Just before noon Saturday, three dozen young dancers gathered in a circle in the foyer of the Overland Park Trade Center and held hands. They were nervous — but excited. The NexStar National Talent Competition was finally here. This was it. Their last chance to walk through the routine they’d been preparing for months.
Choreographer Natalie Upton, a UMKC student and dancer who had been working with the group for the past month and a half, counted out a beat as the girls practiced their steps one last time. When they finished, the performers and their supporters huddled together in a circle. They put their hands together.
The troupe from The Pointe Dance Studio had been preparing this routine long before Oct. 11, 2013. But on that day — when Tiffany Mogenson, the studio’s founder, was killed in a car wreck at 75th Street and Roe Avenue just a few blocks from her Prairie Village home — the idea that The Pointe could pull together a “production act” featuring nearly the its entire competition team was anything but apparent.
Tiffany used to tell her students to dance like no one was watching.
That phrase wouldn’t do anymore, they decided.
The dancers leaned together in the huddle. “Dance like Tiffany is watching!” they yelled, and headed to the stage.
In the weeks following Tiffany’s death, her husband Mike, her mother Terri Platania, and sister Stacey Chaloux stepped in to take over operations of the studio she started in 2008 with just a dozen students. The Pointe had been growing steadily each year, and with the growth Tiffany was able to start putting together competition teams three years ago.
But it wasn’t until last June that she started to think The Pointe was ready for the challenge of the production act — a complex undertaking that requires months of preparation, prop development and extensive choreography.
“We started talking about it at nationals last year, while we were watching the productions,” Mike recalls. “She was picking out songs. We were talking about things right there while we were watching some of the other productions going on. She picked the costumes. She started the choreography. Everything is what she had picked out.”
Tiffany’s death sent a shock through the studio, and for a time it was unclear whether Mogenson, Platania and Chaloux would be able to bring Tiffany’s vision to life. But getting The Pointe to the stage where it could put on a production act had been Tiffany’s dream.
“Mike and Stacey and I decided we had to keep going even though it was going to be hard,” Platania said.
When word got out of the studio’s situation, members of the dance community stepped forward to help. Upton, a Blue Springs-area native, and two other choreographers, Anna Lahey and Brigitte Bartola, had been working with the competition team intensely for a month and a half.
So when the announcer called out The Pointe’s number Saturday, the team was ready. And this is what they delivered:
The results didn’t come until late in the night. But when they came, they were reason for celebration. And more tears.
The Pointe took second place in its category for the production act, a remarkable achievement for a first-year team. What’s more, the judges gave the team the “Powerhouse Award” for their energy.
For all the success, though, it was a challenging weekend for Mike, Terri, Stacey, and The Pointe’s performers. The dancers “were able to focus on stage,” Platania said, “but when they got off, there was a lot of crying. The other studios must have been wondering, ‘What is wrong with these girls? They cry at every number.’”
Still, Platania said, there was comfort in seeing her daughter’s dream come to fruition.
“It was emotional to watch,” Terri said. “It was very satisfying to see that particular number come to life, because for Tiffany, that act was what was going to show that her studio had made it.”
For Mike, the work of everyone who made the production number possible has built a debt of gratitude.
“It’s been hard to keep [my emotions] in check all weekend, but especially for that number,” Mike said. “It is exactly as Tiff envisioned. I will forever be grateful for all the hard work that the kids have put in to make Tiff’s vision come true. I doubt they will ever fully comprehend how much it means to me, but I will never forget their performance.”