Sophomore Ashlee Taylor walked teary eyed down wooden stairs to her aunt Rosa Garcia’s basement-turned flamenco studio and stood before her. With a shoebox containing her short heeled, navy blue T-buckle flamenco shoes in hand — Taylor was finally ready to give them back. Garcia knew what the offering meant. She knew that the pair’s 12 years of shared passion was about to disappear before the words had a chance to leave Taylor’s mouth.
“Are you sure you want to quit?” Garcia asked.
“I lost [my] love for it, and I just don’t have time anymore,” Taylor said.
Despite all her years of dedication to flamenco dancing — an expressive, technical Spanish dance form — Taylor realized she has a greater passion for theater.
It began when a friend from flamenco class dragged her to an audition for “Annie” the musical at Camelot Academy. After standing in a line with 20 other girls and singing “Tomorrow” one by one for an hour, Taylor learned that same night she had received the lead role of Annie.
“During my first performance, I got a standing ovation and just the feeling I got from the applause was indescribable,” Taylor said. “It’s just truly the best feeling to know that you entertained a large amount of people. I think that’s the center of my passion.”
Now, Taylor has decided to completely focus on theater. She performs in at least five musicals a year, taking voice and dance lessons on the side to improve herself for auditions.
“She certainly puts theater above all other things on her priority list, including homework,” Ashlee’s stepmom, Jaime Taylor, said. “If you ever look at her during a choir concert or even if she’s in the ensemble of a show, you can tell by her body language and facial expressions that she is completely in the moment and in the character.”
Last year, she volunteered to co-direct and choreograph Seussical Jr. at Prairie Elementary. Every day after school for two months she helped lead 121 fifth and sixth graders by giving them notes on their performances, teaching them dance routines, encouraging them and giving them suggestions like ‘Don’t eat in your costume!’.
“It was obvious how much she loved theater,” Prairie music teacher, Cynthia Connor, said. “She brought along with her lots of knowledge and skills and she did whatever was needed.”
The hours of practicing different combinations of flamenco dance steps like galopes — stomps that start with the heel of your foot — and plantas — stomps that start with the ball of your foot — are no longer in the way of Taylor’s dream of performing on a Broadway stage in New York City.
“I remember thinking, ‘You know, maybe this is my thing,’” Taylor said. “And I kept doing it and I got more serious about it and I started falling in love with it and now I know I want to do [theater] for the rest of my life.”
She is thankful for flamenco — without it she wouldn’t have found her love for theater. The love for performing and dance that Taylor found through flamenco led her to theater.
But quitting flamenco was not an easy decision.
Flamenco dancing runs in Ashlee’s family. Ashlee’s grandma, Sofia Garcia, was born in Spain and danced flamenco there until she immigrated to the U.S. She was taken in by a woman named Rosemary who recognized her passion for flamenco and built her a studio in the basement. After Rosemary passed away, she gave the house to Sofia, and the house has been passed on in the Garcia family ever since.
“I was very proud of her [flamenco dancing],” Garcia said. “Seeing her up on the stage made me feel like I had grown flamenco’s next big star. Those were honestly some of my proudest moments.”
Now it was supposed to be Taylor’s turn to continue the family legacy. But between flamenco rehearsals every day after school, flamenco competitions in a different city every other month, musical rehearsals, babysitting and working, there wasn’t enough time for everything.
She quickly grew tired of disappointing her directors by leaving musical rehearsal early to make it to flamenco rehearsal on time. Taylor continued to persist until she had a realization last summer when she was going through old theater photo albums. She realized that she didn’t have any pictures of flamenco printed out.
“I was like, ‘Why?’ and then I went into this deep soul search mode,” Taylor said. “That was when I decided I need[ed] to quit because I’ve always wanted to perform on Broadway.”
Although she was terrified of disappointing her family, bringing the shoebox to her aunt allowed her to finally throw herself into her love for theater.
“I thought that my whole family would hate me and I would be letting my grandma down,” Taylor said. “But I now realize that my family completely understands and loves me for who I want to be.”