5! 6! 7! 8!…Meet our next campus celebrity: Mara Kuzmanovic. Dance IS a sport, and more importantly a way of life. Every dancer can reminisce on the hideous slicked-back buns, the inventory of tights that rip at every competition, and the glitter that is seemingly magnetized to your face for days. The hours spent in classes/practice, the miles traveled for competitions, and the aching of every muscle in your body is ultimately worth the satisfaction of being able to express yourself through dance. Mara is a beautiful dancer with a long list of accomplishments, including winning Miss Badgerette of the Midwest as only a sophomore as well as starting out her college years at UW as a part of the award winning UW dance team.
When did you start dancing and when did you know you fell in love with it?
So my mom put me in dance lessons when I was three at Young Dance Academy and I knew I fell in love with it in second or third grade when one day in my tap class my dance teacher commented on how she thought it was impressive that I was the only one who could stay with the beat of the music and not speed up with the rest of the class. It made me realize how serious I was about it at age 8 and from a young age it became my stress reliever.
Tell us a little more about your dance career.
I started a technique intensive program when I was in fourth grade and I danced 5 or 6 times a week. The program included jazz, tap, ballet and lyrical so I learned it all at a pretty young age. My weekend life was spent at the studio and sometimes I laugh when I look at dancerprobz on twitter because it honestly described me when I was twelve. While I was in the program I also competed and competitions and conventions were always stressful for me. I was afraid of the pressure and messing it up for everyone else but at the same time I loved doing it. After fifth grade I didn’t tryout for the competition program again because I felt my social life and friends slipping away. In sixth grade, instead of spending my entire life at the studio, I went on Kenny Rogers Christmas tour for November and December as a background singer and dancer and it was the experience of a lifetime. Then in seventh grade I decided to re-tryout and I stayed in the competitive and technique intensive program until high school. I realized once in high school that I wanted to do everything I could, poms, tennis, soccer, musical.. so I took one dance class once a week. I was kind of back and forth my whole life but I was really able to get the best of both worlds in terms of being dedicated to one program and then being involved in a ton of others.
Did you feel pressure to follow in the legacy of being on the UW dance team like your mom and older sister?
When I was deciding what college to go to I wasn’t thinking about any clubs or extra-curricular activities, just education, so when I found out I was accepted to Madison I wasn’t positive that I was going to try out. In fact, I made my tryout tape in one night the day before it was due because I was so unsure. With both my mom and my sister having been on the team, I did feel a bit of pressure but they didn’t push me into anything. It was ultimately my decision to tryout and, of course, they were super supportive.
What’s a normal day of practice like?
At practice we normally start with a warm up running for 10 or 15 minutes and then stretch for a good half an hour. Sometimes we do across the floor work to work on our jumps and turns and then it’s a toss up with whether we work on dance or pom first. They’re really different styles which most people don’t realize but we do them both so we practice them both. Normally we have to learn some type of time out for a game and then we clean it and that takes up most of the three hours.
What do you love most about being on the team?
I absolutely love sports and being able to be on the sidelines right in front of all the action is such a privilege. To be able to be doing it with a group of 17 amazing girls makes it that much better. I’ve made some awesome, hilarious, gorgeous new friends and I’ve traveled to California for the Rose Bowl and Florida for Nationals so it’s been a crazy first year.
How do you find the time to balance both academics and the intense time commitment of dance? Please share your tips!
Time is definitely of the essence and time management is probably the most important thing that I’ve had to learn to conquer if I wanted to survive school and dance. Basically as long as I keep a schedule on my phone, on my computer, and on paper, I can plan my days out pretty well and I’m always keeping lists. They’re everywhere, on sticky notes, in my notebooks, in my phone, on my hand.. but they definitely help.
What is your favorite/hardest dance move?
I don’t particularly have a favorite dance move but the hardest, for me, would be turns. I can do them and I’ve been doing them since fourth grade but getting them perfect and together as a team is something me and the team have worked on a lot on this year. Regardless of the obstacles I faced trying to be up to par with the rest of the team, I’m so happy I made it because if I wouldn’t have, then I would have felt like I was missing something.
And most importantly, why do you love to dance?
Dance is something I do and I’ve done it my whole life and someone can’t just take it away and expect me to be normal. It helps me express myself, it practically defines me (my name on my floor isn’t Mara it’s “Mara the dancer”…aka Smith 5th floor), and it’s provided me these amazing opportunities so, naturally, I love it!