By Michelle R. Martinelli
Damascus, Md. — Her parents see it, her poms coach sees it and even Rosie Bliss, herself, sees and appreciates how much her life has changed since she shifted entirely from ballet to focusing on Seneca Valley’s poms squad this year.
After spending a decade intensely centered on excelling in ballet and competing against her friends for coveted lead roles, Bliss hung up her pointe shoes after starring as Clara in “The Nutcracker.”
A year later, the 16-year-old junior’s life has only improved. She’s the captain of the Screamin’ Eagles poms team, her already good grades jumped to straight A’s, her anxiety minimized and she’s thriving with a once-unknown teamwork side of competition.
“Toward the end of last year and going into this year, it was kind of like she was a new person,” Seneca Valley poms coach Shaneil Turnbull said. “I think she found herself. She got super comfortable and started interacting with her teammates more and [was] encouraging to them.”
Although Bliss initially was scared to let go of ballet — worried she might lose a part of who she is — she regrets nothing. Working with her peers in poms rather than against them in ballet brings her “so much joy.”
Before the Damascus Hornets Poms Invitation on Saturday, Bliss guided and laughed with her teammates while they warmed up for their competition and held their hands while they nervously waited for their fourth-place finish to be announced.
“[Ballet] friendships began to fall apart because it was ‘me versus you,’” her father, Donny Bliss, said, describing ballet as “cutthroat.” “The thing about poms is she embraced that teamwork where everybody is working together, and it’s not one person standing out versus everyone else.”
But her ballet talent still finds its way into her poms routines. With fluid movements — whether it’s to Rihanna or Donna Summer — she floats across the gym floor, as if she’s on a proper stage, and occasionally finds herself elevated on her toes out of habit.
And while a decade worth of ballet simplified Bliss’ transition to the Eagles’ squad, she also teaches her teammates new moves and helps with their choreography. Her mom, Colleen Kemp, said her daughter found her “niche on the team” in helping teach.
“I like leading my team because I want to see them be better dancers,” Bliss said. “Because I’ve had classical training, it’s fun to see them get better at their turns and at their technique.”
*Special thanks to the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy for use of video of the organization's 2015 'Nutcracker' production.