MARSHALL - In her almost 30 years of teaching dancers, Southwest School of Dance director Charlotte Wendel said she's never had such a large graduating class of students.
Breanna Ahmann, Katlyn Bartz, Abbie Doom, Bridget Marron, Carly Salfer, Rebecca Sammons and Mackenzie Vogt, who will graduate from Marshall High School Friday, make up the biggest number of graduating seniors that Wendel's had at the studio.
Each of the girls have been dancing for 10 to 15 years, taking part in most of the classes SWSD had to offer. The girls said there were a few more dancers in their grade but had quit dance during the years. Sammons said that some had speculated it would get down to just two or three. But the seven persevered and remained at SWSD all this time.
Photo by Cindy Votruba
Southwest School of Dance students Rebecca Sammons, Breanna Ahmann, Carly Salfer, Katlyn Bartz, Mackenzie Vogt, Abbie Doom and Bridget Marron make up the largest group of seniors to graduate from the studio. The seven said they’ve bonded throughout the years and that dance has been an important part of their lives.
From the beginning, you gain a lot of friendships you don't want to lose, Ahmann said.
And despite the long hours or the tough rehearsals getting ready for national competition, the girls said they wouldn't have it any other way.
"No matter how hard it is here or how much work it is, we'd all rather be here than not in it at all," Sammons said.
"It take a lot of dedication," Salfer said.
"Especially in June when we go from 8-8 every day," Ahmann said. "We call it boot camp."
When things were going on in her personal life, Bartz said dance helped a lot.
"Coming up here and being with these girls makes stuff go away, I can focus on just dance," Bartz said.
During the years, Vogt said they've gone from those who looked up to the older dancers to being the role models themselves. Salfer said they've been encouraging the younger dancers more this year.
"I feel the students look up to us more, a lot more than we realize," Vogt said.
They've taken their own responsibility to be a role model, Ahmann said.
"We're closer as a team and as a 'family' this year with the leadership we've done," Doom said. Vogt said they've definitely matured throughout the year.
And they haven't just matured as role models but as performers. The girls said they've watched countless videos of competitions so they can be better dancers.
"It's fun seeing the improvements of where you were to where you are now," Doom said.
Two of the seven dancers said they had to step away from dance for awhile. Bartz said she took a year off of dance to "find herself." As time went on, she realized that dance was such a big part of her that she couldn't imagine not being in the studio.
"I missed my friends in the studio," Bartz said.
"You don't realize how important dance is," Doom said.
Salfer also took some time away from the studio.
"You don't realize how much you love it until you are not there," Salfer said.
Doom said Wendel has been an inspiration for them.
"She's almost like a second mom," Vogt added.
"We've accidentally called her 'mom' before," Salfer said.
"I've learned a lot of life lessons (from her) and not just about dance," Doom said.
Ahmann said Wendel has told them that "you always have to work hard for what you want and nothing comes easy."
The girls said they also have played tricks on their teacher.
"Stuff to make things interesting," Sammons said.
Throughout the years, the girls have danced at nationals together in such locations as Orlando, Fla., New York City and Las Vegas, Nev. Vogt said it's fun to travel with people you know and calling up each other to either go to the beach or the pool.
"It's fun to say you've danced with your best friends at Las Vegas," Salfer said.
Their bond hasn't always revolved around rehearsals and dance competitions. Salfer said they've taken trips together to state parks. They dress up for Christmas and Valentine's Day. There have been all-night lock-ins at the studio.
"We don't sleep much," Vogt said. During the lock-ins, the girls said they play games and make up their own dances.
After graduation, the seven will head in different directions to college. Marron already has a dance job lined up with the Red River Dance Company in Fargo, N.D. while she goes to school. She said she already has five classes she will teach, which includes ballet, tap and lyrical.
Wendel said she'll definitely miss having the long-time dancers in her studio.
"I feel like I'm losing a member of the family," Wendel said. "They've all reach an exceptional level. I have every confidence they will do wonderful things and be successful."
Even if they don't dance professionally or teach dance, the girls said what they've taken away from SWSD will be instilled in them.
"I think dance will be a part of our lives no matter what we do," Ahmann said.