By Bailey Urness
Head bowed, eyes to the floor. Lights blare against my skin. The floor is slick from previous performers. The music begins to beat and instinct kicks in. My arms move first. Counts one, two, three, four. The months of preparation push my body through the graceful movements: counts five, six, seven, eight. The rush of performing, of competing, makes every second long enough to contain a million thoughts.
My first thought flashes back to the long hours of dance practices. Now I realize it all comes down to these next two minutes. Two minutes to impress each judge. Two minutes to inspire the audience. Two minutes to represent my coaches, my choreographer, and my team. Two minutes to perform to perfection. Two minutes to win the World's Dance Championship trophy for the senior age category.
My second thought flies back to a recent team practice. Twelve pairs of eyes burned with anger around me as we rehearsed the same sequence over and over again. I knew what they were thinking. "Why can't Bailey just figure out how to do this part of the dance?" I wanted to say, "I'm sorry, I'm trying." Trying doesn't cut it this time, though. As one of the team leaders, I was expected to master my leaps, tricks, and turns quicker than most.
My muscles burned and bones ached from dancing for the past seven hours. My coach then yelled, "do it again" for about the hundredth time. Twelve groans echoed through the hot, sticky air. I avoided the obvious stares in my direction. My stomach bubbled with nervousness as I remembered what's at stake. I thought over again, you will get this turn, you will get this turn. Your team's chances at winning the World title are at stake here, Bailey.
After hours of practicing that day, I still felt uneasy trying to perform that sequence perfectly.
My third thought whirls back to a lunchtime conversation with my father. I clutched the side of the table, pouring out my anxiety to him. "I can't get my turns in this dance combination, Dad. I will lose it all for my team if I don't get this." He sat back and stared at me for a few minutes. As I fidgeted with my hands, my mind raced at the prospect of disappointment.
In his calm, cool voice, he replied, "Get a hold of yourself, Bailey." I stopped moving and stared back at him. He went on to tell me stories of great people such as Michael Jordan who had failed their teams in times of need. Then, he said, "Believe 100 percent of the time that you will execute, knowing that you won't succeed every time."
His words reverberate through my mind and my attention returns to the crowd in front of me. The music sweeps me along to another jump and another turn. I know this leads me to the climax dance combination I have struggled against. I reject thoughts of defeat and repeat, you can do this, you can do this. I prepare for my turn, push off one foot, and suddenly I'm twirling in sync with my twelve teammates. Perfect.
My mind and body finally relax. I know we are going to finish this performance beautifully.
The last note plays and hundreds of people sit with mouths open and eyes glistening. Thirteen pairs of feet glide off the stage.
For a second time I prepare to walk on the stage, this time ready to receive the first place trophy. We completed every turn, every jump, every count with precision and grace. How could we lose? Our team waltzes onto the floor, waving and smiling at our families.
We take our place and wait for the long line of competitors to take theirs. Meanwhile, our parents have a field day taking pictures of us clutching hands and exchanging anxious glances.
The master of ceremonies opens with a few words of welcome and a "round of applause for the dancers." Then, the awards begin with the giving of 14th place. My palms start to sweat and my heart races with adrenaline. Thirteenth place, twelfth place…seventh place…fifth place. We're so close, I thought.
"And in fourth place… Eastern Washington Elite Dance." My jaw, along with my heart, dropped. My team sits in stunned silence for a few seconds and then collectively we force out polite applause for ourselves.
How is this possible, we performed so well. My thoughts turn fuzzy and I choke back the tears. The first place team screams with joy and we trudge off the stage after more perfunctory applause, this time for the winners.
I don't care that my thick stage makeup smudges on my face; let the tears flow.
My two coaches, normally drill sergeants in their approach, start pulling us in for hugs, saying, "You did your best."
Again my mind rewinds to the conversation I had with my dad just the week before. "Believe 100 percent of the time that you will execute, knowing that you won't succeed every time."
Thank you, Dad.
No, we didn't have a perfect performance, even though it felt like it. And no, that performance didn't win us the first place trophy we had hoped for. But as actor Samuel L. Jackson said, "The only thing that separates any one of us from excellence is fear… I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for, perfection is God's business."
I know we accomplished our goal that day: We gave the audience our best. No first place trophy can outshine that.