807 dances that performed during the entire week. They also received a special invitation to the Nextar World Dance Competition in New Jersey this fall.

“We went into our first ever nationals with a purpose and that was to leave it all on the stage and do our best," Mlujeak said. "We competed with the best of the best and made ourselves known. For a small northern Michigan studio to come in and make an impression the way we did was a huge accomplishment, and I am so proud of our team.”