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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 26, 2018

A dancer before she could walk

Sophie Beenken wins sprouts division of Bill Riley talent show
By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News | Sep 06, 2018
Photo by: Photo courtesy of Craig Beenken Sophie Beenken, 12, was one of eight winners of the sprouts division of the Bill Riley Talent Show at the Iowa State Fair.

Sophie Beenken is a typical seventh-grade home-schooled student, who takes honors classes at Mt. Pleasant Middle School, has one sister and likes to dance in her spare time. What isn’t so typical is that at age 12, she was the champion of the sprouts division of the Bill Riley Talent Show at the Iowa State Fair.

“She danced all the time, all over the house,” her mom, Holli Beenken, said. “She almost danced before she walked.”

By age five she was  competing in her first Bill Riley talent show at the Iowa State Fair. From there, she set her sights on being a sprouts champion.

In the sprouts division of the talent show, eight final contestants are chosen and named winners after the semifinals. Sophie has been working on that dream for over seven years and finally accomplished it earlier this month.

As a young dancer, Sophie was taught by her mom, who is also a dance teacher, but later enrolled at Soul Expressions in Mt. Pleasant. She says she can’t choose her favorite kind of dance but has it narrowed down to contemporary and musical theater because they allow for her to be creative and express herself in a unique way. However, she does say the one thing she doesn’t have trouble with is memorizing her routines. “They just kind of sink into my brain after I  do it for a while,” she said. “Sometimes I get mixed up if there’s the same leap in it, but a different transition. It’s just kind of in my brain, I don’t really have to think much about it. It seems easy now, but when you’re little it seems super hard.”

They seem easy now because she practices five days a week for an hour a day, in addition to her lessons. The dance she performed at the fair was one she had been working on for over a year. Choosing between a lyrical or musical theater number proved difficult, but she weighed the pros and cons and decided on the lyrical. “I have two solos, a musical theater solo and lyrical solo,” she said. “For the musical theater one, you have to have a lot of energy to do it and you have to do a lot of flips and so with some of the local shows, they don’t have very big stages so we decided it would probably be best for me to do my contemporary because it wouldn’t take up as much space.”

Before she could be in the talent show she had to qualify. There are 102 smaller talent shows around the state for contestants to enter. To get into the talent show, they have to get first place in one of the smaller ones. Sophie entered three before finally securing her first-place spot and securing her entry into the talent show at the State Fair. She’s been in the talent show six times but this year she finally achieved her dream of Sprout Champion. She said being on stage was the scariest part because although she was prepared, it’s hard to know what the judges are looking for.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking because you don’t know if you’re going to get picked and with the judges, you don’t know what they’re picking because sometimes they pick what’s least expected, but usually when I go on stage I get nervous because it’s just kind of scary but it’s also exciting,” she said. “You just have to perform and practice a lot so you don’t get nervous.”

When Sophie was announced as the winner, her mom described herself as having an “Anthony Rizzo moment.” “We just kept saying, ‘It happened. It happened,’” she said.

At age 12, Sophie was named the Sprouts Champion and is already pre-qualified for the talent show next year where she will be competing in the senior division with other kids aged 13-21. The age difference is frightening to her, but she’s already practicing and getting ready.

Over the last 10 years, Sophie says that through dance, she’s learned more than just what a plie and a leap are, she’s learned to accept the outcome, good or bad. “Things don’t always go as expected and sometimes you can practice as much as you can, but you still mess up on stage,” she said. “Sometimes that’s just the luck of the draw.”

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