Saturday night, the spotlight shone briefly on Dru Penka, a dance student at Euphoria Dance Center in Great Bend, as she took the stage to perform a solo that has touched the hearts of many in Great Bend this year. The studio held its spring recital that night at the Barton Community College Fine Arts Auditorium.
Penka’s dance, set to the song, “Dancing In The Sky,” by the artists Dani and Lizzy, was her tribute to her friend, Dade Canon, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 14 following an eight-years-long battle with childhood leukemia.
Penka says she can’t remember when she first met Canon, but she knew about him and his struggle with cancer for years. In middle school, they became good friends and made cherished memories.
Last year she moved up from studio to competition dance, and was looking for a song she could use for a solo routine the coming year.
“We were at Dade’s funeral, and they played this song, and I looked at my mom, and she looked at me, and we just sort of knew it was the one,” she said.
Penka and her mom, Christy Barnard-Penka, visited with Dade’s mother, Christy Huslig, and asked if they could have her blessing to use the song for the dance, and dedicate it to Dade. Huslig was touched and gave her approval, Penka said.
Penka shared her idea for a dedication dance with Homeier who agreed to choreograph the dance. Some weeks into practice, they added the photograph of Dade on stage. Then, Karla Ayon contributed the idea for an orange ribbon, which would be an good way to incorporate awareness of childhood leukemia. Penka’s mother painted the frame for Dade’s photo orange to match.
Penka began performing her solo in February at the studio’s winter recital, and has taken it to several competitions since then.
“Each competition I’ve done better and better,” she said. “My first competition, I didn’t place, but I got a judge’s award. My next, I placed seventh, and then the next few, I got fourth and then third.”
Listening to the critiques from judges at these competitions has helped Penka to focus on what to do to improve the next time, she said.
Dance may be one of the most challenging art forms, requiring an athlete’s stamina and body awareness, a musician’s instinct for timing and tone, and a storyteller’s ability to evoke emotion and deliver a message. Emotion, it turned out, was the key to taking her dance to ever higher placement, she said.
While many can learn the steps to a dance and find joy on the dancefloor with friends and family, few will take on the challenge of choreographing an original dance and put in the countless hours of practice needed to confidently perform their creation for the public. Homeier told the Tribune choreographing the dance was challenging.
“I was trying to incorporate a lot of movement that is directed towards heaven, so a lot of reaching, towards the picture and towards the sky,” she said.
It’s this level of dance that Homeier strives to inspire her students towards each year.
The culmination of the year’s work was on display Saturday evening at the Barton Community College Fine Arts Auditorium, in EDC’s spring recital. Penka’s was one of many notable solos Sunday evening. Dancers from both EDC’s recreational and competition dance teams performed numerous originally choreographed dances that have won the studio numerous trophies in the past few months.
Rylee Ayon also wowed the audience Saturday night with a number of routines including solos, duets, and appearances in several line dances.
Ayon’s performances evoke joy and a sense of wonder, as in her solo to the song “Lovely,” and at times humor, as in her tap duet performance with fellow team member Jayden Kramer to the song “Money,” choreographed by Jaydan Elliott, a teacher at EDC.
“The duo is a musical theater tap style, with a lot of acting,” Homeier said. “I picked the song because I felt those two could play it out together well. They interact with each other well, and the connection is there between them.”
One junior line dance stands out to Homeier as one of her best yet. The dance featured the entire ensemble of competition dance members, set to a medley of New York themed songs. Their perromance has resulted in an undefeated season for the studio, placing first at four regional competitions.
“I spent a lot of time on that routine,” she said. “There were many changes along the way, in fact it wasn’t completely finished until the end of February, right before our winter recital.”
After the evening’s finale, Homeier recognized four graduating seniors: Jessie Parkin (5 yrs.), Marcie Schartz (2 yrs.), Shaylor Schramer (2 yrs.) and Kylee Sandy (1 yr.).
She also recognized dancers’ efforts, awarding over 30 trophies. Among them was the award for Most Improved Dancer, which went to Dru Penka.
“Dru worked harder on this dance than I have ever seen her work before,” Homeier told the Tribune. “It’s largely for her effort with this solo that she was hands down our most improved dancer.”
For Dru, dance has become an important way to destress and focus on herself.
“I know that I’ll be dancing until I can’t,” she said. This dedication dance has taught her to show her emotions through dance, and that, she said, is something she looks forward to doing more of in the future.