Not the last dance

Essence Barton, a mountain bike racer, is beginning to feel the pressure of three consecutive collegiate national championships in the dual slalom.

Photo: Brian Stethem

Essence Barton needed to slow down. Her father had entered her in a 10-and-older mountain bike race at age 8 (she won), and she qualified for a world championship at 15, two years before she was eligible to compete. Soon after posting the world-class time, she received an invitation to train for the U.S. Olympic team. She kept it hidden, going instead that summer to a Christian camp at Hume Lake.

“I wanted to be a kid,” said the CLU junior in exercise science, who is 21 this March. “I wanted to enjoy things, because I was always gone on the weekends. I was always racing.”

Rather than going to the Olympics, Barton has made her name as a mountain bike racer at world championships and USA Cycling events. Among many accomplishments, she has won three consecutive national collegiate titles in the dual slalom, and will go for a fourth later this year.

“I can’t even explain the stress of this last race,” she said in November. “The third time, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to win it again.’ I don’t even want to think about next year.”

So how is Barton supposed to slow down now, with studying to do and the 2013 mountain bike season just getting started?

She says it’s a good thing she has dance.

Barton earns money for college not as a competitive racer, but as a choreographer, using skills that she developed at Thousand Oaks High School and Bobbie’s School of Performing Arts. Now she counts the high school’s arts program as one of her clients, in addition to students who are making applications to colleges. She also helped her friend Jacob Garcia, a senior, to found Dancers Alliance for Navigating Cultural Exploration (DANCE) as a student club at CLU.

There are a lot of parallels between her racing and her dancing. For one thing, Barton is determined not to specialize within either pursuit, but continually to add skills to her repertoires.

In mountain biking, she started with the cross-country and short track events that emphasize endurance and speed, and moved on around age 12 to the challenging downhill, four-cross (4X) and dual slalom, in which side-by-side competitors negotiate nearly identical downslope tracks. In dancing, she has spent less time training, but loves ballet, hip-hop, lyrical and contemporary styles.

“Here’s the crazy warrior side of me that just wants to win, and then here’s the other side that just wants to express and show beauty and create…,” she said. “The only thing I’m not very proficient at is tap.”

Barton’s next major biking event is the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, Calif., April 18-21.