Laura Perez and her family are all about the kick and twirl.  Her husband, Chris Nichols, daughters Isabel Perez-Nichols, 10, Aryana Perez-Nichols, 2, Emylia Perez-Nichols, 18 months, and son Jesse Perez-Nichols know that dance time is important to Laura.  
Laura Perez and her family are all about the kick and twirl. Her husband, Chris Nichols, daughters Isabel Perez-Nichols, 10, Aryana Perez-Nichols, 2, Emylia Perez-Nichols, 18 months, and son Jesse Perez-Nichols know that dance time is important to Laura. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Beth Perez didn’t have a choice in the maternity – she gave birth to a dancer.

“As long as I can remember, I was always dancing around. My mom always jokes that I came out of her dancing,” said her daughter, Spring Valley resident Laura Perez-Nichols. “I honestly don’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t dancing. It has always been a part of me. There was not one pivotal moment where I realized I wanted to dance. It just always has been there. Anytime music came on, I was dancing, and my entire family was that way…we used to have regular dance parties on the weekends in our house. Music was always on in the kitchen while we were cooking dinner, and we just danced around each other. You can catch me dancing just about anywhere – in a store, at work, it doesn’t matter.”

Laura remembered her first dance classes and how they set her repertoire of spinning, kicking and shaking, no matter where she is.

“We lived just outside of Houston, Texas, and I was attending a Montessori school,” she recalled. “My parents put me in classes there. I was three years old, and I started out with traditional ballet classes.”

But Laura wasn’t satisfied with just becoming a ballerina. “I’m the type of person that once my mind is set on something, I have to try it all,” she said. “I have tried ballet, tap, jazz and lyrical. I dabbled in pointe a little bit, modern, hip-hop, clog, liturgical and Minnesota high kick.”

Some girls want to play volleyball, others work hard to outswim their teammates and competitors, and still others golf to glory. Forget all that — Laura built her strength on the dance floor.

“I was never your stereotypical athlete. I didn’t run, I didn’t like stereotypical sports. However, dancing puts you in some of the best athletic shape as any other sport out there. It requires an unbelievable amount of strength and endurance,” she said.

 To get in the shape a dancer needs to perform at their top level of performance it is a very slow process, she explained. It takes hours of practicing and building muscles.

“And, unfortunately, these are muscles that cannot be built by going to the gym and pumping iron,” she noted. “It requires repetition of the same movements over and over to build muscles that are rarely used in regular pedestrian life.”

Building one’s dance muscles also means building one’s understanding of what the word “team” means, and once she learned that lesson, she took it very seriously, even while rocking a groove.

“Being on a dance team or on a studio dance troupe is all about being a team player, learning to move as one unit. You cannot do this if you are focused on yourself,” Laura said. “This is when dancers and dance teams fall apart. When they can’t seem to learn that not one person carries the team and not one person pulls the team down. You have to learn to blend with the person next to you. Your breaths have to sync up, your heartbeats sync up, every step of the dance becomes one giant movement. That is not an easy task to learn, but that’s where leadership comes in. A true leader learns when their team or troupe is not able to do this. They are able to see that it is hurting the performance quality. They pull their team together, they help to build them up. They have to work through the barriers that are preventing the team from being one.”

Dancing through her days has lifted Laura, now a dance coach, from thinking she’s an introvert to showing her that she’s most definitely able to socialize with anyone.

“Believe it or not, I used to be a shy, quiet person,” she added. “When you’re on the dance floor, you get to forget everything about who you are. You become the character you are playing. If you are dancing to an upbeat, sassy song, you become that person. You have to smile and act the part. It doesn’t matter who you are in daily life or what you are facing. You become an actress, and your job in two and a half minutes is to convince the judges that you are the person you are portraying. Your confidence builds when you realize that you are able to convince people and move people without saying a word. Your confidence builds when you realize that your body was able to withstand so much hard work and move into so many different positions and formations, and you made it look effortless.”

Laura added that it’s helpful she’s encountered others like herself who weren’t certain they had gotten their dance down just so before a competition and realized that they welcomed sharing the jitters, occasional tears, anticipation and uncontained excitement.

“The dance world is like a secret society of fabulous. Over the years, I have met dozens of people at competitions, fellow dancers who were competing with me and just as nervous,” she said. “I have met other dance coaches who…together, we have held hands and wished the best for our dancers. I have connected with fellow coaches with whom we’ve shared uniforms because someone has forgotten theirs. Over the years, I’ve had people call me and reach out to me, inviting me to attend dance competitions as a judge. I’ve met many people from the dance world and become very close to many people because we share a passion for dance.”

Dance has most definitely been her passion…and something on which she has leaned in difficult times.

“When I became ill in 2010, I was ready to give up on many things. I fell into a very dark place emotionally. I was forced to move from my home and change my entire life around,” Laura said. “I had no idea what I was going to do. It was my passion for dance that pulled me out of that darkness and my parents always pushing me to follow that passion that helped me. My dad found the opportunity for an opening for someone to start a Just for Kix program in Spring Valley. Without his encouragement to follow my passion, I would not be where I am today. I returned to my roots of dance and now am very successful sharing this passion with others.”

Additionally, dance has challenged her to be more than she was the day before. “Every day, I want to be better, not only for myself, but for my dancers. I want to become healthier and happier,” she added. “I challenge myself to get back to the young dancer I once was. Quite honestly, my dancers challenge me, simply when I hear them whine, ‘I can’t do that!’ But then I demonstrate a move. There is a proud moment to be able to say, ‘If at my age, after having four kids, I can still do this, your young, energetic body can certainly try.’ I don’t want to lose this ability, so I keep pushing myself every day to be better than I was. If I settle, then my dancers settle, and what kind of role model is that?”

Laura has earned the attention of judges as she’s progressed from a tiny ballerina to a “let’s-try-this” performer and coach.

“I have earned recognition over the years as both a performer and choreographer,” she said. “I have earned various awards within Just for Kix as a company for my work with my dance programs. However, I have to say the most proud moment of my career so far was this last year, being recognized and nominated for the 2017 National Dance Instructor of the Year Award. There were only 20 finalists in the United States, and I was the only one in Minnesota. This was a huge honor for me to be recognized in this way.”

The most memorable rewards, though, spring up in witnessing how she’s made an impression on the young ladies who are her students. “It’s important to teach the next generation…it’s all the rewards (of teaching), and sharing my passion is my reason for teaching. My primary focus has been my dancers. Every time I see a dancer master a new technique, every time I see a competition team bring home an award, every time I see a dancer leave a class with a smile, these are all rewards for me. Dance has brought this to my life.”

Laura said the best part is watching someone master a technique they never thought they could get. She enjoys encouraging them to keep working, pushing them to not give up. Watching them grow as people and as dancers has given her a lot of satisfaction.

She added, “Teaching dance, for me, is so much more than teaching technique. I strive to teach character and leadership. I strive to teach determination, hard work, to instill good values. I am a coach and a friend.”

Laura’s philosophy is that she truly believes anyone can dance. “I am strict and push my dancers to be their best,” she said. “I do not let you give up just because you think you can’t do something. My heart and soul go into my programs.”

And the lifelong mover and groover isn’t certain she could go for any length of time without being able to dance or show others how it’s done.

“There’s been times I have tried. It is exhausting! I am gone from my family three nights a week. I miss them. However, I can’t imagine my life without it,” Laura concluded. “I love what I do. It is who I am. It is something I can share with my own daughters. And every one of my dancers has become one of my daughters. My dance moms have become my friends and helpers. We have formed our own community within a community.”