Bright, nimble and athletic, Emily Miles exudes a confidence and grace seldom found in most 17-year-old girls.
Precision ballroom dancing and the influential teachings that come with it have kept her in step and ahead of her contemporaries.
Miles was a socially awkward, self-conscious 11-year-old when she saw her first dance show. She was captivated. She wanted very much to become a part of it.
Today, she has blossomed into one of the best young, classically-trained dancers performing for Pacific Ballroom Dance, a nonprofit youth-focused studio in Auburn that represents about 130 competitive core team members, grades 4 through 12.
What began in 1994 as a small, local youth club has grown into a dance education studio that serves more than 1,000 students ages 5 to 18 from throughout the Puget Sound area each year. The studio offers classes in all styles of ballroom dance, from beginner to advanced.
PBD’s mission is to build character in youth through choreographed skills taught on the floor. Dancing, as program leaders explain, serves as the vehicle that drives students to grasp leadership, inclusiveness, teamwork, excellence, fitness and respect.
Such a positive ballroom dance experience has brought out the best in many area youth, including Miles, an Auburn Mountainview High School senior and Running Start student through Green River College.
For Miles, dancing is her passion, a part-time job commitment that requires her to put in between 15 and 18 hours at a studio. When she’s not rehearsing with 23 other youth premier team dancers in Auburn during the week, Miles is perfecting her steps at a private studio in Redmond.
She aspires to dance professionally one day, but first must take her act to the college level, preferably at Brigham Young University’s world-class program or maybe Utah Valley University.
“It’s a sense of confidence for myself that I’m able to achieve goals and also inspire others,” Miles said of her craft. “I can inspire younger kids who want to come, dance and gain some self-confidence.”
Michael Olson emerged from his own shadow through dance. Like Miles, Olson grew up on the dance floor and matured with the moves he has mastered in eight years of performing.
“For me, dancing is something to where I am accepted. … I am me,” said Olson, 18, a senior at Shelton High, who often makes the long drive to practice in the PBD studio.
Olson tried other sports but nothing compares to team dancing. He grew over the years and became a part of the PBD’s youth premier team that won the U.S. National Amateur DanceSport Championship in 2016. Olson and his teammates’ Latin medley, “Reign of Fire,” captivated the judges in the youth Latin formation category.
“I fell in love with it,” Olson said of ballroom dancing. “(Unlike other sports) it felt more like family.
“All sports are like, ‘yeah, we’re a family, we’re a team,’ but I never really felt that in some sports,” he said. “In dancing, we’re like blood, sweat and tears together.”
Beyond the physical expectations on the floor, students are encouraged to open their minds – to learn, accept and practice good values.
Miles appreciates the fact that the studio is about friendships and family, not a distant, teacher-pupil arrangement.
“They don’t expect us, I guess you could say, to become the best (dancers) in the world,” Miles said of the program’s leaders and coaches. “They want us to be the best people we could be. You really see that when they talk and interact with us.”
Katie Mecham, PBD artistic director, tries to “create, inspire and beautify” in her hours working with young dancers.
“It’s what pushes me … to be better.”