There's a camaraderie that develops in competitive dance, and Brooks Academy of Dance first-year acro competitor Sydney Smith has been enjoying that experience on the Tillsonburg dance studio's team at Just Dance, Burlington's Flash Dance and Collingwood's Dance Canada.
"I just feel really loved – because before you go on stage everyone's wishing you good luck," said 12-year-old Smith. "And when you come off you get really big hugs. It's just really nice."
Her introduction to competitive dance came through the TV reality show Dance Moms.
"I've been watching it ever since the show started, and I wanted to do what they were able to do. They're just really good performers, they light up the stage."
The highlight of the dance season for Brooks Academy of Dance's Ainsley Anger, 16, after two competitions, was a third overall solo award in the pre-competitive division (13-and-older) at Dance Canada in Collingwood, April 5-6.
"It's a ballet solo," said Anger, who has been dancing for the past seven years, and is in her first season competing in ballet.
"It's a very soft number, very graceful," she said, describing her solo. "It's slower. It's more technically challenging, just because the judges can see that move longer and it has to be so precise. Lots of control, especially when you're holding different moves longer.
"Ballet is my forte. It's very disciplined... it has very set rules. And there's always improvements that need to be made," she added with a smile, "no matter how perfect you think something is. There's always something more that needs to be done. It's very challenging."
With two more competitions on the horizon, Anger said she wants to continue working on her stretches, trying to express more emotion, and using her arms more.
"It's definitely a new experience having to go out in front of all the people, and especially the judges. It's definitely exciting."
Angelina Stanley, 8, is also competing for the first time this spring in a jazz duet and jazz solo, and did "great" in her first three competitions, highlighted by third overall in the eight-and-under novice division at Dance Canada.
"Kind of nervous," Stanley admitted, but she didn't feel it affected her dancing and it got easier her next time on stage. "I most enjoyed being on stage dancing in front of everybody, seeing all different types of judges, and getting trophies and medals."
Her 7-8 year old jazz duet is called Cheetah Love.
"I would have to say the judges liked the sass – the faces. I like the song and who sings it. I don't really know how to describe it."
Hip hop specialist Connor Savoy, 12, won the 'Life of the Party' award and third overall in the 11-12 year old novice division at Dance Canada dancing to That Power by Justin Bieber. At Flash Dance in Burlington, March 21-23, he placed second overall in the 12-14 year old novice division and won the 'Mr. Swag' award.
"Hip hop's kind of upbeat music, faster music, the stunts are harder. I like break dancing, so the moves on the ground... it makes you feel 'awesome' I guess.
"In the solo, everyone's looking at you, so you're kind of tense on stage. In the trio, you have two people to have fun with."
Although it might look like it sometimes, the second-year competitor said break dancing is not painful... mostly.
"Sometimes," he smiled, "when you're learning. I think my front handspring is probably the most challenging. Getting a flip-over."
Working on both jazz and hip hop this year, Savoy plans to increase his dance disciplines next year. But for the remainder of the 2014 competitive season, he said the focus is not necessarily on winning, but improving as a dancer.
"Winning would be nice, but to improve as a hip hop dancer, a jazz dancer, and maybe ballet next year – it helps strengthen your legs and your arms – that's what I want."
Emily Ratch, 13, brought home a third place solo overall in the 12-14 novice division from Burlington's Flash Dance competing in jazz solo and jazz duet.
"I like doing a lot of things that involve flexibility and jumps," said Ratch, also a second-year competitor with BAD, enjoying her "really sassy" solo, Glam. "There's a lot of leg pulls and stuff.
"Definitely there's been improvement," she said, noting she wasn't at all nervous this season. "My dances have been cleaner, I've really improved in my facials when I dance, and I'm a lot more comfortable with the stage."
Part of the learning process comes from reviewing the competition videos, which come complete with judges' comments.
"The judges tell you corrections, and once you know what to improve on, you keep working on that and then your dancing gets better. Sometimes I know when I messed up on stage, sometimes I disagree with the judges."
Her focus going into BAD's competition in Brantford will be straightening her legs and pointing her toes.
"And just kind of owning the stage," she concluded with a smile. "You've got to strut your stuff, make eye contact, and give a lot of facials to the judges. And make sure you hit all your moves."
Sydney Smith's acro solo won a special 'Dreamy Acro' award at Just Dance. In addition to competitive acro, the 12-year-old dancer does ballet, jazz, and her regular acro classes. Her focus has been working on tumbling and learning more tricks.
"I'm naturally flexible, so obviously I started doing acro. It just happened, and I love it."
Dancing since she was five, this is Smith's first year of competitive dance.
"It's a little more nerve-wracking (in front of a judge), but it's not as bad as I thought it would be. I was really nervous at my first competition, but then after that it just got easier every time. I did stumble once in my first competition, but it wasn't that big of a deal."
Smith's comments from the judges tend to be basic stuff, she said. "Like 'jump higher at this point' or 'remember to keep your legs straight at this move.'"
With two more competitions left on their calendar, the annual year-end BAD recital, and performances at Turtlefest and an MSC recognition event, their season will be over in a couple months.
"It's going to be really said when it ends," Smith summed up.
Burlington, March 21-23
Rae Jones & Sami Maerten – acro duet: 87.2
Breanna Kyle, Connor Savoy, Taylor – hip hop trio: 87.59
Amanda Farkas & Emily Ratch – jazz duet: 88.34
Justine Verhoeve & Lindsay Vermeeren – tap duet: 86.03
Angelina Stanley – jazz solo: 86.79
Emily Ratch – jazz solo: 87.52
Ainsley Anger – ballet solo: 86.73
Amanda Farkas – ballet solo: 87.54
Amanda Farkas – contemporary: 88.42
Baylee West – acro solo: 88.75
Amanda Farkas – jazz solo: 86.98
Rae Jones – acro solo: 88.08
Connor Savoy – hip hop solo: 88.29
Sami Maerten – acro solo: 87.43
Sydney Smith – acro solo: 87.38
Breanna Kyle – ballet solo: 86.82
Dennim Groke – hip hop solo: 88.63
Angelina Stanley and Taylor – jazz duet: 87.24
Connor Savoy: 3rd place overall in Novice 12-14 division
Emily Ratch: 3rd place overall in Novice 12-14 division
Collingwood, April 5-6
Rae Jones & Sami Maerten – acro duet: 88.83
Breanna Kyle, Connor Savoy, Taylor – hip hop trio: 90.16
Amanda Farkas & Emily Ratch – jazz duet: 89.16
Justine Verhoeve & Lindsay Vermeeren – tap duet: 88.16
Angelina Stanley – jazz solo: 89.7
Emily Ratch – jazz solo: 89.65
Ainsley Anger – ballet solo: 89.33
Amanda Farkas – ballet solo: 87.33
Amanda Farkas – contemporary: 88.33
Baylee West – acro solo: 89.23
Amanda Farkas – jazz solo: 88.0
Rae Jones – acro solo: 90.3
Connor Savoy – hip hop solo: 91.33
Sami Maerten – acro solo: 90.26
Sydney Smith – acro solo: 89.58
Breanna Kyle – ballet solo: 89.31
Dennim Groke – hip hop solo: 89.0
Angelina Stanley & Taylor – jazz duet: 89.33
Angelina Stanley: 3rd overall in Novice 8-and-under division
Connor Savoy: 3rd overall in Novice 11-12 division & Life of the Party Award
Ainsley Anger: 3rd overall in Pre-competitive 13-and-older division
Chatham, April 11-13
Cheetah Love 90.87; Glamazon 91.1; Sail 91.97; Down the Road 90.5; Cover Girl 92.97; Glam 93.97; A Geisha 92.63; Snake Charmed 92.57; Garden of Eden 93.03; That Power 92.57; Hope 92.7; Arachnid 92.6; Mirror, Mirror 91.23; Fresh 91.03; Run the World 92.3
The Ballet Shoes 90.52; Masquerade Waltz 90.48
Sydney Smith: Dreamy Acro Award