REENFIELD — Nearing her 40th year as owner of Wilkerson Dance Studio in Greenfield, Debbie Wilkerson has seen all manner of tap dancer, hip-hopper and ballerina.
She has never, however, witnessed anyone quite like Katie Lawrence.
“She is a special talent,” Wilkerson said of the 2014 Greenfield-Central graduate. “We consider her one of the most talented dancers to ever come through here. Some of that comes from the wonderful interest she has in dance. She wants to do it all the time.”
Lawrence said she hopes to do some of that dancing at Lucas Oil Stadium this fall. Currently enrolled at Anderson University, Lawrence has made it through multiple stages of practice and auditions the past several days in hopes of becoming an Indianapolis Colts cheerleader. The final tryout, open to the public, is Friday at Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis.
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Beginning at age 4 with her first lessons under Wilkerson, Lawrence has been a blur of twirling.
It was only a month ago that Lawrence traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to audition for the television program “So You Think You Can Dance.” Lawrence advanced through the preliminary rounds for the show but didn’t make it on television.
To the surprise of no one close to her, the rejection hasn’t slowed Lawrence.
“Her whole life has been dance, dance, dance,” Wilkerson said. “She can dance five or six hours and be ready for more. She has studied every single thing we have ever offered. She just never gets tired of doing it.
“I guess you’re born with that. Some people are just good at baseball. For Katie, dancing is her thing.”
Lawrence was a member of the Blue Fusion Dance Team at Greenfield-Central and didn’t cheer or play sports. At the high school level, competitive cheerleading is a very different endeavor than dance.
It wasn’t until Lawrence began to watch the Colts that she saw a similarity between serious dance and NFL cheerleaders.
“I noticed the cheerleaders weren’t really tumbling,” Lawrence said. “They were dancing on the sidelines, and I said that looks like fun. And what better way to cheer on the Colts than to be a Colts cheerleader.”
As part of the Colts cheerleading audition process, the NFL team is conducting an online voting contest. Among 50-plus cheerleader prospects, Lawrence ranks 19th with 851 votes, as of Wednesday morning.
Lawrence isn’t sure how much the fan voting will play a part in the judges’ final determinations Friday — she has been through football knowledge exams, intense fitness tests, interviews and multiple hours of dance routines this week to survive the cuts — but she isn’t in it for the popularity, anyway.
It’s what the Colts cheerleaders do away from the sideline, away from game day, that has also piqued Lawrence’s interest.
“They do so much with the community, and they do so much with DSI (Down Syndrome Indiana),” she said. “I think that’s just amazing that they do that. And they have a junior cheer program. And I think that’s just a wonderful way to get with the community.”
According to the Colts, their cheerleaders appear at more than 300 events each year as “talented, well-spoken ambassadors” who aim to forge a bond with the community.
Christine Lawrence is equally focused on the philanthropic aspect of cheerleading for the Colts, other than the “skimpy” Sunday afternoon attire her daughter will be required to wear.
“It’s kind of a mixed bag, but we’re focusing on the dance,” Christine Lawrence said. “She’ll get to dance, she’ll get to perform, she’ll get to entertain, and that’s something she really, really wants to do.”
Adding with a laugh, mom said, “And, besides that, she’s beautiful. So what?”
With her lifelong, laser-like attention to dance skill, Katie Lawrence isn’t concerned with cheer outfits. She will study dance and business at Anderson, with hopes of opening her own dance studio.
Dancing, for the 19-year-old Lawrence, is stress relief.
“It just takes me away from the real world,” she said. “It’s just an escape from work, from school. You go to dance class and it’s like nothing in the world matter for that next hour.”
So far, Lawrence has survived cheer tryouts as one of the final women whittled down from an original group of well more than 100. A set number of cheerleaders hasn’t been determined, Lawrence said. The final cheer team, historically, has been between 25 and 40 women.
The final group will be compensated relatively little per game; between $70 and $150 for what is often a 12-hour day.
Wilkerson has had a number of dancers from her studio go on to land spots with the Colts cheerleaders.
“First of all, you have to have time,” the instructor said. “With all the meet-and-greets, it’s a huge time commitment for very little pay. But, you’re going to meet so many new people and friends. It’s a great experience if you’re willing to put in the time.”
Katie Lawrence is satisfied with her audition effort, so far. She hopes to hear name called Friday, introduced as a 2015 Indianapolis Colts cheerleader.
“If I do make the team, it will be rewarding after all this hard work I’m putting into it. It would be a great feeling to see it pay off. But, if I do not make the team, I’ll be going to McDonald’s,” she joked.
“I will be okay, because I will be walking out of there saying, ‘You know what, I gave it my all.’ There is nothing I would regret, it would just be not my year. And I’ll try it again with more knowledge and more experience, and then hopefully I’ll make it next year.”
To vote for Lawrence in the Colts cheerleader online contest, visit colts.com/cheerleaders/audition_voting.html
* Age 19
* In final stage of auditions for Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders
* 2014 Greenfield-Central graduate
* Greenfield-Central Blue Fusion Dance Team, three years
* Enrolled at Anderson University as incoming freshman this fall
* Will study business and dance, with dreams of opening her own dance studio
* Wikerson Dance Studio, Greenfield, student since age 4, currently assistant instructor
* Daughter of Mark and Christine Lawrence, Greenfield
Indianapolis Colts 2015 Cheerleading Auditions Final Showcase
* The event, open to the public, will consist of several dance routines, and approximately 50 women will compete for the opportunity to be a member of the 2015 Colts cheerleaders.
Tickets: Starting at $15
On sale: Colts.com
Finalists arrive: 4 p.m.
Show starts: 6:30 p.m.
Place: Hilbert Circle Theater, Indianapolis