Dancer rediscovers drive, trades ballet for hip-hop
Senior Lizzie Davis doesn’t know how much her new job pays.
She doesn’t know what to expect either, since her first day isn’t until November. But the salary and expectations are all just footnotes to her.
Davis has made it onto the Force Dancers, the official dance team for NBA Developmental League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce. Now, all that matters is that dancing is finally fun again.
“I like going to practice. I like my coaches,” she said. “It gives me a physical outlet, and it gives me a team.”
Davis started dancing at five years old. Annoyed by loud noises, she avoided tap and chose ballet instead. At 5’10”, she says her height has always been a “huge factor” in allowing her to become a ballerina.
Yet her struggles to find the fun in dancing don’t resemble those of someone who has loved the art her whole life.
With the encouragement of her father, Davis pursued ballet through high school, where she ran into her first obstacles.
Her school in Freeman, SD lacked the money and resources to open dance studios or programs. She spent roughly 45 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday traveling to Sioux Falls just to keep in touch with the art.
Then came the injuries.
After hurting her ankle, Davis struggled to stand en pointe in ballet. Still, it was a mild pain compared to her biggest high school roadblock: the death of her father.
“I mean, [the injury] sucked, but losing your dad sucks more,” she said.
Davis said these experiences—especially her father’s death—were a turning point in her shift away from ballet to more modern styles. Her passion for dance in general also decreased.
“[Dancing] was really important to us as a pair,” she said. “I danced for him, I would say.”
When she returned to dance as a freshman at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, any remaining joys of dancing were replaced with envy and competitiveness towards her teammates, followed by “a lot of crying.”
“They were just mean—mean girls who would make each other cry,” she said.
But after transferring to Augustana her sophomore year, Davis got the chance for a new start.
She was encouraged to try out for the Force team by her high school friend, Natalie Butkus, who captains the squad. Davis’s friend and former Augustana classmate, Alex Polack, also made it onto the team.
The Force team’s focus on bonding, along with having two close friends dancing with her, are helping Davis rediscover the happiness of dance.
“There’s a passion there that I didn’t have going to Augsburg,” Davis said. “[Augsburg] was just very competitive in nature. You don’t see that with the Force dancers.”
Instead of envy, Davis now exchanges playful banter at rehearsals with her teammates, like Polack.
“She has the soft but strong arms that you see in ballet dancers, so sometimes when there is maybe a sharp arm movement in the dance, her arms are dainty and floating,” Polack said. “The captain actually called Liz and I out on it as a joke.”
The jazz and hip-hop style of the Force team is unfamiliar ground for both Davis and Polack, but with Butkus as captain, new lessons to learn make teammates a target for help rather than ridicule.
“All the girls on the team are amazing,” Butkus said. “They come to me with any question and I love it.”
To get Davis and Polack adjusted to the new styles, Butkus recommended Zumba classes, saying that Davis has transitioned “amazingly” so far.
Although she describes herself as a “ballerina at heart,” Davis said the style of the Force team is less painful than ballet, which reminds her too much of her father.
“I think it’s easier to dance hip-hop, because he wasn’t here,” she said.
At 21, Davis realizes she is too old to have a career as a professional dancer, but it’s never too late for her to enjoy herself.
For the dancer who dealt with an underfunded school, an ankle injury, a family death and hostile teammates, the Force team is about more than professionalism.
“The Force team is really about community,” she said. “There’s just a bond there. I don’t know how to explain it.”