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Searles medals in Germany

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Thirteen-year-old Emma Searles will likely never forget her 12th year.

The Tillsonburg dancer, who trains three times a week at Elite Dance Centre in Woodstock, competed in not one, but two World Jazz and Modern Dance Championships in Europe. And she won gold medals in both.

Back in December 2011, the just-turned-12 Searles won two gold medals in Mikolajki, Poland, competing with the junior Team Canada (Canada Dance Organization).

With the World Jazz and Modern Dance Championships a few months earlier this year, Searles was still 12, by a few days, competing in the 2012 Worlds in Frankfurt, Germany, Oct. 2-8. This time she brought back three medals – gold, silver and bronze.

One of the highlights in Germany was a dinner trip on the final night.

“That was the best,” Emma nodded.

“The very last night the Ontario team decided we’re going out for dinner,” recalled Emma’s father, Drew. “We jumped on the train, then walked around for a while till we found a small pub, and about 10-12 of the families took over the pub.”

“And some of our American friends,” Emma's mother, Nancy, noted.

“Schnitzel!” said Emma.

“And spaetzle,” said Nancy.

“And beer,” said Drew, who came home with the (glass) ‘stein.’ “Pop for the kids.”

Emma’s return to the World Championships included the whole family. It started, the first week of October, with a direct flight to Frankfurt, and half of the early-morning flight was spent doing homework.

“I had math, Matt had English, then I had art too,” said Emma, a Grade 8 student at Tillsonburg’s Monsignor JH O’Neil School. “It wasn’t an ‘if’… it was a must.”

It was, however, her choice to do homework on the way there rather than on the flight home.

“I wanted to get it done so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. And it wasn’t me who was complaining about the homework…” she smiled, looking straight at her father. “He was the one complaining because he had to help me.”

The first competition day was devoted to ballet, and Searles had no events in that discipline giving her a full day to acclimatize to the 6-hour time difference. The day after they arrived (Oct. 3) was Tag der Deutschen Einheit (German Unity Day), and the majority of stores and sites in Frankfurt were closed.

The dance venue was Fraport Arena, a 5,002-seat arena used primarily for basketball.

“It was very… big,” said Emma, competing for the first time in an arena, which was divided roughly 60-40 into a competition/stage area and practice area.

“Once they were going at the arena, they were going on-stop,” said Drew.

“Four times, at least, per routine,” Emma nodded, “depending on how many I had each day. The one day I had Latin Flair and my duet, Little Bird, and I had to go back-to-back with them. It was hard because they were very different routines and costumes. I had to take the flower out of my hair and put a feather in, then different earrings, different makeup – very painful. The one day I had two or three minutes to change.”

The most time she had between routines was one hour, but all the rest were much, much shorter intervals.

Nearly two-and-a-half months later, she struggled to recall her first junior event.

“Wasn’t it Production?” she asked her mother.

“No, not Production,” said Nancy. “Well, it might have been…”

Jazz? No.

Modern? No.

“Well, that’s all you danced, so it’s got to be one of those,” Nancy noted.

“What was it…?” Emma wondered.

“I think Production was toward the end of your first day, and then the next few days were jam-packed with…” said Nancy.

“Everything,” Emma nodded.

Dancers competed in a preliminary round-robin, quarter-finals, semifinals, and finals.

Her Production number, Cinderella, won a gold medal, and included the entire Canada East (Ontario) team of about 35 dancers with ages ranging up to 17.

“We were supposed to have a carriage, but we couldn’t ship it.”

“I think I got some (photos) of it,” her brother Matt noted. “I got some of her dancing.”

A jazz-flavour number, the Cinderella costumes resembled those used in a formal ball.

“We were supposed to be the rich people at the ball,” said Emma, watching a partial recording on their iPad. “Not a lot of people will go with something like that, they’ll just go with something random. We did something that was simple and everybody knows.

“It was my favourite – that one and my Modern Small Group, The Garden. Out of all of them, I remember those two the most. It’s a fairy tale and I love fairy tales.”

Her Jazz Small Group, Latin Flair, earned a silver medal.

“We should have won with that one, too.”

And her Modern Formation, Skeletons, won a bronze medal.

“Most of them should have won. Latin Flair should have won. I loved that one too. At first it wasn’t one of my favourites, but I think by the end it was starting to become one.”

Judging seemed to go against the Junior Canadians – for whatever reason – but they took it in stride knowing the team had done so well last year.

“It is what it is,” Nancy shrugged. “It’s like any subjective sport.”

“I was a little upset,” Emma admitted. “The one day I was a little disappointed just based on how we performed it.

“I’ll definitely remember that, but it was still a great competition. I loved it. I think I enjoyed it (Germany) more than Poland last year – I had more fun.”

She also placed fifth in Modern Small Group (The Garden, aka Walk the Line), fifth in Jazz Formation (Swing Beat), 15th in Jazz Duet (Little Bird), and 16th in Modern Duet (I’m Watching You).

“The duets were very large, the categories had at least 40,” said Emma, happy with the results.

Solo categories were even larger with 80-plus dancers.

“I didn’t have a solo – I was supposed to, but we didn’t have time to choreograph one.”

Results were posted at the end of each day.

“Very painful,” Emma smiled, “waiting for that list to come up.”

During her limited ‘off’ time, the Searles were able to visit The Old Village. She also came home with a rather large collection of trade souvenirs – pins, bracelets, etc.

“A bunch of dancers recognized Emma from last year, and that was kind of nice,” said Nancy. “It was different this year because teams stayed in different hotels and bussed to the arena. Last year everyone stayed in the same resort and danced in the same resort.”

Canada West (British Columbia) also sent a large contingent this year.

“Third, second, first, it always seemed to be between Ontario, B.C. or Poland.”

Germany, as hosts, also had a ‘huge’ team.

“It was a bit of a different atmosphere in Germany,” said Nancy, noting stricter enforcement of the seating and no-video rules, as well as a clash of dancers in the warmup area.

“Almost an international incident,” she smiled. “But we were able to manage.”

The Searles returned on the 8th of October, and Emma celebrated her birthday the next day.

Asked if she would do it again if she had the chance – juniors go up to 15-year-old – Emma replied with a quick ‘yes.’

“In a heartbeat,” she grinned.

Since returning to Tillsonburg, she has been doing “regular dance, and school,” and just finished her tap exam.

Her next ‘big’ competition will be Showstopper 2013, a national US event with four finals – Northern, East Coast, Mid-America and West Coast. She will compete in Battle Creek, Mich., March 15-17, attempting to qualify for the East Coast final in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, July 1-6.

“It’s not as busy as Worlds. You’re still trying to mentally focus on the same thing, but it’s not as hectic. At Showstopper, per routine, we only do it once.”

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