*Written by Raina Weinberg
Throwing his entire body six feet into the air, sophomore Grayson Mcguire contorts his body into a center leap. Starting on solid ground, his legs fly to his sides as he leaps higher. By the peak of the center leap, his legs have surpassed his arms, creating something that looks like a toe touch, only his toes reach his head instead of his hands. In just three seconds, he has accomplished something that most people wouldn’t even try. While some would say being able to do a center leap on top of many other dance moves is amazing, it is merely a part of Mcguire’s everyday life.
For the last four years, Mcguire has focused solely on becoming the best dancer he can be. Whether it be Jazz on Wednesday night or Ballet on Sunday night, he works to improve his skills at Miller Marley dance studio. He practices there every night, sometimes for up to five hours. Miller Marley jazz and competition leader Beth Johnston has seen Mcguire’s dedication firsthand during his time at Miller Marley.
“What he had was drive, he didn’t want anyone to be better than him.” Johnston said “He is probably the hardest worker I have ever had in all my years of teaching.”
Before falling in love with dancing, Mcguire was focused on singing and acting. From school musicals to choir solos, everything but dance was on his mind. That was until he realized those two weren’t enough if he was going to pursue a performing arts career. In seventh grade, Mcguire auditioned for Theatre in the Park and didn’t make it. Both he and his parents attended the shows and immediately realized one significant difference between the boys on stage and Grayson; they could dance. After going back and forth between whether or not he wanted to try dance, he eventually signed up for lessons.
In sixth grade, Mcguire decided to start dance lessons at Miller Marley so he could develop his talents. Arriving at his first class, Mcguire looked into the mirrored dance studio at a sea of pink leotards. With a racing heart, he immediately turned around and left. He didn’t want to learn to dance or even try for that matter. But after encouragment from his parents, he ventured into the leotard army’s stronghold.
“My first class had no other guys in it which was kind of awkward,” Mcguire said “And it wasn’t the same level of dance that I do nowadays at all, which is why it’s more interesting now. It’s harder and more fun.”
Soon after beginning work with Miller Marley founder Brian McGinnes, another teacher, Beth Johnston, took notice of him while observing a jazz class.
“You can just tell every time he dances that he just loves to dance,” Johnston said. “He dances like it’s the last time he is going to be able to dance, like there is no tomorrow.”
After Johnston begged McGinnes to let her teach Mcguire, he eventually gave in. Mcguire has been working with Johnston ever since. After a year of work with him, she was astonished at the progress he had made.
“He just came in all the time,” Johnston said. “He took every class that was offered and worked in them until he got better.”
According to Johnston, during his first summer attending Miller Marley, Mcguire moved up four jazz levels. His complete determination to be the best drove him to constantly improve. He went from the fundamentals of dancing to being able to do seven pirouette spins without faulting. When he first arrived in the unfamiliar dance studio, Mcguire never thought that it would soon become his home.
Besides becoming a better dancer than he ever believed possible in one year, Mcguire had also realized that dancing was not just an extra skill in his performing arsenal. It was his passion. After the first year of dance, other people in his life had noticed a change in Mcguire. His mother, Cathy Bennett could tell that he was noticeably happier.
“His self-confidence increased,” Bennett said. “He has always been a self-confident child but i think that when you find something you enjoy and excel at, you are happier with yourself.”
After aquiring numerous dancing skills like airborne toe touches and pirouettes, Mcguire joined a competition team through Miller Marley. The team competes in about four or five competitions a year, unlike most competition teams who constantly attend them. According to Johnston they don’t go to win trophies, but to gain experience.
“I like the kids to see what else is out there,” Johnston said. “They see that ‘Oh that kid is more flexible and they can leap higher’ so it’s an opportunity to perform and see everyone and measure where they need to be.”
The team recently attended a convention called Jump in Kansas City where Mcguire won Teen Male VIP, the equivalent of first place, out of all the boys in his age group. This award grants him free admission to any and all Jump conventions around the country. After winning that, Mcguire went to Chicago for another convention and placed in different showcases. While Mcguire excels in all of the dances he does in Kansas, he still feels that there is room for improvement.
According to Mcguire, Kansas is lacking in dance opportunites. He feels there aren’t any programs at East that offer more advanced dancing geared towards a future career. While dancing at Miller Marley has helped him learn many needed skills, he wants to expand and gain more experience. He has auditioned for performing arts schools in Philadelphia and North Carolina, and one school has already offered him a scholarship.
“We weren’t prepared to be empty nesters,” Bennett said. “But after observing five years of incredible talent and incredible determination and focus, I think he would be well served at a school that could really focus on development.”
Four years after completely writing off anything to do with dance, Mcguire has transformed into a performer. Dancing not for the benefit of others, but for himself and the happiness it brings him. He plans on pursuing his passion far into his future. Dance has become a part of his life that he will take everywhere.
“I love that when I dance, I don’t have to think about anything else,” Mcguire said. “I don’t have to think about real life.”