Lexi Goley is learning to dance with help from her friend and mentor at Merrimack Valley 

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  • Merrimack Valley senior Emily Baylus looks on as junior Lexi Goley adjusts her tiara while practicing her dance number that Baylus is helping her learn at McKenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Dec. 21. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley senior Emily Baylus, shows junior Lexi Goley dance moves while practicing her dance number that Baylus is helping with her at Mckenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Saturday, December 21, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley  junior Lexi Goley gets help with her Lion King costume from her mother while practicing her dance number that senior Emily Baylus is helping with her at Mckenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Saturday, December 21, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley  High School junior Lexi Goley hugs senior Emily Baylus at the McKenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Dec. 21. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley  junior Lexi Goley kisses her dog while practicing her dance number that senior Emily Baylus is helping with her at Mckenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Saturday, December 21, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley senior Emily Baylus, shows junior Lexi Goley dance moves while practicing her dance number that Baylus is helping with her at Mckenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Saturday, December 21, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley  junior Lexi Goley dances while practicing her dance number that senior Emily Baylus is helping with her at Mckenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Saturday, December 21, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley  junior Lexi Goley dances while practicing her dance number that senior Emily Baylus is helping with her at Mckenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Saturday, December 21, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley  junior Lexi Goley with her dog while practicing her dance number that senior Emily Baylus is helping with her at Mckenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Saturday, December 21, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley  junior Lexi Goley dances while practicing her dance number that senior Emily Baylus is helping with her at Mckenna Dance Center on North State Street in Concord on Saturday, December 21, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Published: 12/27/2019 5:09:07 PM

The bond between teacher and student, already connecting the two dancers, tightened a few years ago, on the stage at the Capitol Center for the Arts.

That stage, long known as the area’s central hotspot for displaying creative talent, can be a scary place. The harsh lights. The hundreds, sometimes thousands of people in the audience. The well-lit marquee out front, announcing what’s happening inside.

So it’s no wonder that LexiGoley – a 16-year-old sophomore at Merrimack Valley High School who has Down syndrome and a burning desire to dance – got nervous on that stage, during an awards ceremony for the local dance program.

The stage was packed, noisy. Not even Lexi’s sound-canceling headphones, used to calm life’s loud, choppy waters, could drown out the auditory power smashing into her. That’s when Emily Baylus, a senior at MV, entered the picture.

They had already met through their mutual love for dance, with Emily learning to recognize Lexi’s early signs of panic. Emily moved on stage to help her frightened friend. She whispered into Lexi’s ear, touched her gently, reassured her that everything was okay and escorted her off stage.

Emily has been teaching Lexi dance ever since.

“Lexi has a really big problem with loud noises,” explained Emily, before heading inside the McKenna Dance Center to tutor her pupil. “Like at school with pep rallies and stuff. She just gets really anxious and she starts shaking her head and she starts crying.”

Confidence and joy have nudged those nerves aside. Under the bright lights at the McKenna dance studio that serves as home base for the pair, this time with only their two mothers sitting nearby watching, Emily showed Lexi sharp hand movements and pronounced footwork, mapping out the choreography, preparing her for the big dance competition in March.

Call it a learning process, a maturation, formed through the connection between a slender, dark-haired teacher with a never-ending smile, and a student who is a little shy of 5-feet and 100 pounds, yet whose rapid growth surfaces in other ways.

“This past year, there was a competition and she was there and she did just fine,” Emily told me. “She got called for an award and she didn’t need anyone to help her. She got up and went right up by herself.”

Lexi had little to say to me, showing her enthusiasm and energy and joy on the dance floor with Emily. The teacher taught, the student learned and the huge mirrors on the walls reflected all the moves involved, as well as the affinity these two hold for each other.

It started, really, when a teacher left the McKenna Dance Center after introducing Lexi to specific moves and competition. Emily sought the center’s owner, Ana McKenna. She had a question for her.

“Emily was worried that Lexi would no longer have the chance to compete,” said Emily’s mother, Cathy Baylus, a teacher in Laconia. “She asked Ana if she could give Lexi a number this year, since there was no longer a teacher for her. I wish you could have seen Lexi’s face when Emily asked her if it was okay for Emily to choreograph her new dance.”

Emily’s interest in helping someone in need is not surprising. Not when you hear about her accomplishments thus far.

Like the two Team Leadership Awards, given to her at the annual end-of-the-year dance banquet. She’s the drum major in the marching band, the section leader for the sopranos in chorus, a member of the Modern Music Masters Honor Society, the French Honor Society and the National Honor Society, and a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

In other news, her mother said Emily loves math and science, might seek a college degree in biochemistry and will play Princess Fiona in the center’s upcoming version of Shrek.

And she’s a coach, too. A life coach.

“Emily has been an assistant teacher here for several years, and they have always had a natural connection,” Ana McKenna said. “Emily has always been Lexi’s go-to girl. It’s a really natural partnership to work together, and Lexi has come out of her shell during the past few years.”

Emily is preparing Lexi for regional competition, her solo dance in March. They searched and searched and searched some more, for the right song that would tap into Lexi’s potential. They settled on “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” from The Lion King.

They searched through Emily’s old stage wardrobe, looking for something lion-like and small enough to fit this tiny dancer. They found an orange and white leopard-print outfit, worn by Emily seven years ago when she sang “Roar,” by Katy Perry.

Next, Emily added the finishing touches, buying a crown, a pair of lion’s ears and a lion’s tail, key pieces for the character Simba. Lexi was dressed in full costume recently, during a practice. She twirled her arms, pointed her index finger, spun and hopped.

“Front, back, side, jump,” instructed Emily, who envisions a flawless performance by Lexi, on the same stage, the one at the Capitol Center for the Arts, that once terrified her. She’s already told Emily that, unlike last year, she doesn’t need her service dog, Miller, to come on stage with her.

“The past couple of years she’s getting a lot better at not being as nervous,” noted Emily. “She told me, ‘This year, I don’t want Miller to dance. Just me.’ ”

 “It’s gonna be fun,” Lexi said.


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