Written by Ariyanna Norman
Photos provided by Nadia Mathews
If you were to cross Dancing with the Stars with Glee, it would look like the ballroom dance program at American Leadership Academy (ALA) in Queen Creek. This isn’t simply smooth footwork on hard wood; every routine has lifts, spins, and or flips – each aerial trick more impressive than the last. This talented group of high schoolers will be competing in the U.S. National Amateur Dancesport Championships in Utah and the Gem State Classic in Idaho this week.
Although nearly fifty students make up the ALA ballroom teams, two outstanding dancers are selected for a duet competition. The National Cabaret Championships are a special category at Gem State. Nadia Mathews, a senior at ALA, and her partner Trevor Jones, will perform a piece titled “Alive.”
When Mathews performs she doesn’t think, she feels. “When I dance ‘Alive’ I feel like it’s heartbreak and love,” she says. To make her performances great, she tries to portray the song’s story through expressions and movements.
When Mathews found out she was selected for this year’s duo, she was excited yet nervous because she didn’t believe she was ready. She’s only been performing this style of dance since her freshman year and she did not grow up taking dance lessons. But after lots of practice with her partner the dance really started coming together. “I felt better and more secure with him and more secure with my coach and loving the dance,” says Mathews.
Mathews has tried other styles of dance but she says ballroom inspires her. She really enjoys dancing with a partner and working together to create stories. “It’s not only a single person dance. It’s a team, and you feel like you’re a part of a team when you dance ballroom,” she says.
Although her parents won’t be able to attend the out-of-state competitions, she says they are very inspirational and supportive. Her grandfather also pushes her to be better. “He’s always told me to keep my back straight, smile, and love what you do,” said Mathews.
After graduation, Mathews plans to go to community college for two years and then transfer to a university. She wants to major in dentistry and minor in fine arts. She is considering Brigham Young University in Utah and BYU-Idaho, which have ballroom dance companies that compete and perform internationally.
Since there are only two national competitions in the US for high school students, ALA dance teacher/choreographer Alycesun Clare has considered taking the students to Europe for future competitions. Clare started the program six years ago.
What began as 15 students practicing in a parking lot has transformed into 900 students participating in three ballroom dance teams and several dance classes of different genres. She hopes to see ballroom dance grow in Arizona; currently, ALA is the only high school ballroom program in the state so they can’t compete locally.