- February 2, 2017
Nine-year-old Jace Brush might not understand much about NASCAR, but he certainly does know numbers.
Try 101,500, for instance, the seating capacity at Daytona International Speedway.
Bruce is a member of Lakewood Ranch's Art and Soul Dance Company, which on Oct 27 was invited to perform during the Daytona 500 weekend at Daytona International Speedway.
Although Art and Soul will perform on Feb. 19, the day before the Daytona 500, there are two major races that day, including the NASCAR Xfinity Series season-opener, a 300-lap race.
As Art and Soul Executive Director Danielle Downes said, "You could have 10s of thousands of people there."
Would that make Bruce nervous?
"Oh God, yeah!" Bruce said. "I will be nervous."
It's an excited, fun, nervous feeling that swept through the team after it learned of the honor.
"These girls and boys haven't performed on a stage that big," Downes said. "They haven't performed in something of this magnitude. When you talk about this race, you are talking about the Super Bowl of racing."
Even so, Downes and Art and Soul Dance Company owner Alana Turner are certain their performers will rise to the challenge, as they have time after time in winning the many trophies on display in their studio.
"Part of our instruction is how to harness and channel that kind of energy," Turner said. "How do you manage that?"
Downes told the performers and many of them understood the scope of the invitation. But with performers from the age of 4 through 16, not all of them did.
"The littlest guys ... not so much," Downes said.
Brush said he once performed in front of about 100 people, but he wasn't nervous because the lights were off in the auditorium and he couldn't see into the crowd.
Lakewood Ranch 14-year-old Eve Hare said her parents "freaked out" when they heard Art and Soul was headed toward Daytona.
"Everyone in my family is a big racing fan," she said. "This is a huge deal."
Claire Gonzales, a 15-year-old Lakewood Ranch resident, said she doesn't know much about the Daytona 500 other than "I've certainly heard of it."
A fourth-year dancer, she does know the team will be watched by its biggest crowd ever.
"Maybe I will be a little nervous," she said. "But I will use it to have more energy."
Lakewood Ranch's Kayla Downes, 15, said the thought of performing in front of thousands of people is "crazy," but she said her training will make her confident.
"Stress-wise, I have to know I'm good," she said.
Kayla Downes said the team will work hard to make its routines appear easy, even if they aren't.
"All those people can't know it's hard," she said.
The 30-member team (27 girls, 3 boys) will perform for approximately 20 minutes. Most of the routine will be made up of their usual competition performance, but a 3- to 4-minute special dance will be added.
"(The Daytona 500 organizers) deserve something specifically designed for them," Turner said. "We will find an appropriate song. Disney's Cars?"
Art and Soul Dance Company was fortunate because the Daytona 500 weekend occurs just before the start of its competitive season in March. The special event will be used to kickoff the season and Danielle Downs said extra practice sessions will be involved.
"For us, this is a chance to show the level of technique these girls and boys have acquired," she said. "We need to be flawless."
Turner said it's another opportunity for the performers to see how their hard work pays off.
For Brush, it would be a chance for him to learn more about the Daytona 500. Of course, he did pick up some knowledge about the race once he found out he was going.
"My dad told me they only go left," Brush said of his dad's explanation of how the drivers race on an oval.