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In 1976, the Bee Gees released a song titled, “You Should Be Dancing.” Although way too young to remember that song, Mikayla Grimes and Daisy Tyson, both students at Hunter’s Dance Studio in Wilson, have been doing just that — not letting a pandemic slow them down and dancing on to win and place in dance competitions and earn spots in advanced summer programs.
Hunter’s Dance Studio closed in mid-March due to COVID-19 restrictions, but both girls continued to dance via virtual dance classes provided by Hunter’s.
“Daisy was devastated that Hunter’s Dance had to close (due to the pandemic), but with the help of her mother, she went into overdrive taking one to four virtual dance classes every single day,” said Hunter Peebles, owner of Hunter’s Dance Studio. “What the shutdown offered Daisy and other dancers was a chance to take from professional dancers, instructors and choreographers from all over the country. Getting to study dance from these famous dancers and to receive personal feedback only inspired Daisy to work additional hours on her own, each day trying to accomplish what she needs in order to audition for ‘World of Dance’ in the future. With the help of her mother, who wants to do whatever possible to help her reach that dream, Daisy is on her way to having a successful dance career.”
On her way to “World of Dance,” a dance competition on the NBC television network, Daisy, 9, has earned numerous dance awards just since the pandemic.
At the Inspire Dance Competition in March, Daisy won second place overall in the 9- to 12-year-old category at the highest level, competing against much older girls. In the Applause Competition, she took first place overall and “Miss Applause” at both regional and national competitions. The Encore Dance Competition yielded first place Junior National Winner and Miss Encore Junior at the national level for Daisy. She also placed first overall Junior Elite Division and first runner up for Miss Dance Platinum and received an invitation to the Best of the Best at the Platinum National Dance Competition and took home first place overall Junior Division and the Stage Performance Award at the National Dance Competition.
Daisy’s father passed away from cancer when she was very young, but she believes he is watching her and cheering her on each time she performs.
“What I love about Daisy’s journey is watching her grow into an incredible dancer and tumbler,” said Melissa Gardner, Daisy’s mother. “We have met some really awesome people along the way who have helped her so much. We have had some really, really awesome mom and daughter memories while we have been on our little mini trips to different places for dance events. Daisy has really loved learning new styles of dance during the quarantine virtually to add to her resume.”
Peebles also credits instructor Tatum Shields with tailoring a routine for Daisy that brought out her confidence while also impressing the judges.
“Tatum put together a solo that showcased all of Daisy’s strengths and her personality,” Peebles said. “The level of difficulty in her routine is off the charts as far as competitions go.”
Daisy has been taking tumble since age 4 and dance since age 6 with jazz being her favorite style of dance. She is a member of Hunter’s Competitive Dance Company and competes at the top level at competitions.
Mikayla Grimes, 12, started taking dance at Hunter’s Dance when she was 6 and has come a long way with both her dance skills and her confidence.
“In the beginning, Mikayla was a little timid, but once she experienced performing on a stage, she fell in love with dance, and it showed,” Peebles said.
Mikayla has won two first place overalls and has placed in the top 10 in every competition in which she has performed. This year, she won the special “Light as a Feather” award for her first solo.
“When Mikayla performed her ‘Swan Lake’ solo, it was obvious she had the potential to be a professional ballerina one day,” Peebles said. “She wants to be a professional dancer while she is still young, and since the ballet career is short for professional dancers, Mikayla would like to own a studio after her professional career.”
Several months ago, despite Mikayla being unsure that her skills were advanced enough, Peebles convinced her to audition for the Carolina Ballet Summer Session in Raleigh.
“I went to the audition to help calm Mikayla’s nerves and to remind her that it was OK if she was not accepted into their program,” Peebles said. “All that mattered was that Mikayla did her best and experienced a real ballet audition.”
Mikayla competed for a spot in the summer program against dancers ages 12 to 21 from auditions in Raleigh, Boston, Atlanta, New York, Pittsburgh and other large cities. Only three days after the audition, Mikayla received her acceptance letter for inclusion in the Carolina Ballet Summer Session.
But then COVID-19 began sweeping through the states and Mikayla worried that the Carolina Ballet would have to cancel its summer program.
“Mikayla was thrilled when the Carolina Ballet decided to do their summer intensive virtually,” Peebles said. “We set up a huge monitor in one of our studios to take her classes daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Even though it is not the same as it would have been, Mikayla is still learning so much from all of the professional instructors and is even building relationships with the other dancers. She is grateful for the opportunity and is hopeful she can attend in Raleigh next summer.”
Mikayla dreams of performing in the Nutcracker Suite Ballet, preferably in New York City.
“Once Mikayla expressed an interest in becoming a professional ballet dancer, I decided to do everything possible to help her reach that goal, said Melissa Grimes, Mikayla’s mother. “I have to constantly push Mikayla out of her comfort zone by sending her to auditions even if she doesn’t think she is ready yet. I try to be very honest with Mikayla and remind her that no one can do this for her. She has to have the desire and drive to work on her dream daily and if she is working, I want to be there to cheer her on and to critique her and to encourage her when she gets down on herself.”
“I know the instructors at Hunter’s Dance have her best interest at heart and will continue to advise us to make sure she gets what she needs to reach her goals,” continued Grimes. “What I love the most about this journey is watching Mikayla learn from great dancers. It is so rewarding to see her slowing gaining confidence with her talent.”
Peebles and her instructors at Hunter’s Dance knew that without in-person dance and tumble sessions, many students could lose their interest in the craft.
But it has also shined a bright light on those dancers who work hard to turn a difficult situation into an advantage.
“Mikayla and Daisy are two students out of many who have the passion, drive, determination and desire to become professional dancers in a company or as a commercial dancer,” Peebles said. “We love how they have not let this uncertain time of quarantine and shutdowns stop them from constantly striving on a daily basis to become stronger dancers and tumblers. I love when students represent Wilson in a great way, and both of these girls are making a name for our city. And I just love the way Wilson loves to follow and support these children. We have a lot of talent here.”