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WHAT? Was this the same leggy, 19-year-old beauty that had beenthe judges' darling? Where was the love? Alas, the judges'collective memories had faded, apparently, and Ryan and SYTYCDparted company.

When I learned that Ryan had come "this close" to making it onthe show last year, I prayed she'd be back. And she was. She dancedher heart out, and I was glued to the screen, watching her starrise.

I love it that these days there is a venue for aspiring youngperformers. Like FOX's "American Idol," the opportunity to be"discovered" is out there for the taking. If you've got the talent,it no longer requires a move to Los Angeles or New York and yearsof living on a shoestring, hoping for that "big break."

Ryan's love for dance is, for me, a dejà vu kind of thing. LikeRyan, I was a dancer. At age 4, way before SYTYCD took auditions onthe road all over the United States, my mother propelled me intodance classes. By the time I was 12, I was assisting a busy andtalented dance instructor in my hometown. And by age 16, I'd openedmy own studio in the basement of our home. In between teaching Istudied dance. My specialties were jazz and tap. And although Iloved ballet and pointe, they didn't love me back. I sustainedserious knee injuries that plague me to this day.

The thing about dance is that it gets you at a cellular level.Hear a number with a rocking beat or ethereal beauty, and a dancerhas to move. Therefore, SYTYCD brings to me the emotion and passionfor dance that I felt as a kid. To let your body move with the kindof abandon that shuts out everything else – that's what dance is.Along with some aches and pains of course. Bloody feet. Strainedmuscles. The whole shebang.

It seems that a lot more kids are dancing today than when I wastheir age. And thankfully the old stigmas are gone that accompanieddancing with no inhibition. Back in the day, jazz was a little too,well ... sexy. And if you were dancing jazz in high school, itcould lead to – egad! – a "reputation." As an inherently shy girl,I was horrified that my public performances in summer theater andtalent shows were getting me noticed – but not always in a goodway. In my Colorado hometown in the '60s, I had raised a feweyebrows.

Then, in my junior year, two new dance instructors came to townthat very nearly changed my life. Retired from Broadway, they wereincredible dancers – and a bit of a scandal. Keith Willis andMarjorie Dean, a couple living together with different last names,caused quite a buzz among our prim-and-proper mothers. And when Mr.Willis appeared before our moms bare-chested in body-hugging tightsand led our class through some rather intriguing jungle movementinterpretations ... well, you can imagine the gossip.

But one magical weekend, the couple brought to our city a famousfriend they knew professionally. He was coming to observe the dancestudents at the studio as well as providing a day of instructionfor us. Nico Charisse was the former husband and dance instructorof mega-dancer-celebrity Cyd Charisse. Mr. Charisse spotted me thatweekend, and he let it be known that he would mentor me if I movedto the West Coast when I turned 18.

I'd like to be able to say I took him up on that offer, but Idid not. Although I did land in California at 18, I moved herebecause I wanted to marry a young Navy man I'd met from SanFrancisco. As an 18-year-old girl, I was woefully shortsighted interms of my future and the natural talent with which I'd beenblessed. Therefore, I let that gift go forever.

So, Ryan, I hope we'll see you dancing again soon. Keep working,and remember you've been blessed with the rarest of gifts. Alas, adancer's career is brief; for you, I hope it'll be a brilliantone.


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