Killer Dancers: Lifelong friends share everything from gun abilities to athletics

Mark Davis with the Powell Tribune, via the Wyoming News Exchange

Powell High School students Anne Aguirre (left) and Anna Smith have chosen dance as their sport, studying at Upstart Dance Academy in Powell. The two best friends have also picked up hunting. With the help of Anne’s brother Alex Aguirre, they both harvested two beautiful bulls this past season. Photo by Mark Davis, Powell Tribune.


Anna Smith and Anne Aguirre pose with Anna’s first bull elk, taken southwest of Cody at high elevation. Courtesy photo.


POWELL — In the dark of night deep in the wilderness, Powell High School Panthers Anna Smith and Anne Aguirre kept an eye out for the Absaroka Mountain Range’s apex predator. They had found themselves staring down a grizzly bear from less than 30 feet earlier in the day. 

Without light, every sound they heard widened their eyes looking into the void for the faint glow of a bruin’s eyes. 

“Are you scared right now? Because I’m scared right now,” Smith said, recounting the adventure. Aguirre agreed. They had already spent several days hiking and in the saddle by day and freezing in camp by night. 

Admittedly, most of their days were pleasant for late fall in the shadow of the peaks. But temperatures fell off the cliff after sunset — not exactly a cure for saddle sores and overworked muscles. 

Smith had a bull elk tag left to fill after Aguirre harvested a large-bodied Shiras bull moose earlier in the season. There was no turning back despite knowing even tougher times were ahead. 

The two have been best friends since second grade. It’s hard for them to remember a time when they weren’t friends. Like sisters, they share everything — from their abilities with a gun to athletics. 

As they stared into the darkness, they began to sing “to keep our minds busy,” Aguirre said. 

The week before they had been given duet assignments by their dance instructors and began running through the choreography’s “count” together. 

Both are serious about dance — their sport — competing regionally this season in preparation for the national competition in Nashville, Tennessee in July. 

Some may not think of dancing as an athletic endeavor, but there is evidence to the contrary. 

Every week the duo takes about six hours of intense instruction and complete “countless hours of practice,” according to Katelyn Lang, co-owner of Upstage Dance Academy in Powell. 

But unlike most sports, the season is nearly year-round. 

“Their season is insane,” Lang said. “The season starts the last week of August and they’ll dance until the end of July.” 

If you think the two are delicate flowers, you might not understand the physical toll of dance. 

“We’re underestimated,” Smith said. “People think that because we’re like dainty dancers that look pretty onstage, that we can’t be tough and strong as well. They don’t realize that you have to be tough and strong to dance, because it can be pretty painful.” 

Upstart was established more than four years ago by Katelyn and Mariah Lang. They currently have about 150 students. 

Smith and Aguirre moved to the academy last year, looking to improve after each had spent about a half-dozen years competing. The best friends were chosen to represent the academy at nationals and will perform in group dances as well as competing. 

Knowing how to work through the pain and learning multiple intricate routines on the dance floor helped in preparation for their hunting adventures and the physical test ahead. 

Neither of the hunts was easy and required several weekends of tent camping in the hills. 

Aguirre struck first. They traveled the five hours to the Pinedale area weekend after weekend. They were seeing several small moose, but that’s not what Aguirre wanted. The moose she wanted always seemed to be on private property and beyond her reach. 

It came down to the final days of the season, so Anne and her brother, Alex, headed out without Anna because they planned to stay as long as it took. The first three days they didn’t see a single moose. Then on the fourth day a big bodied moose stepped out on the opposite bank of Pine Creek. Heavy flakes of snow were falling, making it hard to see through the scope. 

“Then the snow suddenly stopped — just for like a couple minutes — and I finally took my shots across the river,” she said. 

With the bull down, the brother and sister had to take a long hike to get to the other shore to field dress and quarter the beast before carrying out the pieces. Having only processed pronghorns prior to the hunt, Anne quickly found herself managing pain, but at the same time loving the adventures with her brother and bestie. 

“There’s a lot of great memories,” she said. 

“And cold nights,” Smith added. 

Smith’s bull elk hunt was equally difficult. Luckily the target area was closer to home. They took nine horses, two for Anne and Anna, two for Alex and his girlfriend Becca, and five pack horses. For four days they were in the saddle before sunrise and arrived back to camp after dark. 

Anna wasn’t picky, this being her first elk hunt. But they couldn’t find the herd. On the fourth day they finally got close enough; the herd was at a higher elevation than they had hoped. 

“I got set up on a rag-horn because this was my first bull and I’d never even shot a buck [deer] before. So I was like, you know what? If I get something I’m gonna be pretty thankful for sure to get meat for the freezer,” she said. 

It wasn’t meant to be. The elk were in thick trees and the young bull got away. 

“We were like, no, we’re gonna keep going. So we hiked even further. It was lots of ups and downs of like, hills and patches of snow,” she said, adding that at one point she had to crawl due to the steep grade. 

“It was crazy,” she said. 

Finally they found the herd and saw a majestic bull in the mix. For three hours they watched until he started to chase a cow toward them. The bull was finally within 500 yards and Anna set up for the shot. She pulled the trigger on her .270 at about 430 yards. The bull stumbled and fell and then the work began. They were moving fast, knowing there were grizzly bears in the area after having a run-in earlier in the day and night was quickly approaching. 

Alex led the effort, but that doesn’t mean Anna and Anne weren’t elbows deep in the chest cavity, they said with details better left out of print. 

Due to the steep grade, they had to hike back to camp with the meat on their backs. 

“It hurts so bad,” Anna said. 

Then they loaded the parts and pieces in panniers and walked the 10 miles back to the vehicle in the dark, finally arriving after 10 p.m. 

“It was actually really scary,” Anne said. 

Between watching for bears and trying to stay on the trail over rough terrain, the friends thought about their choreography and dance moves. They had to miss several lessons at the academy. 

But Lang said they made up all the sessions, sometimes staying past 9 p.m. to catch up on missed time as they headed into the season. 

Both gave credit to their coaches for sticking with them, both in the studio and on the mountain. 

“Alex really, like, gives us the drive to do things we didn’t think we could do,” Anna said.

“He lives to hunt and was willing to help when we told him we wanted to go,” Anne said. 

As they sometimes finish each other’s sentences, it is obvious to outsiders how close they are — like twin sisters. But they are also there for each other to help work through painful situations and to inspire each other when the going gets tough. 

“They complement each other,” said Lisa Jarvis, Anna’s mother. “Like in any strong relationship, what one might be lacking, the other one fills the gap. And when one is down, the other one just knows how to pick her up.” 

Jarvis said had times when she was more than just a little nervous about sending her daughter out into the wilderness. 

“There were lots of prayers for their safety. But just the way that they approached the hunt, and mentally prepared for it, they both were laser focused. They were 100% ‘We’re gonna do this, and we’re going to be successful.’” 

The two friends looked different when they returned, having more confidence by pushing themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of, Jarvis said. 

In a quiet moment at home, Anna told her mother, “I’m never going to be the same.” 

“She can’t even really describe what that means, but I feel like she really matured,” she said. “It totally changed her perspective on life. Like the small stuff is now the small stuff.” 

Their next goal: mastering multiple dances to prepare for the next level of competition.


This story was published on March 9, 2023.


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