Monday, May 20, 2013
SCARBOROUGH — Melissa Willey was dubious when she received word last year that she had been invited to the London Olympics.
Courtesy of Scarborough Dance Center
"I didn't think it was real at first," she said of the invitation. "I thought it was a scam. I hired a lawyer." -- Melissa Willey
After all, her speciality -- dance -- isn't an Olympic event.
"I didn't think it was real at first," she said of the invitation from the American Alliance of Performing Arts Educators. "I thought it was a scam. I hired a lawyer."
After some checking, however, she found out that the invitation was on the level and that Willey, the owner of Scarborough Dance Center, would be choreographing and helping to stage a couple of dance performances at the upcoming Olympics.
Traveling with Willey will be dancers Tyla Hagan, Paige Unni, Kayla Finley, Lyndsey Anderson and Haley McOsker. The alliance is paying Willey's travel expenses, and the dance center and dancers raised another $20,000 over the past year to pay the expenses of the performers and family members who are heading to London, where the Olympics begin on July 27. In all, 19 people connected with the dance center are heading over for the event and they will stay until Aug. 1, Willey said.
The group will perform at Warwick Castle, site of the Olympic fencing competition, on July 28, and then the next day at Island Gardens Arena, a park on the Thames River a short distance from where equestrian events are being held. Willey said tapes of the performances will be posted at the dance center's website, scarboroughdancecenter.com, when the group returns.
Willey said she's put together a routine that highlights the athleticism that dance requires, to capture the crowd's attention and also because it reflects the Olympics' status as the world's premier athletic event. She said the result is an energetic jazz dance, with lots of acrobatics, jumping and moves requiring flexibility.
"They perform through this with a smile on their faces, even though it's physically exhausting," Willey said.
The dancers were chosen because they were advanced and Willey knew they could handle both the routine and performing in an unfamiliar place before a crowd of strangers.
"They're a great and energetic group of girls," she said.
Willey said that even though she's known she would be going to London for more than a year, the reality has hit her only recently. She got married last month and, naturally, much of her attention was focused on her wedding.
After the wedding, she told her dancers, "OK, it's really here, guys!"
Willey said she isn't sure how she and her dance studio came to the attention of the arts educators alliance, but figures it was probably award-winning performances by her students in regional and national competitions.
Willey won't be dancing in London -- at least not on stage. She said she's been dancing since she was 3, teaching since she was 12 and bought the studio at 22.
Now 30, she's happy to focus on teaching her students rather than performing herself, she said.
"I've officially said, 'I'm a teacher now,' " Willey said. "I'm happily backstage."
Willey said that she and the dancers don't have tickets to any of the Olympic events, but the alliance is providing transportation for sightseeing and there are a couple of dinners where they can mingle with members of the other 14 dance groups that are going to London to take part.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: