Helen Krueger

The Floor is Yours

A memoir on how the world of music and dance shaped me as a person

“Now dancing: Morris High. Next up is Somonauk. On deck: Belvidere. Morris, the floor is yours…” We stand in a huddle behind the bleachers. You can hear the hushed whispers of the teams to follow us in the hallway, while we’re whisper-yelling words of encouragement to each other, such as “We can do this!” and “We’ll do great!” All of our thoughts drowning out the music, we start to do our pre-dance ritual to get rid of our butterflies. Shaking our limbs one at a time, progressively getting faster. One  Two  Three - One Two Three - OneTwoThree - onetwothree - onetwothree and repeat. Anticipation grows as the previous team's music dies down. Before we know it, they finish their dance and exit the stage. We make our way to the sideline of the basketball court, lining up in formation. Someone whispers, “We’ve got this ladies!!” It’s time to go. “5, 6, 7, 8.” Walk. Be graceful. Keep looking forward. Stop. A moment of silence seemingly louder than the music. My heart is racing. I've done this a dozen times before, but every time I’m still nervous. It seems like we’re waiting for an eternity. “Somonauk, the floor is yours. You may begin.”

Growing up I had always loved music and I can remember dancing around the kitchen while my parents made dinner. Music was always there, just like I had the ability to be confident within me. I had always been a shy kid. I grew up in the country so I didn’t have neighbors to hang out with and I struggled making friends. I’ve always been shy and I struggled with confidence as well. I was the quiet kid. I didn’t speak up in class and I only had a few close friends. However, in my 8th grade math class, my math teacher told us that we should all come to the high school dance team’s final performance for the year since she was the coach. I wasn’t really interested, but she said whoever went wouldn’t have to do the homework. I went and I really enjoyed the performance, so when the time rolled around for tryouts I decided to give it a chance. I had a blast at the open gyms and I made it onto the team. It was a lot of work, but I was enjoying myself and, slowly, I was opening up and cracking out of my shell. 

Before I knew it, our first performance rolled around. I was so incredibly nervous, but I was excited to see the results of all of my hard work. I had gotten all ready and I got to the school for the game. We were warming up and stretching. I thought my heart was about to jump right out of my chest. My first audience. It was half-time and we were lined up at the edge of the court. The mic turns on and my coach begins speaking. “In case you don’t know, my name is Jenna Jensen and I am the head dance coach here. These girls have worked so incredibly hard to prepare for this dance we choreographed as a team, so we hope you enjoy this first performance of the year! Take it away girls.” 5, 6, 7, 8. March. Stop. Turn. Breathe. The music starts. I count along in my head, not missing a beat. All of my practice is paying off. Jump. I continue to dance; it’s just coming out of my body and my mind is blank. Smile. Don't forget to be happy. I’m getting tired but I keep pushing. Down and flip. We all land our headsprings and the crowd screams. We get into an end formation and it’s over. I did it! The crowd claps and cheers for us. As I'm leaving the court, I’m buzzing; I feel so alive. As the night goes on, I can’t stop thinking of how powerful I felt. At school the next day, people came up to me and told me that the dance looked great and I did a great job. I’m so proud of myself and I can feel my confidence grow. People are noticing me and I’m talking to them. This continues for the rest of the season, and I’m talking to more people and speaking up in class. I’m becoming a more confident dancer and I'm loving it. Before I know it, the season is over and the next year rolls around. I keep developing new skills interpersonally and dance-related. And, we were nearing the end of this season too.

It was towards the end of my sophomore season, and my team made it to the state finals. I was a JV dancer, and an alternate for the Varsity competition team. That meant that I got to travel to our state competition with my team. There was something different about this time. It was also my birthday weekend. We left on Thursday after school and Friday was my birthday. I spent time with my teammates in our hotel rooms and we had a great bonding time when we weren’t drilling the dance. We had so much fun and for one of the first times in my life, I was included and it made me feel so good.  Friday morning rolls around. The big day. I wake up to balloons and signs on my door. Even though it was early, before the sun was up, my day was made. We do our makeup, put on our uniforms, and head out. We’re pumped up and ready to go. We sit and watch the dances. Eventually my team performs and they do great. We go down to the floor for awards and we wait. The air is filled with tension, ready to explode any second. After waiting for an eternity, the judges announce the winners and all of the places. We got 12th, so we wouldn’t be dancing Saturday. We didn’t see it as a negative; rather we were excited that we made it that far and we were done stressing. We took the bus back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Once we changed, we went out. The whole ride there we sang songs from every genre imaginable, from Queen to Billie Eilish. I can remember vividly the song “Jump Around” blasting on the speakers while we waited in the parking lot, yelling ‘jump’ repeatedly while jumping up and down on the bus. They were shouting my name. I looked around and everyone was smiling and laughing, including me. It was great; I was on a high. I felt accepted and I had finally made real friends. I was able to get out of my shell and, during the past year and a half, created real bonds with my team. We got off and went inside, we ate our dinner, everyone sang happy birthday to me, and we went back to the hotel to enjoy ourselves. The night was filled with fun, and on Saturday we went back to the arena and began our trip home around noon. It was a weekend for the books.

This experience really showed me how much I had grown as a person as well as strengthened the bond I had with my team. I realized how I had broken out of my shell. I saw before me my love for the sport and how it had turned into much, much more. I was no longer the quiet girl in the corner of math class. I was present and involved. I had made real friends who I was close with — for example, Piper. I had known her as long as I had been in school, but we never talked to each other. I never talked to anyone. We began our friendship during my sophomore year when she joined the dance team. In March of my sophomore year, school got shut down due to Covid. Our coach was sending us sheets of workouts to do every week so we stayed in shape. As the weather got nicer and restrictions started to lift a little, I began to work out at the park. I decided to reach out to see if she would practice with me because I was missing being with the team. We decided to work out socially distanced and talk while we did our exercises and run laps together. When the restrictions were lifted more, we started going to Dunkin' after working out. Then, we began to hang out and work out at each other’s homes, and we developed a friendship well beyond dance. I had put my confidence that I gained to use and crawled out of my shell even more. Everyone could see what great friends we had become. Our friendship lasted throughout the rest of our high school dance career and we were well known as the dynamic duo. Even at our awards banquet, where our coach gives out silly awards to make everyone giggle, we got “workout buddies” because throughout the rest of high school we carried on the habit that created our friendship. That’s not to say she was my only friend. I had grown the confidence to reach out to people and grow new friendships outside of dance. She gave me the courage to develop new friendships and become more extroverted. I would have never forged that friendship that helped me develop without dance.

Overall, dance has really shaped who I am. Without it, I would not have found a way to express myself nor broken out of my introverted shell. I developed relationships that helped me grow as a person. Although I did not continue on in college, I still dance for fun from time to time if I’m feeling sad, or stressed, or I just really like a song I’m listening to. I’ve finally gotten out of the habit of counting everything in 8-counts. I’m forever grateful for the math teacher who opened an invisible door for me into this life-changing experience.

Now, as a reader, you may be thinking something along the lines of, “Well none of this matters to me. I don’t care about dance. I have lots of friends.” But that’s not the point. I want you to find your Piper. I want you to find something that makes you happy and shows you those new things about yourself. Try new things. Be bold. Step out of your comfort zone. The floor is yours. DANCE.

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