400 dancers compete in Vicksburg

Published 11:30 am Monday, November 10, 2014

Natalie Clanton, a member of the Debra Franco Preparatory School of Dance competition team stretches before her performance at the  Dance Teacher's United dance competition, held Saturday at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

Natalie Clanton, a member of the Debra Franco Preparatory School of Dance competition team stretches before her performance at the  Dance Teacher’s United dance competition, held Saturday at the Vicksburg Convention Center. (Terri Cowart Frazier / The Vicksburg Post)

If you think dance is for sissies, you haven’t been to a dance competition.

These contests, unlike dance recitals, which showcase mommies little darlings, require dancers to perform for a common group of judges who critique and score each routine.

Walking away with high scores and top honors requires many hours of practice and dedication, and on Saturday more than 400 kids from 25 dance studios competed at the Dance Teachers United dance competition, which was held at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am

The dance competition began at 8 a.m. with its youngest competitors.

All of the dance routines were categorized by the age of the dancer, the style of dance and the number of dancers in the routine.  Dance styles include ballet, tap, jazz, acrobatics, lyrical, contemporary and hip hop, and dance routines were solos, duets or group numbers.

Time limits are required for each dance, and most routines last no more than three minutes, said Debra Franco.

Franco is the owner of the Debra Franco Preparatory School of Dance in Vicksburg. She is also a member of DTU and served as a volunteer behind the stage at Saturday’s competition.

Grace Smith, a representative of the Leap of Faith dance studio, in Poplarville, said that her studio owner was a member of DTU, also.

“We come every year. I like how the judges give good critiques so we can review them and make corrections,” said Smith.

Competitors are scored individually, which allows dancers to compete against themselves, and then overall winners from each of the dance principal categories are chosen.  From those winners an overall is chosen, said Beverly Smith, who serves as the secretary/treasurer for DTU.

Winning is no easy feat, and the competition was stiff.

Angela McCain, the mother of one of the “mini” dancers from Franco’s competition team who competed Saturday, likened her eight-year-old daughter’s dance practices to that of an athlete’s training.

“If you don’t call these children athletes, you’re crazy,” said McCain. “They, like athletes, have to have stamina, strength, flexibility, dedication and a competitive spirit.”

McCain laughed when she recalled her daughter, Sawyer’s, first competition.

“When the girls first competed, they didn’t have a clue, but by nationals they wanted to win.”

Franco’s competition team competed in three regional competitions in the spring of last year and traveled to Fort Walton for the nationals.

Ginny Tzotzolas said her husband was a little apprehensive about letting his four-year-old daughter join a competitive dance team.

“My husband was worried about a teacher yelling at my daughter, and I reminded him that his football coach yelled at him,” said Tzotzolas.

Competition dancing is not just for girls, 16-year-old Phillip Beck and 12-year- old Brandon Merrit have been competing on Franco’s team for five and seven years, respectively.

Both boys said that they have gotten stronger by lifting weights, some of which have been the female dancers in the studio.

“I’ve only dropped one person,” said Merrit, and added that if one of the girls weighs too much to lift, you just have to work harder.

Merritt claims he has kept his dancing on the down low from his school classmates for fear of ribbing, but both guys, who like hip hop dance the best, have no worries when it comes to going to competitions, the odds are in their favor.

Natalie Clanton, another of Franco’s competition dancers likes competition dancing because you get to meet people outside of your studio.

Clanton, 13, said she dances almost every day, averaging at least 16 hours a week at the dance studio and taking instruction in every style of dance Franco offers.

“Dance is where you get to be yourself,” Clanton said, and with so many hours dedicated to practice, there is little time left for a social life.

“It’s all worth it,” Clanton said. “When you get on stage, and you do your best, it’s better than going to any birthday party.”



About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

email author More by Terri Cowart