Breaking the status quo with High School Musical’s KayCee Stroh

KayCee Stroh was a perfect for for High School Musical director Kenny Ortega's vision of the character Martha. (Photo by Fred Hayes, courtesy of Disney Channel)

KayCee Stroh was a perfect for for High School Musical director Kenny Ortega’s vision of the character Martha. (Photo by Fred Hayes, courtesy of Disney Channel)

By Emma Murphy    

Long before she was popping and locking and jamming and breaking as Martha Cox in High School Musical, KayCee Stroh discovered her love for dancing.

After struggling with bullies and and stereotypes that dancers should be petite and toned, she has overcome all this and become the well-known actress that she is today.

KayCee started dancing when she was 2 years old in Salt Lake City, Utah. Only a couple years later, she knew she wanted to make a career out of it.

At the mere age of 5, she was talking with her family about what she wanted to be when she grew up — a conversation to which everyone can relate. KayCee told them that her dream was to be a famous dancer. Her family laughed and thought it was cute, not realizing how serious she was.

“I knew at that age that that was my divine calling on this earth,” KayCee, now 30, said in a recent interview.

While auditioning for the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in fourth grade, her dream materialized even further. The director had her walking up the aisles while acting, dancing, and singing simultaneously.

She suddenly had an epiphany. This is it, she thought to herself. This is absolutely what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is what I was born to do.

KayCee didn’t look the same as many of the other dancers; she had a curvier figure and looked more mature than her peers. Some people felt like she didn’t have the right body for a dancer.

When she felt discouraged by this, she would tell herself: “I don’t look like them, so that means I have to work harder. I have to jump higher, and I have to be better.”

KayCee would continue to struggle with this for years, but she always used it as motivation. Although it was difficult to deal with, she feels like it has made her the person she is today.

“I think that’s why I am who I am today and why I am where I am today,” she said. “A lot of people could have said, ‘Poor me, pity me,’ and quit or let it hold them back or hurt their self-esteem. But for me, I took it on as a challenge.”

KayCee also has advice for people in a similar situation.

“Love yourself, and be you, and be the best you, but don’t you dare let it hold you back,” she said about overcoming stereotypes. “It just makes you jump higher and work harder.”

KayCee was impressive from the moment she walked into her initial High School Musical audition.

“From the minute she stepped into the room, in her full size, she was in complete glory of who she is. She was just beaming from the inside out,”  High School Musical director Kenny Ortega told writer Tim O’Shei for a story that appeared in Dance Spirit magazine. “There was just this exuberance and enthusiasm and passion that was under every single move. That is what I look for.”

KayCee has had to deal with her fair share of bullies as well.

As a senior in high school, she tried out for the cheerleading team. She was a little nervous, but was confident in herself and her abilities.

When KayCee auditioned, the whole school watched her perform. She went out onstage and started to do her routine. It was going very well and KayCee was enjoying herself when all of a sudden some boys tried to bring her down by yelling that they didn’t want a “fat cheerleader.”

KayCee was not fat at all; she had just filled out earlier than the other girls auditioning.

Although this was a tough moment, KayCee was able to deal with it well: she didn’t let them ruin her audition or her self-esteem. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she pitied the boys that had been so cruel to her.

“I held my head high and I thought, ‘Wow, what sad boys. I wonder what life they live at home that they feel so insecure they have to pick on other people,’” she said. “I’ve had plenty of bullies, but you rise above it.”

The cheer coach pulled her aside after and told her not to let the incident affect her because she’d done an awesome job in her audition. KayCee also learned that she had gotten the highest popular vote when the other students voted on who they thought had had the best audition.

“Everyone at some point is going to tell you you’re too this or you’re too that,” she said. “And that’s why you just have to be like, ‘I’m going to be me and the perfect roles that are for me will come along.’”

Years later, when KayCee was living in Los Angeles, she had people tell her that she needed to change. At an audition, she was told she had too many moles, so she ended up having them removed. Now she has scars where the moles used to be because they didn’t heal properly.

“It was my first instance where I was like, you know what, I’m not going to change myself or be something that I’m not because in the end, that’s the way I was born and there’s a reason,” she said about the incident. “Eventually the right movie’s going to come along where the people will be like, ‘I want that girl who has moles.’ I learned very early on that I was just going to be me and be happy.”

When I asked her if she’d ever wanted to give up, she admitted that sometimes the brutality of Hollywood has discouraged her. She tries not to let it get to her, though.

“I feel like when you know this is what you were put here to do, it’s very motivating and you just know that at the end of the day it’s going to work out,” she said. “You have to have faith and put 100 percent passion into everything you do, and if you do that, you can’t go wrong.”

Emma Murphy is part of our program at Mount St. Mary Academy in Buffalo.

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