Dwyer And Palma Dancing Into Senior Year Together

Dwyer And Palma Dancing Into Senior Year Together

Countless people get nervous when performing in front of an audience. For Cheshire High School seniors Sarah Dwyer and Charlotte Palma, there are nerves while being backstage at a dance competition, but when it is showtime, they find that their instincts and countless hours of training take over.

“When you are younger, you don’t care about the score, but as you get older, you worry about the placement,” explained Palma. “You are so nervous before you go on stage, but then you black out. It is muscle memory at that point.”

Dwyer describes the competitive atmosphere as high-risk and high-reward.

“It is fun to show off your hard work and the bling of the costumes,” stated Dwyer.

For the last three seasons, the girls have competed on the regional and national levels for Eastman Dance Company in North Haven, but their dance partnership dates back much earlier.

At age 5, the girls both started competing at Rhythm Dance Academy.

“Both of our moms put us into it,” reflected Dwyer. “We made so many friends that we wanted to come back.”

In being introduced to dancing at a young age, Palma and Dwyer quickly found a passion for the activity.

“My mom had me try a lot of sports, but I hated the outfits,” explained Palma. “I wanted to be in leotards.”

In joining the competition team at RDA, Dwyer and Palma began training in 15 dances in styles like lyrical, tap, jazz, contemporary, and modern.

“I love lyric and contemporary, but I enjoy doing all of the dances,” said Dwyer.

“As we got older, we’ve learned them (routines) in a shorter amount of time,” added Palma.

After spending five years at RDA, Dwyer and Palma decided to make a change when some teachers left for the Cheshire Performing Arts Academy.

At the new program, Palma liked having the opportunity to dance with her older sister Samantha. A 2018 CHS graduate, Samantha performed locally and also danced while attending college at Sacred Heart University.

“It was definitely a great experience,” recalled Palma. “We got to do a duo (performance) in our last year together. It is cool to do something with your sister.”

Dwyer and Palma enjoyed dancing in CPAA, but when one of the teachers left to go to Eastman, they decided to change companies with some of their friends.

“I wanted to go with the girls who I grew up dancing with,” explained Dwyer.

Along with working with familiar faces, the Cheshire girls have also liked meeting new people.

“I was very nervous going to a new studio, but it has been great,” stated Palma. “We have met girls from places like Clinton and Guilford.”

“We call ourselves the ‘Dream Team,’” said Dwyer.

Starting in November or December, Dwyer and Palma start working on routines for the competitive season that runs from February through May. Traditionally, Eastman performs in six events and then competes for the chance to dance nationally.

For the last three years, Palma and Dwyer have helped Eastman qualify for the American Dance Awards. The girls like facing off against competitors from the U.S., as well as other countries like Canada and South Africa.

“There are a lot of teams,” said Dwyer. “We always feel like underdogs when we go there,”

This year from July 4-10, Eastman shined on a big stage at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida. Competing in the National Championship Dance Off, the company finished in second place.

“Being at Eastman and competing against the best is one of the best feelings,” said Dwyer. “We worked so hard for this (runner-up finish). Watching these (other) dances, we didn’t feel that we would make it.”

For the competition, teams perform three dances over two days. From there, the judges pick out six age 12-and-over squads across multiple styles to compete in the Elite Six.

“After we got one dance in, we ignored the rest of the announcements, but we ended up getting another one,” reflected Dwyer. “We were the only studio to get two dances in the finals.”

For the final program, the girls took second for their musical theatre routine. With about 16 or 17 dancers, the group performed to the song “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.

“We were wearing heels, which was fun,” said Palma. “That was one of our favorite dances from the season. It took first place at multiple competitions.”

Eastman worked on their routine throughout the year.

“It takes time to pick it up,” stated Palma. “Some people learn quicker and others need more time. Sometimes, we add people to our dances.”

Palma and Dwyer also competed individually and in duets within the senior division (ages 16-21).

“The best part is to get to be on stage with your friends,” stated Dwyer.

“It is great that we can get on stage multiple times and get better,” explained Palma. “We can take the critiques and really improve.”

Palma received an additional honor. Since she had received an Ultimate Challenge Jacket for her scoring on the regional level, Palma had the chance to test her skills against other dancers at Nationals. She took four classes over two days.

“There were 60 of us in the same room with four judges watching us,” recalled Palma, who also received an ADA jacket. “We had to take a ballet, tap, jazz, and lyric class. Judges scored you and added up the points.”

Palma wasn’t told her place in the final standings, but she was honored to have had the opportunity to take part in the program.

Another member of Eastman, Cheshire’s Rory Stults, was the second runner-up for ADA Teen Dancer of the Year. Back in 2018, she took first place in the junior category.

“It was definitely so cool to see,” stated Palma. “When she won Junior Dancer of the year, I think we only had six girls there in Florida. To see one of the my closest friends win that big award was so exciting.”

In reflecting upon their dance careers, Palma and Dwyer credit the coaching staff for helping them to reach their potential. Over the years, they’ve formed close friendships as performers and people.

“You can have a bad day at school and then it (dance practice) can turn into a therapy session,” said Palma.

“They are basically like our friends, but we know when to buckle down to practice,” added Dwyer.

The friends are excited to compete in 2023, but first, they are currently training on routines and fundamental skills.

“Dance is a year-round sport,” said Palma. “We get off for Christmas break and a week in the summer, but we are always working on technique stuff like ballet.”

Dwyer and Palma recently started working on choreography with their fellow dancers.

“It is a big time commitment,” added Dwyer. “We are in the studio a lot.”

For the girls, it is emotional to be starting their final year with friends and coaches.

“Our teachers have been working with us since the beginning,” reflected Dwyer. “It is so hard because we don’t want to leave them.”

Dwyer and Palma haven’t decided if they want to keep performing in college.


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