Dancing has always been an important part of Kennedy Ruff's life and after competitive dancing for at least 11 years, she earned a spot on the Honey Bees dance team for the NBA's Charlotte Hornets.
Kennedy, from Rutherfordton, and daughter of Doug Ruff and the late Carla Ruff, is a freshman at UNC Charlotte.
She joins Montana Bright as being the second Rutherford County dancer to be selected as a Honey Bee.
Kennedy said she first met Montana during the 2013 Distinguished Young Woman (DYW) program of Rutherford County, participating as a Little Miss.
"Little did we know we would now be dancing together about 10 years later on the Honey Bees," Kennedy said.
Kennedy began dancing at Dancing' Stars Studio 13 years ago and began competitive dancing 11 years ago. When she was a sophomore at R-S Central High School Kennedy began dancing at a Charlotte studio, Dance Productions - The Remix. There she was in a pre-professional program, Prodigy, for two years. Kennedy and the others in Prodigy took classes from guest choreographers, practiced self choreography, made up dances for the group, made concept videos and took heels classes.
"Being a Honey Bee has been everything I've ever wanted and more," Kennedy said of being accepted into the group. "Getting to interact with fans, serve the Charlotte community and experience this opportunity with such strong, empowered women has been the most surreal feeling," Kennedy began.
"Sharing center court with these talented women will truly 'never get old', as I realized this feeling after my first half of games this season. Learning a new dance every game has been an adjustment as I'm used to competing the same dances at competitions all year. We dance all styles of dance including Jazz, Hip Hop, Tap, Contemporary, Pom, and Bollywood," Kennedy said.
She admits, though, it took a leap of faith to send a video submission for the NBA Charlotte Hornets dance team.
"Since a young age, I knew any opportunity to dance professionally was a huge dream of mine and a goal I wanted to eventually pursue," she said.
"However, I didn't know that it would happen at 18 years of age and going into my first year of college at UNC Charlotte," she said.
It was about the same time she submitted the video that her mom, Carla, wasn't feeling well. Kennedy said her mom was not her normal outgoing self. As a breast cancer survivor, Kennedy said "sickness" was a normal part of her mom's everyday life. Some of the routine and day to day appointments were darker than others.
Kennedy said she was encouraged by her mom to submit the video. Carla wouldn't do anything to discourage her daughter's dream, even if she was fighting her own battle with cancer.
After passing the first round of the competition, Kennedy made it to round two and was over the moon, being one step closer to becoming a Honey Bee.
Her second round of auditions was on June 18 at the Main Bowl of the Spectrum Center. That same day she learned she'd made it to Bee Camp, the final step of auditions, which included two weeks of learning choreography, fitness, interviews, and a dance solo audition.
"I was thankful to have made it this far, as I knew if it didn't work out this year, that I could keep trying in the future," she said.
"Blessed, thankful and-self driven were the only words I could think of to describe this indescribable feeling, as being able to serve the Charlotte community is such a huge honor," Kennedy said.
"With all the happiness July brought me, I also experienced unbearable heartbreak. A few weeks later, my mom was diagnosed with Leptomenal Carcinamotsis, a rare form of brain cancer.
Although my mom received her ultimate victory in heaven before attending my first game, I knew that she was just as excited as I was, knowing that I was living out my dreams as a professional dancer," Kennedy said.
"I lost my mom, my person, my mentor, my inspiration, and the most selfless person I will ever know. Losing her made me think how easy it would be to just simply throw this whole year away, as nothing was as important as her and nothing will ever be. I soon came to realize how much I've sacrificed to be where I am today and how proud I am of myself for staying resistant, as well as how proud I know she is," Kennedy said.
"Never take a single moment for granted, and to simply keep going because, eventually, it will all be worth it," Kennedy said.
In addition to dancing at weekly games, practices, and appearances, and college studies, Kennedy joined Alpha Delta Pi. "This sorority has been my home since being in college and has blessed me with the most loving, genuine girls. Balancing social life on top of a rigorous schedule is not easy, but I knew my mental health, studies, and days to reset came first," she said.
As an R-S Central junior Kennedy participated in the DYW program and was named Rutherford County's DYW for the Class of 2022. She also graduated from R-S in 2022 and began attending UNCC in the fall where she is majoring in Exercise Science with a minor in dance.
Kennedy also enjoys photography, fitness, traveling, hiking and spending time with her loved ones and her mini-labradoodles. She, her dad and sister Carrie spent the Christmas vacation out West visiting National Parks. It was the first holiday without Carla.
The best advice Kennedy has received to this day came from mom. "She told me, 'Your life is never yours if you always care what others think'."
She also says Ephesians 4:32 from the New Testament is advice she lives by every day, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Kennedy hopes others will remember to hug their loved ones and to always check up on those who matter the most.