Staff Writer Emily Topper will be participating in Dancing with the Locals in November.
I am not a graceful person.
In eighth grade, I fell off of a stage during a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I was delivering the last line of the show when I took an accidental nosedive into the audience.
My coordination hasn’t improved with age. My freshman year of college, I fell down the first-floor concrete steps of the school’s student center.
My senior year of college, I laughed at a joke so hard that I accidentally threw my head back and hit a wall, rendering me concussed.
And three weeks ago, I was walking into a friend’s apartment after a rainstorm when I slipped in my heels and fell over into the grass.
Suffice to say, gravity and I have had our rough patches. In spite of that, I found myself tugging open the doors of Lakeland’s Just Dance Academy of Dance and Etiquette Tuesday, Aug. 16.
I had been to the academy once before: in 2015 I interviewed two Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputies who were participating in Plant City’s Dancing with the Locals event, an annual dance competition put on by the Noon Rotary Club that raises money for local charities.
This time, it was my turn to dance.
I agreed to do Dancing with the Locals after hearing it was a positive, fun experience from Plant City Times & Observer’s managing editor, Amber Jurgensen, who competed in the event in 2013.
Ignoring all signs — and bumps, bruises and embarrassing moments — that should have made me run (and probably trip) in the opposite direction, I set my sights on finding a willing partner.
Both Sports Editor Justin Kline and Editorial Designer CJ Major turned down the opportunity to spend months learning a dance with me, likely because they have both seen many of my graceless moments. I can’t blame them. Until I agreed to do Dancing with the Locals, my dance experience was limited to watching Abby Lee Miller pit Maddie Ziegler and Chloe Lukasiak against each other on Lifetime’s “Dance Moms.”
Luckily, my partner issue and lack of dance experience were both easily remedied. Just Dance CEO Kevin Rios, a longtime dance instructor for Dancing with the Locals, partnered me with the academy’s hip-hop instructor, Paul Kittelstad.
Still, I had concerns. As I walked into the door for my first lesson, I felt anxious: What if we couldn’t agree on a song choice or dance style? What if I was unable to master the choreography? What was I going to wear?
My mind wandered back to November 2015, when I interviewed many of the couples who were competing in Dancing with the Locals’ 2015. Like I was now, many of them were riddled with the same apprehensions. Even so, they all put on amazing performances at last year’s event. If they were nervous, the audience couldn’t tell.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Right after Kevin introduced me to Paul, he outlined the first part of our choreography and began telling me his vision for my costume. The things I had been so worried about were starting to piece together.
But the dance and the competition are just part of the bigger picture.
After being in Plant City for just over one year, I’m honored to be invited to participate in an event that makes such a positive impact in the community. In 2014, the event raised about $13,000, which stayed in Plant City. The Noon Rotary Club is responsible for supporting a plethora of charities and organizations in town, from the United Food Bank of Plant City and the Plant City Family YMCA to scholarships at Plant City High School.
As I’ve learned with everything in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, such an endeavor takes a team: the event wouldn’t be possible without the dancers, instructors, club members and sponsors who invest in making it a success. That’s something I love about this town and something I’m excited to be part of.
Contact Emily Topper at firstname.lastname@example.org.