What Carolina Panthers’ Dance Team Auditions Taught Me About My Power
“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.” – Epictetus
I stood in line with 150 other girls who wanted the same thing I did—a spot on the TopCats dance team to cheer on National Football League’s Carolina Panthers from the sidelines.
Nineteen and 21-year-olds listened to tryout music in their earphones and spun their perfect, spray tanned, sequin adorned bodies into pirouettes as they practiced their first-round routines.
They appeared as though they had been dancing their entire lives unlike me who had only taken jazz classes one month prior to auditions. This observation simultaneously scared me and made me curious. I decided to explore the latter by asking the girl in front of me how long she had been dancing.
“Since I was four,” she replied.
What Am I Doing?
What the heck am I doing? I can’t compete with these girls. In an instant, I went from thinking I could make the team to knowing I wouldn’t get past the first round. I tried repeatedly to swallow my fear, but it stubbornly stayed stuck in my throat.
Though I’d never been a dancer, I always loved dancing. I dance around the house, in the car, in the park and on the beach. I dance everywhere I go, and it is this love of dancing that encouraged me to give the TopCats a go. I didn’t care that I wasn’t a trained dancer—until that moment in line when it dawned on me that I was approaching 30, my outfit lacked sparkle, and I didn’t have on the proper dance shoes.
I thought about leaving. I could just pretend like I forgot something in my car and never return. But Candace, that’s so unlike you. You’re going to quit before you start?
My conscious won the internal battle that ensued and persuaded me to stay. So there I was, waiting in line to compete for a spot on the 2011 TopCats team with girls who were more experienced, more flexible and younger than me. Great.
Round one came, and I was up. I had to perform a self-made routine in front of a panel of five judges, all of whom worked for the Panthers or were previous TopCats. For a split second, I considered how my routine, which I made up in my bedroom, would pale in comparison to dancers who had their dance teachers create theirs. But, I quickly refocused on doing the best job I could.
“Wait for the music,” one judge called out. In the next moment, a Timbaland song blared from the speakers. I waited for the right beat, and then danced my heart out.
It was over in two minutes, and I shuffled back to the holding room to see if my number would be called to move to the next round. I told myself it wouldn’t be in order to soften the blow if, indeed, it wasn’t.
But with every number called, I nervously looked down at my hip to see if it was mine.
“Forty-seven.” It was the last number announced in my group.
I slowly looked. Forty-seven? I’m number 47. Oh my goodness! I made it to the next round! I smiled from excitement, shook from disbelief, and cried from joy.
After gathering my belongings but before leaving the room, I looked around at the experienced dancers with perfect, sequin-adorned bodies who I had advanced beyond. You are more powerful than you know. That’s what the voice in my head told me. Next up, Round Two.
I thought this would be the end of the road for me. I’m good at doing many things under pressure, but memorizing dance combinations in a short timeframe is not one of them. For Round Two, contestants were given 30 minutes to learn a real TopCats dance routine. At the end of the learning session, I looked exactly the same as I did at the beginning. Confused.
But once again, I took to the floor and danced my heart out, even though most of the moves were wrong. And once again, I shuffled back to the holding room to see if my number would be called to move to the semi-final round.
I was almost certain it wouldn’t be, but I still nervously looked down at my hip with each number called.
I smiled. I shook. I cried. After gathering my belongings but before leaving the room, I looked around at the experienced dancers with perfect, sequin-adorned bodies who I had advanced beyond. You are more powerful than you know. Next up, Semi-Finals.
The competition was down to about 60 girls. For the semi-final round, we were given one week to learn a long, complex routine to Jennifer Lopez’s, “On the floor.” The dance included kicks, turns and leaps I had never done before, so I struggled through each practice. But I had come too far to not continue giving it my best effort. So, I showed up to extra practices and turned my bedroom into a mini rehearsal room. J.Lo’s song was on a serious loop. Finally, I felt like I had the moves down the night before the audition. I just needed to add sass.
During the tryout, I channeled Sasha Fierce, Beyonce’s alter ego. If I wasn’t going to make it to the next round, it wasn’t going to be because I wasn’t entertaining. I kicked as high as I could. I landed my turns and completed my leaps. It was over in four minutes.
This time we wouldn’t hear about the next round until the judges had a few days to deliberate. I waited anxiously, checking my email every few minutes to see if the announcement had been delivered to my inbox. A few afternoons later, it came. Subject: 2011 TopCats Finalists.
I opened the email with more trepidation than when I opened my college acceptance letter. I quickly scanned the names looking for mine. I didn’t see it. So, I scanned the email more slowly a second time.
There it was. It glowed on the page. A girl with no formal dance training but a lot of passion had made it to the final round of the TopCats auditions.
I smiled. I shook. I cried. I let my mind wander. I thought about all of the experienced dancers with perfect, sequin-adorned bodies who I had advanced beyond. You are more powerful than you know. Next up, Finals.
The competition was down from 150 to 35 girls. During the final round, we got a taste of what it was like to be a TopCat. I had the opportunity to dance at the 2011 Carolina Panthers Draft Party and practice in the TopCats’ locker room. I also had to learn two new original dances to perform on audition day. They were hard—harder than the first two routines. But, again, I gave it my best shot.
During the final round, we got to dance with metallic blue TopCats pom poms. Holding them in my hands symbolized, “you’re almost there.”
I performed all four routines nearly back to back. I was more tired after finishing them than I was after finishing a 400-meter race during my college days. I left everything on the floor. I was proud of myself.
The Team Announcement
Once again, the judges took a few days to deliberate. And once again, I waited nervously for the final announcement to arrive in my inbox. When it did, I didn’t want to open it. I knew it meant the end or the beginning. For that moment, I wanted to stay stuck in the middle.
When I finally convinced myself to look at the list, I scanned it fast for the beginning of my name. I didn’t see it. So, I scanned it more slowly a second time. I still didn’t see it. I read every single name as slow as I could for a third time. It still wasn’t there.
I didn’t make the final squad.
I was one of 10 girls who got cut.
This was the end of my journey to become a TopCat, but the beginning to my lesson on power. I smiled. I shook. I cried. I quietly congratulated all of the dancers who made the team.
Lessons on Power
You are more powerful than you know. Even though I didn’t make the squad, the theme of power resounded as loudly as it did at the end of the audition process as it did in the beginning. And what I learned about power is this:
1. Perception is power.
I perceived my age as a limitation in the audition process. I had nearly taken myself out of the game when I compared myself to the college-aged competitors standing ahead of and behind me. Thus, perception has the dual ability to render you powerless or powerful. This experience taught me that if ever I feel unable or unsure about something, I first need to check my perception about that thing because growth or decay is rooted in perception.
2. Passion is power.
Passion trumps experience. Many of the girls I competed against had been receiving professional dance training since they were toddlers. My training started one month before auditions, but my deep-running passion for dancing helped me advance beyond several of them and carried me to the final round of competition. This experience taught me that passion is power. In this case, it was more coveted and respected than technique. It taught me that whatever I set out to do, I must do it with passion or risk defeating myself. I’ll bet anything that I beat out more than a few girls because they were more focused on their technique than exuding their passion for dancing.
3. Boldness is power.
There were several times throughout the process that I wanted fear to win so I could settle back into the comfort of not being required to face it. But settling back into comfort also meant that I would never see how far I could go in the competition. This process taught me that fear, when entertained, prevents me from recognizing just how badass and powerful I am. It also helped me understand that boldness is a powerful weapon that cuts fear down. Boldness is simply the response to fear that requires you to lean into it, deal with it head on and accept the discomfort it causes. When boldness is harnessed, it helps me understand that I am bigger than fear. I am stronger than fear. And I am more powerful than I previously knew.
Power is in our perception, passion and boldness. Thank you TopCats for showing me my power.
What have you learned recently about your power?
Photo by James Willamor