Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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August 10, 2013

Dance dreams

Smith looks to advance career at Disney

BLUEFIELD — Whether performing on the stage or practicing in the studio, dance has long been an important part of everyday life for Sawyer Smith.

Originally from Wytheville, Va., Smith currently lives with family in Pounding Mill, Va., but spends much of his time at the Bluefield Dance Theatre.

“When I was three-years-old my sister wanted to take dance lessons,” Smith said. “I watched her in class and it looked fun. The first year I took classes it was me and a bunch of girls. When I was four-years-old, another boy joined the class. When I was six or seven, I started dancing here at the Bluefield Dance Theater. My sister had quit before then, but I stuck with it.”

As he grew older, Smith said he ventured out into different dance styles.

“I started with ballet, tap and jazz,” he said. “As I got older, I joined the competition team. Going to the different competitions and conventions I saw a lot of different styles like modern, hip-hop and lyrical. I fell in love with hip-hop and it’s still one of my favorite styles.”

While dance practice might be a one day a week activity for some, Smith said he is constantly working on his abilities.

“I am in the studio four or five times a week,” Smith said. “I never stop practicing. I do dance stuff throughout my day to stay limber and flexible. I stretch, practice routines, work on my strength and balancing as well as a lot of core work. Dance is a very intense sport. It is a lot of hard work. I do a lot of lifting of the female dancers, many of whom are very muscular themselves. I have to do pushups and sits to keep in shape.”

Keeping up to date with trends in the dance community is also important, Smith said.

“The hardest thing is getting more flexible,” he said. “You have to stretch and overextend yourself. In dance, things are always changing. I want to keep dancing as long as possible, so I have to keep up with all of the new styles and techniques. I don’t see a difference in the styles because each style incorporates some of the same techniques. I use ballet in jazz, tap in hip-hop and jazz in tap. It’s all dance. Some judges in competition are more open to how you incorporate styles. They will say they really enjoyed how you adapted one style into a different form. Others are more strict and want to see it done a certain way.”

Smith said an appreciation for music is an important part of dancing.

“I love music so much, and the different beats you can hear with each piece of music,” Smith said. “You can dance to any kind of music. You can do so much with any song. You can do a hip-hop dance to a country song or to a slow song. You can put any type of dance to any type of music.”

In addition to performing on his own, Smith often performs with other dancers from Bluefield Dance Theatre. Smith said dancing as a group or with a partner can pose challenges solo dancing does not.

“When you solo, if you mess up no one knows as long as you keep dancing,” he said. “When you are with a group or a partner you have to keep up with your counts and know where everyone else is. I was actually dancing with my partner recently and sort of blanked out while I was lifting her. She had to whisper to me to remind me to put her down. It was funny and still ended up being a fun dance.”

Through dance, Smith said he has gotten to meet a wide variety of people.

“Dance has helped me build a lot of friendships,” he said. “I was bullied a lot for dancing and eventually I was home-schooled. I didn’t spend as much time with kids my age except when I was in dance. I have met so many wonderful people through dance. I love my dance family. I would and try to do anything I can for them. I go to all their birthday parties, even if I’m the only big person sitting at a three-year-old’s tea party.”

Now that he is older, Smith said he enjoys getting to pass down his knowledge to younger dancers at the studio.

“I love working with them,” Smith said. “I have taught kids from age three and up. I see a little bit of myself in some of them. I’m a childish person and I think I’m more of a kid than a lot of them most of the time. I like seeing them grow and improve.”

When he is not teaching or working on his own routines, Smith is often performing at competitions across the country.

“We try to do at least three regional competitions and one national competition each year,” Smith said. “We also do a convention once a year. When you go on stage, everyone says they are nervous but I don’t think like that. I love to perform and to dance. I don’t care if I get bronze or platinum. I dance for me and as long as I have fun that’s all that matters.”

Smith has also been accepted as a protégé with Dance Rogue, an intense dance workshop based in Illinois.

“Dance Rogue is a group I’m with and have been traveling with,” he said. “Charles Lawrence is my mentor with Dance Rogue and is a phenomenal hip-hop dancer. He has been a choreographer for Justin Bieber. I always try to have fun when I dance and I tried out for fun. I was shocked at first when I made it. Through Dance Rogue I have been to Chicago, San Diego, and Greensboro, N.C. As a protégé, I get to train with amazing dancers I want to be like.”

Soon, Smith will be traveling to Florida to audition to work as a dancer at Disney.

“I have been to Disney 12 times in my life,” he said. “My life hasn’t been easy, but every time I went to Disney I felt wonderful, as if nothing could ruin my day. I’ve wanted to work there since I was little.”

Smith also has other plans for the future.

“I would love to be a choreographer,” he said. “I like dancing and performing, but as a choreographer I could help other people improve their skills and create dances of my own.”

Another goal Smith has is making the people who have supported him throughout his career proud.

“I want to be successful for people like Mr. (Randy) Lamb, my mother, grandparents, students, friends and family,” Smith said. “I want to make them proud. I want them to see me on TV some day and say they knew me when I was little. I want to work hard so they can see my success.”

No matter who he dances with, Smith said he tries to learn a little something from everyone.

“As I say to my students you have to look up to everyone,” Smith said. “Everyone can do something special. Some people are poised and can stay on their toes for hours. My duet partner is good about putting herself in the dance. She tells a story with her dance, which I find is just amazing. Everyone can do something. I think the best advice for dancers is just to be yourself. Don’t be shy and always try to have fun.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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