Ginny and Scott Clanton were like many parents. They wanted to give their 4-year-old daughter, Natalie, as many experiences and opportunities as possible. They realized early that their precocious, energetic daughter needed to stay busy and active.
They had heard of a local dance teacher named Debra Franco who trained children Natalie’s age. They’d also heard she was the best.
The following week, Natalie walked into Franco’s studio for the first of countless times in August 2005. It did not take long for young Natalie to lose interest.
“Natalie did not like being told what to do, and she really didn’t like having to practice routines,” Ginny said. “She would rather run around the studio making up her own moves.”
Ginny recalled the numerous times Natalie wanted to give up.
“It would’ve been easier on everyone to let her quit,” she said, “but Debra and I agreed that she needed to learn discipline and perseverance. And Debra really is the best at teaching technique. I saw Natalie’s potential and just knew that with Debra’s tough training, she could grow into a very good dancer.”
It took a couple of years for Natalie to really find her strengths in dance.
“I am so glad we made her stick it out, because when Natalie finally found herself, she was unstoppable,” Ginny said.
“I enjoyed it a lot more when I made (Franco’s) competition team” at age 7, Natalie added. “We got to do a lot of traveling, and I got to do things other people would never get to do.”
Her favorite trip was in 2016 when she traveled to New York City and danced in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
“That was probably the best part when I knew the hard work had paid off,” she said.
Her father, Scott, disagrees.
“The best part is all of the awards and scholarships she won,” he said. “Dancing is not an inexpensive sport.”
As high school graduation neared and her time with Franco was almost over, Natalie was faced with the decision of whether to continue dancing or not.
“A lot of my friends stopped after high school,” she said. “It just gets brutal at the collegiate level.”
Natalie made her decision when she attended a clinic highlighting the Hi-Steppers, the award-winning dance team from Hinds Community College.
“When I saw them perform, I knew I wanted to be a part of that,” she said.
The little girl who begged her parents to let her quit dance class and hated being made to dance with a group auditioned and became an official member of the elite kick-line team in 2019.
The following year, that same little girl was selected as a captain.
“I am proud of myself,” she said. “A captain has to have a 3.0 GPA, letters of recommendation, choreograph an original routine and master some other tryout responsibilities.”
Natalie has been accepted to Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, and plans to study nursing. She attributes her desire to become a nurse to the memory of her little sister, Lauren, who died when Natalie was five.
Lauren was born with a chromosomal anomaly that caused her to have a very weak immune system. She contracted a fatal case of pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus when she was just 18 months old.
“My sister never even had the chance to hate dance class or not. Her body just wasn’t strong enough,” Natalie said. “I want to do something with my life to honor her somehow.”
As for her future in dance?
“I may not be dancing on a team or on a stage in front of an audience, but I know I’ll always dance,” Natalie said. “Dance taught me discipline. It taught me perseverance. I met people who will be in my life forever, and I’ve made memories that are priceless.
“Dancing makes me happy. It’s my therapy on bad days and a way to celebrate on good ones. Yeah,” she said. “I’m forever going to dance.”