Madison Chizek slips on her tap shoes, throws her light brown hair in a ponytail, and laughs at herself in the mirror.
Her mother, Dawn, pushes play. The song “Are You That Somebody?” fills the cold studio with warmth and energy. Or maybe it is Maddy’s moves. Her mint green and black shoes beat their own melody against the smooth vinyl floor. Maddy flips, flaps, and shuffles in dark leggings.
“The 30-second notes are like death, but I love it,” she says.
The words on her T-shirt are written backward so the reflection reads, “Get Out of the Mirror.” The saying is a reminder to be mindful and enjoy the moment.
It shows when Maddy finishes, tired but exuberant.
Dance is her release.
“Whether overflowing with happiness or if I am just having a bad day, I can channel that into movements,” Maddy explains.
The 16-year old sophomore from Millard South High School runs through a contemporary routine next, this time barefoot, to “Unchained Melody.” She is past the point of embarrassment and will try anything thrown at her. Her body takes a beating whether it is bruises on her knees from spins, carpet burns, or blisters literally on top of blisters. Basically her feet are horrendous, but the teenager doesn’t let it stop her.
“Bruises are a sign of hard work, and scars are just cool,” Maddy says.
Her mother cheers her on from the sidelines, recording her performances. Dawn wanted her daughter to be physically active, so she enrolled her into dance classes when Maddy was just 3 years old. Maddy, though, crossed her arms and pouted in her pink tutu.
“She hated it,” Dawn says laughing.
It was just too girly for a tomboy more interested in John Cena and skateboarding than pirouetting. Yet, Maddy continued attending Studio D and entering competitions. At 12, Maddy found her calling at Shockey Dance Co. in southwest Omaha. And workshops, such as Talent on Parade, drew the shy teenager into a world of opportunity. Maddy opened herself up to critiques, listening to tape after tape on ways to improve. Professionals and choreographers exposed her to intensive training at a young age. She met members from the reality television show So You Think You Can Dance, including tapper Gaby Diaz and hip-hopper Fik-Shun. She soon put in 20 hours a week or more, all with the intent of pushing herself to become better.
“It’s like a part-time job,” she jokes.
Maddy now wants to dance professionally.
Rachel Shockey—her contemporary, jazz, and musical theater coach—believes Maddy has a real shot at turning her dreams into reality.
“She is strong and determined,” Shockey says.
Maddy is versatile in many different forms, from ballet to tap to clogging and others. Her positive personality adds to the vibe in the studio where Maddy also teaches when she isn’t dancing.
Yet, it is a very competitive world. Maddy has to sometimes fight her way to the front. Luckily, she keeps getting noticed and pulled out. Her effort earned the attention of GoPro’s director Don Mirault. GoPro is an intense program, seven days in the summer, where dancers train, perform, and live like professionals.
Admission to the workshop is by invitation only—just 40 or 50 of the best from around the nation are selected. In October 2015, Maddy received the news she would be attending. But in December, Maddy complained about back pain, a sore throat, and a fever. She had a very extensive bout of mono. Her top grades plummeted since she could barely get through classes. Maddy just couldn’t function, let alone step on the dance floor. In practices, Maddy watched from the sidelines or marked (practicing the routines without full physical exertion). When her team went to nationals in St. Louis, she came down with strep throat, but still came in fourth place for her tap solo.
Dawn had to make a difficult decision. She would not be sending her sick daughter to GoPro. Physically, she needed the recovery time, but mentally it took a toll.
“When I am angry or frustrated, I let it out when I dance. When I can’t do that, I get angrier and it feeds off itself,” Maddy explains.
Sitting on the sidelines gave her a new appreciation. Now, fully healed, Maddy has once again been invited not only to GoPro but to professionally choreograph Tokyo’s academy. And people can check her out at the Omaha Jazz and Tap Festival this summer.
Maddy does have fun whether hiking, playing board games, or hanging with her family. She squeezed time in last year to audition for the book Dance Across the USA. Jonathan Givens, formerly a master carpenter for the Oprah Winfrey Show, made it his mission to photograph dancers in all 50 states. Winfrey reminded Givens to photograph what he knew. The former performer and choreographer selected Maddy out of a pool of thousands to shoot stunning moves in gorgeous natural parks and settings.
His idea was to combine the beauty of dance with the beauty of America. Representing Nebraska, Maddie executed a contemporary jump in the cool waters of the Missouri National Recreational River and tapped on the Meridian Bridge.
But it isn’t about the trophies, books, or even the invites. Many times, Maddy will just listen to the music and let it move her.
“There is a genre of dance for every mood you are feeling. It is not a sport. Dance is an art. It’s what I love,” Maddy says.
Visit shockeydancecompany.com for more information about the dance company where Maddy Chizek performs and works.
This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.