First, Dominique Dawes delayed going to Stanford so she could follow her Olympic dream. Now, after winning a gold medal in Atlanta, one of America's sweetheart gymnasts has decided to go back to...high school? Yes, on Dec. 2 Dawes, 20, made her debut on Broadway in the musical Grease, in which she plays Rydell High's perky head cheerleader, Patty Simcox.
To get in shape for her first thespian endeavor, Dawes (left) had only five days of rehearsals, although each was a rigorous six- to eight-hour session. The hand jive and the back handsprings have come easy for Dawes, but so have the butterflies, particularly on the night she spotted Olympic teammate Shannon Miller in the audience. "I saw her and just froze," says Dawes. "It was less than a second, but I was like, 'Shannon's here!' "
Dawes has never taken a professional acting or voice class and says she still "doesn't have a complete feel for the Patty Simcox character." Easy there, Dominique—Patty has only a handful of lines, and she's not exactly Lady Macbeth in terms of complexity. But the role is physically demanding, with high kicks and front walkovers added to highlight Dawes's talents. "It's nothing too extravagant," says Dawes, who works out every other day for her upcoming 25-city gymnastics tour, which begins soon after her Grease stint ends on New Year's Eve. "But these also aren't moves that any Joe Schmo off the street could do."
Dawes, who plans to matriculate at Stanford in the fall of '97, blends in well in the group song-and-dance numbers, and her moment in the spotlight comes when she and her equally limber dance partner, Eugene Florczyk, the nerd of Rydell High, make an unsuccessful bid for the prom-night dance title. "Every day we go into the scene with the frame of mind that we're going to win," says Dawes, "even though we know very well we're going to lose." That's an outcome the two-time Olympian is not accustomed to. But, hey, that's showbiz.