My dance training began at 6 years old in Henderson, Nevada, where I bounced around a variety of studios before eventually ending up at The Dance Zone at 11. Kaydee Francis owned the school, and immediately became a mentor who I respected endlessly.
Kaydee is one of those people who will be honest with you, even though her words are painful to hear. I always knew where I stood with her, what I needed to improve and what I was doing well. If she told me something would make me better, I trusted her. Her opinion mattered to me.
Once, while I was a teenager, I went through a phase where I didn’t want to rehearse my solos. For whatever reason, I felt like practicing wasn’t going to improve the dance, that the work should be personal to me, and that I shouldn’t have to work with someone else on it. She got brutal with me, and said, “I don’t believe you will have a consistent solo performance until you get into the rehearsal studio and practice this over, and over, and over again.” Because I respected her, I grudgingly went back to the studio to work with her on it, and, of course, she was right. There were so many benefits to having her clean my work, and I began having more consistent performances onstage.
Kaydee was all about tough love. She wanted us to develop practical life skills. For example, if we ever packed for competition and forgot an accessory, or the bottoms to one of our costumes, it was up to us to solve the problem, and face the consequences.
Despite her sometimes harsh honesty and high expectations, Kaydee is warm. She really just wants her students to succeed. Everything she does comes from a good place, and if you can see past the rough edges, you will recognize that everything she says comes from a place of love.
Since graduating and moving on to a professional career away from my hometown studio, I have maintained a relationship with Kaydee. To this day she reaches out and teaches me lessons that benefit my life. Most recently, she has put an emphasis on improving my mental and emotional well-being in the same way that I focus on my physical well-being. While she was in town visiting not too long ago, we got dinner and I shared how I was feeling insecure about getting back into the swing of dancing and performing post-pandemic, and she called me out. She said to me, “I don’t believe that you truly love yourself.” I realized she is probably right about that. Being a perfectionist, I can always find something to critique. She encouraged me to embrace my imperfections and believe that I am a person who is worthy of love—especially from myself.
In a recent MJ: The Musical performance, I made a mistake where I bumped a prop tray full of drinks, and everything fell onto the stage during the show. I was mortified, giving myself a really hard time for what I had done. But then I heard Kaydee’s voice in the back of my head telling me that I am perfectly imperfect: “Your flaws aren’t memorable, the things you mess up on aren’t memorable. It will all be OK.” I want to thank Kaydee for helping me continue to grow to this day. Her wisdom and lessons are always with me.