THE GRIND: Sumter High's Leverette earns a spot on the Louisville dance team


Ashauna Leverette has been dancing for as long as she can remember. While she didn't get into dance as early as some, Leverette found her true passion in the studio around the age of four and never looked back.

"I honestly don't remember being in my first dance classes," Leverette said. "I started off at Carolina Max and I think it was something like my parents just put me in and then they just switched me. I obviously loved it, but like I didn't really have like a say.

"I definitely have never had a moment where I thought I don't want to do this. I've always wanted to keep it going. I remember begging my mom in that lobby to let me try out for the competition team and Miss Libby (Singleton) is the reason that I did try out for the competition team because she was pushing her to let me. There was never a moment where I didn't want to do it."

After a year at Carolina Max, Leverette moved over to Miss Libby's School of Dance and Gymnastics and never looked back. She eventually joined the competition team and won awards for her skills on the dance floor across the country. Leverette said joining the competition team is what made her fully want to commit to dancing.

"I knew I wanted to do competitions too, because I wanted to come to dance more," Leverette said.

"Whenever I was doing rec classes, I was only coming like once a week. And then my parents put me in private (lessons) with my teacher, so I could come more and it just happened."

Leverette nearly went down a different path. Her dad, Morris, wanted his daughter to pursue music, but when she had to choose between the two, she was fully committed to dance.

"So I started playing piano before I started dancing and my dad really wanted me to stick with piano, which I stuck with it for a while and then violin came in too. So my dad was paying for all these instruments," Leverette said. "I had a mini grand piano type thing in my house, then I had a keyboard, now he's buying a violin and he's trying to get me to play all these instruments, but dance was my main thing and so my piano teacher was like, 'I need you to put more in to piano,' and I was like, 'you know, I think dance is definitely where (my passion is).'

"My dad said he watched me at one of those competitions, and he was like, 'She really loves this,' and he could tell he wasn't getting me out of it, so he just had to hop on board at that point."

Leverette had to commit a lot of time to dance. As a member of the company and competition teams, she had a packed schedule. At Miss Libby's, Leverette was in two company classes along with a slew of classes for the Rising Stars competition team. They have choreography class, tech and stretch class and conditioning class. During competition season, Leverette is in the studio five days a week preparing to travel throughout the region, hoping to earn a trip to national competitions.

That hard work also comes with a big bill. Dance competitions are not cheap, but Leverette got financial help from her older sister, Amanda McFadden. McFadden was just starting to dance in college when Leverette was born and wanted to make sure her younger sister could follow her passion for dance. Leverette only grew more appreciative of the help as she got older.

"My parents obviously saw how much it was for her to do competitions, because competition is a lot. You're paying for your company classes, your competition classes, then you're paying for competitions that you go to, and I started going to extra competitions for scholarships and stuff, so it just adds up," Leverette said. "So it goes back and forth. My sister and my mom will pay like my dance bill throughout the month and then they pay for competitions and stuff, but mainly (McFadden) is the one that started. She was like, 'I want her at Miss Libby's,' so she paid for it and then all the trips that I take. You have competitions on the regional level, which is around this area, and then you can get scholarship to go to nationals."

Those dance competitions took Leverette all around the country and provided a great opportunity to bond with her sister.

"A couple years ago, I won Myrtle Beach Teen Dancer of the Year at this competition, Hollywood Vibe, and the national level was in Anaheim, California," Leverette recalled. "So me and my sister went to California for a whole week. We did this twice. We did it for one year when I was junior dancer of the year and then took a year off, then we did it whenever I was teen dancer the year, so she paid for all that."

Leverette had one goal in mind as she was competing across the country. She wanted to end up dancing collegiately with the Louisville Ladybirds. That became her dream when she fell in love with their dance show.

"I love watching dance shows and I was just looking on my TV and saw there is a show called 'So Sharp' on Lifetime, and I was like, 'Hmm, let me watch this.' It was only like 12 episodes, and I literally watched the whole thing in one day," Leverette said. "It only aired for a season, so after I watched that, I was like, 'hmm, let me look more into this' because I didn't know what I wanted to go to college for. I only knew, I wanted to dance in college. I didn't really know about college dance teams, so that kind of introduced me to that. I've probably watched that show like 10 times since then.

Louisville has a prestigious dance team that has won 20 national championships. The Ladybirds are regularly competing against Leverette's home state for those titles, as South Carolina claimed the last championship. While Leverette loves USC, she wanted to have a chance to get away from home.

"I honestly loved USC as well," Leverette said. "But I'm the type person that wants to go away from home, so if I stayed here, I would regret it."

However, earning a spot on the Ladybirds was no simple task. The world of recruiting is different in dance than it is for most sports. Leverette had to be proactive if she was going to end up at Louisville. She started by reaching out to the team on Instagram and made sure she had a chance to meet the coach in person.

"I knew the dance team recruitment was so much different from your other sports. There are some teams like, Ohio State, they reach out to you. And then there's some other ones, but it's mainly, you have to go (out)," Leverette said. "Coaches like whenever you reach out to them, you come talk to them, they remember your face. Especially since everything right now is over (social) media. It just takes more.

"We were lucky to have an in-person audition. There's a bunch of places that did everything online. Someone was telling me the fact that like I came in, I talked to the coach, we sat face to face, she could remember my face. With dance teams, you just have to put yourself out there."

Leverette earned the chance to audition with the Ladybirds, but the timing was brutal. The audition in Louisville happened to be the same weekend as her senior recital at Miss Libby's, which she'd been looking forward to for years. For weeks, she thought she wouldn't be able to do both because the auditions at Louisville were slated for Friday through Sunday and the senior recital was Sunday night.

"It was kind of a tossup. I didn't know if I was gonna be here or not, and I knew the dates were the same weekend of recitals," Leverette said. "There was a week where I didn't know what I was going to do. They were blocking me out of all of our dances here, preparing for me not to be here at all and I (thought I would be) missing my senior recital, the one thing I was looking forward to."

Then Leverette got the break for which she was hoping.

"The week of auditions we got an email that Monday morning," Leverette said. "There was a change of plans, auditions are only going to be Friday and Saturday, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh' and then we got this long list of stuff we had to learn for auditions. That whole week, I was being put back in all of my dances, and on top of that, I was learning my dances for auditions at Louisville."

What followed was the most hectic weekend of Leverette's life. She auditioned for Louisville, before rushing back to Sumter in time for her recital on Sunday night, all while trying to find the time to memorize all of her routines.

"That Friday morning I flew there. We had our interviews Friday afternoon. We started dancing that Saturday morning. We literally came in two at a time, did the audition once, and then after everyone went, she was like, 'OK, we'll be back in 20 minutes' and then by 12 (noon) she announced the. Team. A 6 (p.m.) I was on a flight back to Charlotte," Leverette recalls. "I landed at 12 a.m., and then my parents drove me back here. Sunday morning I was up cramming all these dances back in my head to dance on the stage at recitals. I also had to have a senior solo and I literally did it Sunday morning when I woke up in my head because I didn't have any other time to do it, so it was a crazy week."

Leverette made the team at Louisville and still had time for her recital. It was a whirlwind of a weekend, but Leverette was thrilled all the pieces fell into place.

"I was mostly thinking how upset I was going to be if I went all the way there and missed a whole day of recitals to not make it," Leverette said. "It was honestly a blur. It was a crazy weekend because I was trying out for the team I've been looking forward to trying out for since middle school, my Miss Libby's dance career was coming to an end. It was a lot, but I am glad that things happened the way they did, to where I did miss the first day, but I was here for the second day. I was here for my senior recitals. It all happened for a reason."

Leverette hopes to have a career in dance once her days with the Ladybirds are done, but she doesn't want that to define her life after college. Once her dancing days are done, Leverette wants to go into sports broadcasting.

"I do want to have a future in dance after college. I don't know if it'll be a long one," Leverette said. "I always said I wanted to go on tour with an artist, and I definitely want to maybe dance like for a pro team, whether that is NFL (National Football League) or NBA (National Basketball Association), I'm not sure yet, but I don't really want to dance for my whole career."

Leverette is excited to continue her career as a dancer, but is frustrated she still has to defend her favorite sport to people who don't want to include it in the pantheon of sports.

"It's always bothered me that dance isn't as high as football, basketball, those other things. Like, I get it, but the school I'm going to, the Louisville Ladybirds are part of the athletic department because we train just like the other people do," Leverette said. "We have workouts, we have practices. We're 20-time national champions. That is something that should be recognized. We put in work just like anyone else does, just like cheer is recognized as a sport. People get cheer and dance mixed up a lot, so if you're gonna get to cheer and dance mixed up, why is cheer a sport and dance isn't?"

She had to fight that battle at Sumter High School, as the school didn't have a dance team when Leverette first became a Gamecock. She spent the rest of her high school career fighting to start a dance team at Sumter, and hopes it will continue after she's gone, especially after the team wasn't able to perform for most of her senior year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It just kind of sucks because whenever I go other places and they ask me, 'Are you on your high school dance team?' And I'd be like, 'We don't have one.' I just want to make it normal here because I push so hard," Leverette said.

Leverette said she mentioned the possibility of a dance team to SHS principal Nicholas Pearson her freshman year. The team came into being her junior year.

Leverette hopes to be able to come back to Sumter and watch the team she helped form continue grow.

"It would just be nice to come back home and be able to go to like a and see our younger girls with the other (dance) studios, younger girls dancing on the field because that's something that we started," Leverette said. "We were part of the first team at our school."

The Gamecock turned Cardinal wants to see the sport continue to grow in Sumter in general. She thinks the key to the expansion of the sport is for well-known dancers from the area to come back and support the next generation. That's what she plans to do.

"I just think people are gonna have to keep pushing, which hopefully our high school dance team is still a thing after we leave. I think it's gonna definitely take people coming back," Leverette said. "There's a girl that used to dance here, her name's Whitney (Floyd), she was a Clemson Rally Cat, and she came back here and did a clinic with us. I think it's just gonna take people coming back, introducing things to us. I'd love to come back and do a Ladybird dance team clinic with the younger dancers.

"Everyone's always saying to give back to where you came from, and I definitely plan on coming back here as much as I can, and popping in at the studio and going to competitions."