Gracen Nelson was a member of James Island High School’s Class of 2019. She danced at Charleston Dance Center, and was a member of Just Dance! for more than a decade. Gracen now attends College of Charleston, where she majors in Arts Management. She shares her experience as an Assistant for Intrigue Dance Convention.
It’s safe to say that this was my favorite year of life thus far.
The summer of 2020 was when I received an assistant position at Intrigue Dance Convention. It was a time that I hold very close to my heart and even consider the start of my post high school dance career.
The first time I attended Intrigue was in 2019, as a senior in high school. I went to Spartanburg regionals and received True Performer (TP). This is the top award and meant that I could go to any regional cities free of charge and compete for Assistant at nationals. I remember feeling so fulfilled after that weekend. I told myself I had to go to another regional city, so I attended regionals in Orlando. As I went into nationals season, I barely knew anything about how Intrigue worked. In addition to their adjudicated competition, they have many different improv and choreography-based competitions. After a long week of dance, I came home with only a top ten placement in my solo. However, I could compete as a senior for Assistant until the age of 21, so I decided to become more involved the following year.
I kept training, attended as many regionals as possible, and became very close with the other True Performers and faculty. Not only did I love every single class I took at Intrigue, but I loved being around the people. I went headfirst into nationals in 2020.
I choreographed a piece for the Imagination Competition, in which I designed the lighting, costumed the dancers, and created choreography that had a specific meaning behind it. I ended up winning with this piece. I also choreographed my solo, participated in two different improv competitions, and danced in the live auditions for Assistant. It was a busy week, but it came with much reward. I was named Senior Assistant along with six other amazing dancers. I simply couldn’t believe it, but I was so excited for the year ahead.
With the title of Assistant came many responsibilities and opportunities. We were tasked with choreographing both Welcome and Closing Show pieces, assisting classes, conducting rehearsals, working backstage at competition, and representing Intrigue. One thing that I didn’t realize at the time was that I was going to grow so close with my fellow assistants. Whenever asked, I always say that my favorite part of the year was the people. Until Intrigue, I had never been around so many dancers that were so closely aligned with me. It was extremely easy to work with them because we all were there with the same intentions: to learn, grow, and better ourselves as dancers and people. The work that we did was never easy, but we all helped each other through.
Typically, the weekends would start with rehearsals. We each had about an hour on Friday to complete our pieces and learn our faculty dances for the Welcome and Closing Show. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to set six dances and four collaborative pieces throughout the year. Being pushed to create so much helped me develop my choreographic style. I changed exponentially as a dancer in just one year. I learned to take more risks, trust my instincts, and not criticize myself as much. I also improved in moving dancers around the stage, creating visuals, and cleaning dances.
“I changed exponentially as a dancer in just one year.”– Gracen Nelson
I traveled to 13 different cities, with two fully paid by Intrigue, so there was always something new to see. In our free time after classes and rehearsals, the assistants would hang out until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer. There was never a dull moment. One of my favorite memories is when we went out to eat at T.G.I.Friday’s. At that point in the night we were delusional. Half of us were falling asleep at the table, while the other half were laughing and dancing around. It was pure chaos, but I loved it. In Minneapolis, we went to the Mall of America. We ate way too much, and spent excessive amounts of money at lululemon. We always tried to do something outside of the hotel if we had time. Times like that made me realize just how lucky I was that I got to be a part of something so much bigger than dance itself.
Then nationals came. Sadly, the year was coming to an end, but I was pumped for the six days ahead. The first day I got to teach a class on the main stage. If you’ve ever been nervous to go on stage, multiply that by 100, add your own choreography, and imagine 100+ dancers listening to you talk; that is how I felt before teaching. But all the nerves went away about five minutes into class and I realized all over again that teaching is what I want to do for the rest of my life. There was something so special about seeing each person interpret my work differently. Looking out at all the dancers doing something that I created was such a surreal and overwhelming moment. I will never be able to express how I felt after that night, much less after a year full of amazing moments.
Perhaps the only things I won’t miss are waking up at 5 AM, rolling marley, and saying goodbye at the end of the weekend. The rest of the time I was making memories that will last a lifetime. I still find time to catch up with my “Intrigue friends” whether that means I have to travel to Miami, Greenville, or even Mexico because I can no longer imagine life without them.