By Betsy Uhler
One of my earliest memories is begging my mom to let me quit dance class.
I was six years old, and my younger sister and I had been taking ballet lessons for almost a year. As my mother held the phone in her hand to make the call to the studio, I stood very close by to make sure that business was taken care of. As she was dialing the number, she looked down at me and asked,
“Are you sure?”
“Yes!” I yelled. I had never been so sure of anything in my six long years on Earth.
I don’t remember exactly why I hated dance class, but I distinctly recall the relief I felt once I was assured I’d never have to put on that pink leotard ever again.
My sister quit too and that was that.
About six years later, my family was walking through our neighborhood when we passed a dance studio I hadn’t noticed before. My sister and I peered through the window at the rows of girls plié-ing at the barre and we just knew. This time we wanted to dance. This time it was our decision. And this time there would be no quitting.
When we went in to sign up, the teacher asked how old I was (12) and how old my sister was (9), and told my mother that there might be a chance for my sister to have a career in ballet, but it was too late for me – I was too old to have any hope of a future in dance. We signed up anyway, and we kept dancing. We started taking classes once a week, then twice, three times, then up to six times per week.
We joined the studio’s pre-professional company and performed in recitals and Nutcrackers, working our way up from toy soldiers to candy canes to snowflakes. Performances were always my favorite events of the year – I immediately loved everything about being part of a production, from the rehearsal process, to getting ready backstage, to stepping out onto the stage from the wings.
When I started college, I chose a minor in Dance and took ballet and modern technique classes, as well as Dance Theory and Dance History. I joined the student dance company, IC Unbound, as a dancer, choreographer and executive board member. Being part of the student dance company helped me make new friends, expand my training, and find an outlet for my love of performing.
When I moved to Los Angeles after graduation, I started taking classes and joined a contemporary ballet company. In the fall of 2007, a friend and I founded LA Unbound, our own west coast version of the company we had loved so much in college. For me, this was the perfect opportunity for continuing to perform without the stress of trying to make dancing my full-time career. As an added bonus, I feel honored to be able to provide a non-competitive atmosphere for performers and choreographers to collaborate and create together. In addition to dancing and choreographing, I serve as Director of the company, which has become the largest recreational dance company in Los Angeles.
Last weekend, almost 20 years after I decided to start dancing again, LA Unbound had auditions for its 13th show. As I looked around the studio, it was hard to believe we were working with 34 choreographers and over 140 dancers. I walked around saying hello to everyone I already knew – many of these people have become my closest friends in Los Angeles – and welcomed the dancers who were new to the company.
“This show sounds really fun,” one dancer told me. “I just moved to LA and I think this will be a great way to meet people and have a chance to perform.”
“I’m so excited,” mentioned a long-time dancer in the company, and first-time choreographer. “My parents already have their plane tickets to come out for the show.”
Sorting through all the registration paperwork, I knew that there would be many emails, phone calls, meetings, and rehearsals in my immediate future, and I was looking forward to all of it. Three and a half months from that day, all the dancers and choreographers in the studio, combined with their ideas, talents, and passion, would come together into one large production to be enjoyed by hundreds of friends and family members. Sharing my passion with so many excited and enthusiastic collaborators makes all of the hard work worth it.
As the dancers stretched and warmed up throughout the studio, I got ready to make some pre-audition announcements. “Hello everyone, and thank you for joining us today. I hope you’re ready! Here we go again…”