Local Dancer Gives Others Virtual Platform to Shine

Worldwide Dance Challenge is uniting dancers across the world to connect, collaborate and compete.

DULUTH, Minn.- As more people stay at home across the world due to the Coronavirus, artists like dancers become stifled at home. Professional dancer Jesse Paul Smith noticed this, and started the Worldwide Dance Challenge.

“I really believe this is the next phase of dance competitions,” he said.

The Superior native saw how quarantine was effecting dancers, who had put so much of their lives into honing their craft.

“When this whole COVID thing happened I was like man, dancers right now can’t do anything,” he said. “You got some of these dancers that have been spending thousands of dollars to get to compete during this season which is March-June and now they can’t. They’ve all been cancelled.”

So he started his own competition, completely online.

“Two dancers come together, we have a DJ, two judges,” said Smith, “the third judge is a really important judge, and that’s the audience. The audience goes and they cast their vote on who they feel brings it the best.”

So far two dancers from Duluth danced for the judges. The first was to over 3,000 people live on Facebook in the first weekend. As the weeks go on, the dancers build a record allowing them to challenge others to get ahead.

And it’s not just about rank. Smith said sponsors are on the way and as more start watching, the challenge will offer cash prizes in a sweet 16 type tournament within the next couple months.

“People like this. It’s a different way to, with everybody being stuck at home it’s another form of entertainment,” Smith said.

But while dancing in your living room to your camera, you don’t feel the audience’s presence, which forced Sophia Conley to step out of her comfort zone.

“It’s way more intimate and more terrifying for me to do it in a very small group setting, so that was a little nerve-wracking for me,” said the dancer, who has won Duluth’s Willie Kruger Dance Competition.

But her moves overpowered her nerves, and she won against a dancer from Texas. “Coming from someone who was really rusty in dance and didn’t do it for a year or so, and going back into that it was really shocking honestly,” she said.

Moreover, Conley won dancing for the first time since becoming a teacher last year.

“Being able to bring back what I’ve always loved to do since I was a little girl, was–really quite emotional for me, at a time because I never thought I’d do it again,” said Conley. “I never thought that.”

The challenge has provided an avenue for that passion to dancers all the way on the other side of the world. All they need is a smartphone.

“The likelihood of this gentleman that I’ve got coming in from Johannesburg, South Africa; being able to get to America’s Got Talent audition or World of Dance competition audition is slim to none,” Smith said. “We’re eliminating the barriers of people not having the affordability to do it.”

For Conley, it’s less of a talent competition, and more of a way to share her talent with others.

“Think about: you want to share a story,” she said. “Think about that you want to give something to the world or just think about you want to have a little taste of what that’s like again.”

And for Smith, it’s about creating a network for these dancers who may have never met otherwise.

“I remember being in Superior Wisconsin not having an idea how I was going to get connected to the industry. And if I can be somebody that provides somebody that opportunity, dude I’ll work until my eyes bleed,” he said.

The dancers brought together are linked not only in their love for the art, but their need to express it in uncertain times.

“I get to escape,” said Conley. “It was a great way to escape and to feel free for once.”

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