‘Dance it out’

Manson native balances life with dance practice to pursue her passion

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Emma Simpson, of Manson, gracefully demonstrates a tilt jump in downtown Fort Dodge recently. Simpson has served as a captain on Iowa Central Community College’s dance team. She plans to bring her skills to the University of Northern Iowa next year.

Emma Simpson’s first solo dance competition didn’t go as planned.

Simpson, of Manson, was so nervous, she forgot her choreography and ended up falling down during the routine.

The symposium contest was held in Fort Dodge.

“I just started turning,” Simpson recalled. “I was so flustered; I fell right on my butt.”

However, she got back up and finished strong.

“It was probably my worst memory, but it still turned out OK,” Simpson said.

In fact, she took home first place in that competition.

“The rest of my routine went off without a hitch,” she said.

That was in 2014 when Simpson was a sophomore at Manson Northwest Webster High School.

It was an opportunity for her to grow.

“I learned to stop thinking and just feel it,” Simpson said. “I feel when I did my best in solos and other team performances is when I just let my heart do what it wants to and dance it out.”

She added, “I stopped thinking about the five, six, seven, eight of things and went to just feeling the music.”

Simpson has come a long ways since then.

She served as a captain on Iowa Central Community College’s dance team this past year. The team recently placed third in a national competition in Daytona, Florida.

Lesa Dencklau is the team’s head coach and Cassidy Vermeer is the assistant coach.

“Cass and Lesa are the best,” she said. “They push us hard, but they make things fun. I have learned so much underneath them. They push us to be our very best.”

In Daytona, it was a chance to dance among the best.

“It was a little nerve-racking,” Simpson said. “You are competing against amazing dancers. You see them practicing in front of you. There’s thousands of people from all over the country there to compete and there’s thousands more watching you.”

She added, “It’s an experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

Simpson said it takes the whole team to perform well.

“The teamwork we had was great,” she said. “We really pulled together and supported each other. There’s truly amazing dancers in our division, and we have some of the highest scoring routines out of the entire competition. To be able to walk away with third place is astonishing, especially for a small community college in Iowa.”

The difference between a first and third place finish isn’t much.

“There’s three-tenths of a point in difference,” she said.

Teams start out with 10 points and from there are deducted points, she said.

“If there’s turns that don’t hit or if your spacing is a little off, it comes to a fine line between who gets what,” Simpson said. “That shows the level of competition we have there. Everyone is going for that first-place finish.”

To be on the Iowa Central dance team, strength and flexibility are essential.

“Sometimes when you get stronger, the flexibility gets harder,” Simpson said. “As many times as you do strength and conditioning, you need to stretch twice that amount.”

Simpson has invested countless hours mastering the activity.

“It’s very time consuming,” she said. “You practice for at least two hours a day.”

In high school, the challenge was to balance all of the activities she participated in.

“We were a small school, so you could be in fine arts, you could be in sports, you could be in dance,” she said.

Volleyball and softball were among the sports she played at MNW.

“I was in multiple sporting events along with keeping up a 3.9 GPA in high school, but I had such a passion for it (dance) and I just kept working on it.”

She added, “You choose to time manage everything. Set aside time that you can’t hang out with friends, you have to go to dance practice.”

While in high school, she joined Dance 2 Xtreme in Lake City.

It was there that she developed her passion for contemporary dance, among other styles. She credits Ashlee Rathbun, who was the studio teacher there.

“It was really cool to learn from her,” Simpson said. “That was where I truly burst out of my shell and she got me to express myself through dancing.”

She admits it was difficult at times to balance everything, but those struggles have been worth it.

“I think it has paid off in the end,” she said.

Simpson plans to attend the University of Northern Iowa next school year to further her education in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology.

She is trying out for the Panther dance team this weekend.

“It’s really cool to go on to a four-year school and test out the waters,” she said.

If she has anything to say about it, dance will be part of her life for years to come.

“I never want to give it up,” she said.