Guest Contributor: Jennifer Stanga
Dancers are a special kind of athlete. We train day in and day out. We listen to our routines in our cars, in our homes, and at the store. We dance until all hours of the night. Then go home to ice our knees, tend to our sore bodies, and fall asleep to visualizing our routines. We hear a song on the radio and think, “That would be a great song for a routine!”. We put in a whole bottle of hair product to keep every hair in place while performing pirouettes, leaps, kicks and tumbling. And we do all of this while projecting emotion and art.
I have been a dancer since I could walk. My heart has always danced to a special beat. I have been involved in either dance or cheerleading. I even auditioned for an NFL team twice! Around 2016, life became very busy-I became a mom, a wife, a teacher, a social worker, and a graduate student. But, in my heart of hearts, I never lost that love for dance.
However, when someone thinks of a dancer, the typical look is tall, young, skinny, and white. I had to adjust to a world where my “nude” tights are at least 3 shades lighter than my skin tone. Where I had to straighten my naturally curly hair to be in uniform with the rest of my team. While I grew up a size 0, my new nickname is hot cocoa (for being thick, brown, warm, and delicious-shoutout to my pageant sisters for the best nickname!). And I am turning 30 this July, an age that can be considered old in the dance world.
I thought my way back into dance was through my daughter’s love of dance. Trying to not pressure her into dance, I enrolled her in a company team. She THRIVED! She loved it! I love that I get to share a passion of mine with her. That she gets to join the dance world. This is her fourth year dancing, and her third year dancing on a competitive team. My daughter would have pre-performance anxiety, and I would reminisce with her about my similar fears, and how they always were way out of proportion. I reminisced with the thought that my dancing days were in the past.
Then I went on Instagram and saw that my daughter’s studio was now having an adult team! At first, I jumped into the idea of being back on stage. But then those fears of not being an “ideal” dancer crept up. Wait, Jenn, you’re old! You’re curvy! You have kids! Should I be feeling guilty for even thinking about adding something to my schedule? What if I miss a performance? What if that mom guilt comes in? WHAT IF I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH?!?!?!?!?!?! These thoughts screamed in my head.
But then...a whisper of excitement came. And it repeated over and over again. But what IF I’m good enough? What if I can do this? I was taking private lessons to practice my dance skills (more for fun and doing fun mom/daughter dances). Maybe I can do this?
I have an amazing fitness coach that I’ve worked with for over two years named Jennifer Andrews. She shared a quote with me. “If you want it, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.” She told me that before I told her I was thinking about auditioning, but it REALLY stuck with me. Recently, whenever I try something that’s scary, I try to change my mindset from “I can’t do this” to “I just want to see what happens if I try”. I feel like it takes experiences and makes them more enjoyable. I’ve done this with races, graduate school, and trying new things in general. And not being afraid to not be the best (or even be the worst!).
I got on the team! And it’s THE BEST team with dancers who are loving and supportive. I’ve made lifetime friends through my team. I’m back on stage with my team and a solo. I’ve even signed up for an NFL dancer workshop! And, probably the best part, I get to perform WITH my daughter. We get to show our team’s dances and our solos. Not all of them are at the same venue, but the ones that I get to be backstage with her are the best! We get to encourage each other as mom and daughter and as fellow dancers.
So, no I don’t look like a stereotypical dancer. I’m mixed. I have curly hair. I’m old. I’m a mom and a wife. I’m curvy. I grunt when I kneel. And, now, I’m also a dancer.
As I’m standing on stage, right before the lights go on, and those fears come in my mind, I now think of my daughter and how I want to be an example to her. An example to conquer her fears even when you don’t think you belong, because there is no stereotype to be the best you.
Jennifer is a military wife and mom of two. She is a research assistant, clinical social work intern, and a graduate student at the University of Denver. She will graduate in March 2020 with her MSW with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health and Trauma. She has a graduate teaching certificate in Secondary Mathematics from Denver Teach Today and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Colorado. She is an AmeriCorps and Phi Sigma Sigma alumni.
When not studying, you can find Jennifer training for a half marathon, traveling, dancing on her adult competitive dance team, playing with her five pets, and working with different pageant systems. Jennifer has held the titles of Mrs. Ogden America 2019, where she was the recipient of the Kennedy Hanson Most Beautiful Smile Award, and Mrs. Colorado Springs United States 2012. Jennifer has expanded her pageant experience as a contestant coordinator, judge, judge’s assistant, and director’s assistant for the America, Universal, and C&C pageant systems.
Jennifer is an advocate for domestic violence survivors and uses her platforms to influence local communities to adopt her #AllyforSurviviors program. This program works with community members on how to identify signs of domestic violence and how to safely and efficiently defuse active abuse. Jennifer has started this program with the Ogden City Council and continues to expand her platform to different communities.