On Friday, three weeks after the conclusion of the Starbound National Talent Competition near Chicago, Brenna Latour sat at the kitchen table in her Riverhead home, reflecting on her long journey. It was a rare relaxing moment for the recent Riverhead High School graduate.
“I’m still now trying to recuperate from nationals,” she said.
Throughout high school, Ms. Latour’s life centered largely on dancing. On a typical weekday, she spent hours training, practicing routines until they became ingrained as muscle memory and generally not returning home until after 10 p.m. She usually ate on the road and Saturdays often consisted of additional training.
It was a grueling routine for Ms. Latour to maintain on top of her challenging coursework, which included Advanced Placement classes. It’s also why dancers can be spotted wearing shirts that read “I can’t, I have dance.” There’s not much time left over for a social life.
“That’s our go-to line for everything,” Ms. Latour said.
Last month, all that hard work and sacrifice paid off for Ms. Latour, 18. In the high point of her dancing career thus far, her team at the Royalenova Performing Arts studio in Center Moriches won four showcase grand championship awards at the weeklong national competition in St. Charles, Ill. Studio owner and director George Eleazer III referred to them as his “dream team.” The awards were in categories for junior, teen, senior and production, the latter of which features the highest number of dancers on stage at once in routines that last as long as 10 minutes.
“I don’t think we ever trained as hard as we had this year,” said Ms. Latour, who competed with the senior and production teams, dancing in over a dozen routines.
Ms. Latour’s introduction to dance came at about 2 1/2 years old, when her mother, Denise Latour-Darch, brought her to a local dance class. She’s been dancing ever since, whether it be lyrical, contemporary, jazz, tap or hip-hop.
Ms. Latour prefers dancing in the lyrical and contemporary styles, which feature movements similar to those seen in ballet.
“Lyrical is more of a softer dance,” she said. “It’s more emotional. And the same with contemporary, but contemporary you have less boundaries that you have to follow. It’s more abstract.”
At around 10 years old, Ms. Latour said she first realized that dancing was about more than just showing up to classes. Her natural abilities blossomed when she joined Royalenova five years ago.
“She just took right to it,” her mother said.
Royalenova trains dancers from across Long Island and beyond. Sarah Rempe, who just finished her freshman year of high school, was the only other Riverhead dancer who competed on the team at nationals. Ms. Latour was one of the team’s eight seniors.
The routines were so well-executed, Ms. Latour said, that people backstage told them they had some of the titles in the bag before the official announcement was made.
“We had to wear our jackets 24/7 and people would stop us in the hotel and be like, ‘Your studio is amazing,’ ” she said. “People would look at the program and know when our numbers were going on. They would come from their hotel rooms to watch us on stage.”
Top photo caption: Brenna Latour of Riverhead on stage performing. (Credit: Courtesy photo)
As had often been the case for Ms. Latour’s family during competition season, the end of nationals presented a conundrum. They concluded so late on a Friday night, the family couldn’t fly back immediately. Ms. Latour’s mother booked the earliest flight she could the next morning. That’s because Saturdays are reserved for racing.
Ms. Latour’s father, Ken Darch, has been racing at Riverhead Raceway since 1999 and drives the No. 03 car in the NASCAR Modifieds. Ms. Latour’s boyfriend, Dylan Slepian, also races at the Route 58 site in Legends and Modified Crates. Both men traveled to nationals to cheer on Ms. Latour.
Ms. Latour and her family went to bed around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, woke up a few hours later and began the hour-long drive to O’Hare International Airport for a 7 a.m. flight. After touching down in Islip, they hurried home to pick up the race cars and headed to the track. Mr. Slepian went on to finish fourth that night in the Legends main event.
“Needless to say, we were a little numb by Saturday night,” said Ms. Latour-Darch, a former NASCAR official. “It was worth it.”
Racing season overlaps with dance competition season, which made for a hectic late-spring schedule for the family.
“There were quite a few Saturdays that I used to send Brenna to dance competitions with somebody else because I had to work the race track,” her mother said.
This past season, however, she got to enjoy every moment of her daughter’s senior year.
Ms. Latour, who graduated seventh in her high school class, will start college later this month at Stony Brook University, where she received a full scholarship and plans to study chemical engineering. She’ll also join the college’s dance team, which, similar to a cheerleading squad, performs at football and basketball games.
With a degree in chemical engineering, Ms. Latour hopes to one day work on developing alternative energy sources.
“We’re running out of fossil fuels,” she said.
Ms. Latour’s ability to balance the demands of dancing with rigorous academics has left her parents marveling at her accomplishments.
“I always said, ‘I don’t know how she’s doing it,’ ” her mother said. “She put her heart and soul into everything.”
As Ms. Latour reflected on her dance career at Royalenova, she said she’ll miss all the friends she’s made there over the years. Surprisingly, she’ll also miss all the practices.
“The long rehearsals, I will probably miss those,” she admitted. “That’s when we have the most fun.”