Since she was young, she was always moving. Originally trying out gymnastics, Black Hills High School senior Gabby Connors reluctantly agreed to visit her best friend’s mom’s newly opened dance studio downtown.
All it took was one class. Gabby was hooked. But, rather than explaining the switch was because dancing felt special, Gabby reveals her younger self had something else in mind. “I didn’t have to hold on to a bar or anything it was just fun,” she laughs. As a child, she changed her new pastime to dance without much deliberation. However, little did she know how much it would shape her and become a large part of the talented person she is today.
Gabby started dancing, with a focus on ballet, when she was 10 years old. Gabby says her “favorite thing [about dancing] is performing, just because I love being on stage. It’s where I belong, and it’s what I’ve always loved to do.” The close-knit relationships she has built at Studio West Dance Academy over time have also kept her coming back again and again. “It’s just such a family and such a community,” she says. “People always say that but it’s so true. When you’re doing something arts related, you have to be able to put yourself out there and feel comfortable so having had that place for so long is just so nice.” This past winter will have marked her eighth year of performing in The Nutcracker, with Gabby playing a soloist role as Arabian Lead. “It’s the part I wanted since my very first Nutcracker so it was really cool that I get to do that for my last one,” she shares.
Seeing Gabby on stage is a stunning display of performance, but behind all the graceful, flowing motions in ballet and the energetic, clean-cut moves in hip-hop are blood, sweat, and tears. Her passion and commitment as an artist drives her to perfection. Monday through Saturday, Gabby goes straight to the studio after school for practice, from bed to school, school to studio, studio to bed. All in all, her total time in dance classes or rehearsals is nearly 24 hours a week, year-round. Though it may be a physically demanding commitment, Gabby shares her hectic schedule enthusiastically, even comically adding, “If I’m lucky, sometimes we have rehearsals on Sundays!”
Ballet. Jazz. Contemporary. Modern. Hip-Hop. Musical theater. Tap. When it comes to the genre of dance, Gabby has tried it or done it and, if not, plans to. Between her two main focuses, ballet and hip-hop, she finds the biggest difference is the structure. In ballet, a dancer must perfect technique. Most ballet is set in stone and dancers have set choreography that is taught at each studio. Hip-hop, however, is always changing. New songs bring with them new dances every week. Gabby feels she can express herself in all genres of dance but in different ways. Every dance serves a purpose in translating to the audience different emotions and certain aesthetics.
“Ballet is a little more structured and hip-hop is a little more free,” she explains.
Gabby has always wanted to express herself, but she couldn’t express all sides of herself just through ballet, her sole focus early on. To her, it would be like trying to paint a picture of her vibrant character with two colors. At the time, she needed more colors to satisfy her artistic needs, so once she entered high school, she officially joined Studio West’s Top Hip Hop crew “Edge Girls” through the Beat Box Studio.
On top of the usual big ballet productions, she and the crew perform throughout the year. Edge Girls execute at a level that does not disappoint, performing in many events like the Northwest “Prelude” Urban Dance Competition in Seattle as an exhibition group.
All this hard work and determination comes at a price. Sophomore year she hurt the arch of her right foot, managing the injury for eight months. “We never actually figured out what was wrong with my foot. We just knew something was because I couldn’t dance. That was a really really hard time,” she explains. “It was the first time I had to take a lot of time off dancing and without that it was like, ‘Who am I?’”
She eventually healed and jumped straight back in. In October of her junior year she had a type two sprain on her right ankle, which she powered through and healed within a month. However, the following January, she sprained her left ankle too.
“That was unpleasant,” Gabby says. “It’s something I still deal with because when you sprain your ankles it never really goes back to was it was before.”
Although injuries have been more recurring than usual and the physical demands of ballet stay high. Gabby is undeterred from returning to dancing from every single obstacle she faces. “Ballet is so athletic. It’s something people don’t really understand because you’re supposed to make it look easy but you go home and you feel dead,” she shares.
On top of being a humble, but accomplished artist, Gabby is an intellectual. She achieved the highest marks in her school on both national tests, the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Test, has received the highest score possible on multiple AP exams including Calculus AB, and is currently on track to become valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA, all while taking the most rigorous courses possible.
Gabby is one of those people who does it all. When asked how she manages, Gabby humbly responds, “Dance really teaches you self-discipline and perseverance, so I think I’ve just been able to apply those qualities to my schoolwork.” Through her dancing, she’s also been able to learn life lessons and gain certain skills like how to prioritize, manage different responsibilities and balance her social, academic and artistic lives.
Gabby plans to continue her passion in the arts beyond high school as well. “Regardless of where I end up, my major is going to be dance or dance and performance studies,” she says. Although she’s leaving for college soon, Gabby is still active in the community, preparing for her spring performances and also giving back. The Black Hills High School Theater’s spring musical, The Music Man, featured Gabby as one of the choreographers. She created dances for certain scenes and taught them to all the actors and singers.