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Best Party This Side of the Mississippi

Dance Fest 2015

By Chelsea Visser

Picture your best birthday ever. Go on; picture it. Are there balloons? Cake? All of your friends dressed up and having tons of fun? Most importantly, do you get to sleep in?

I wake up at 7:30 on the morning of my twentieth birthday because my alarm is blaring and my ride will be pulling up in less than half an hour. Despite the early hour, I'm wide awake; it's Dance Fest weekend!

I got everything ready last night: my shoes are packed; my dresses hang neatly in their bag; the bottomless bag of makeup is tucked into yet another bag, which rests by the door. My roommate watches bemusedly as I dance around our dorm room, narrowly avoiding tripping on my backpack; whatever else dance has taught me, I've still not yet managed grace.

Skip forward, past my perpetually-late partner picking me up, and resume in Dancers Studio a few miles away. Smooth rounds start in a few minutes, and I'm hair-spraying one contrary piece of hair into oblivion. My lovely blue dress has somehow gotten rumpled, and I can't find the right color eyeshadow. Still, a couple of friends in the dressing room wish me happy birthday, and that eases some of the pre-comp jitters.

I'm dancing bronze, and all too quickly, my partner and I are stepping out onto the floor. I'm never able to remember much from flights themselves—too nervous, too busy focusing on staying left and smiling—but I'm fully aware of spinning out when the music stops and hearing my parents yelling from across the room.

My partner is dancing advanced bronze with his other partner, so I head back to the seats our team has claimed to watch the show. I've barely gotten comfortable when a friend comes running down the aisle and drags me back up. We made callbacks! And we keep making callbacks, all afternoon. We make it to semifinals in all three of our dances, better than we've ever done before. I'm thrilled, even though my feet are killing me. I perch on my chair and watch my friends promenade and spin their way through finals, and when some of my friends from Club take the stage for mixed proficiency, I cheer even louder.

My parents take me out for dinner between mixed proficiency and the evening show—I get my cake, after all—and an hour later I'm back, wearing yet another gorgeous dress for team matches. I get to watch some absolutely phenomenal dancing, and all of a sudden it hits me: this is the first comp where I haven't been shaking in my heels as I stepped onto the floor. I've come amazingly far in less than a year on the team, and less than two years dancing. Who knows where I could be a year from now?

I'm dancing with another friend for team matches, as both of our partners for this particular style are dancing something else. This is his first competition; we practiced waltzing up and down the hallway in the basement of our dorm. It isn't our best showing, maybe, but we're laughing as we come off the floor, and that's what counts. We get to stand on the side of the floor and cheer our teammates on, and the entire studio echoes with music and laughter and yelling.

The night show runs late, and it's close to midnight by the time I finally get home. I nearly fall asleep in the elevator, and it's all I can do to set an alarm for tomorrow ... we're only through day one, and I'm dancing newcomer rhythm at 8:30 tomorrow morning. I fall into bed, my feet aching, my hair still sticky from gel, and that one foxtrot on endless repeat in the back of my mind. I'm asleep in minutes, and I'm pretty sure I'm still smiling as I drift away.

So let's recap: your best birthday ever. The studio was decorated with balloons, cake was thoughtfully provided by family, and I was surrounded by friends in beautiful dresses and immaculate bow ties. I might not have gotten to sleep in, but three out of four is pretty good, right?

I don't know how much stock people put in birthdays once they start getting older; it's just another day, another excuse to mark the passing of time. But hey, it's still a reason to celebrate, an excuse to get together with friends and notice how we're growing, how we're changing, how the person we are now isn't who we once were.

And honestly, I can't think of a better way to celebrate.