It’s October 1996, and Magnificent Seven gymnast Dominique Dawes‘ Orlando hotel room phone rings.
She picks up and listens to a deep, raspy voice on the other end.
“Someone that claimed to be Prince,” Dawes remembers.
She thinks it’s a prank. Dawes hangs up.
Soon after, Dawes receives another call. It’s her agent.
“That actually was Prince,” Dawes’ agent says, “so you might want to chat with him.”
Prince was calling to ask Dawes to perform in one of his music videos. They eventually spoke.
“He did say he’s a big fan, impressed with my gymnastics, something along those lines,” Dawes, now a mother of two, said in a phone interview Thursday.
Dawes, then three months separated from winning Olympic team gold at the Atlanta Games, jumped at the opportunity. She had heard days before the call that Prince was interested in having her in a video.
So when news broke Thursday that Prince died at age 57, Dawes immediately thought of that phone call in 1996.
“It was a surreal experience for a 19-year-old,” she said.
Dawes’ fondest memory was meeting Prince at Paisley Park in November 1996, one month after that phone call, to start shooting the video for “Betcha by Golly Wow!”
A gracious host, Prince asked Dawes if she wanted something to drink. Remember, this is Minnesota in November.
“The first thing that came to mind was hot chocolate,” Dawes said. “He took me to his kitchen, and he literally was mixing me up Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate. You’re thinking, doesn’t he have people to do that? I’m sure he did, but he was just mixing it up.
“I can’t say just how talented and how kind he was. He was like any other person, just down to earth.”
For the video, Dawes said she was instructed by Prince to “freestyle” as a dancer.
“And if you know any gymnast, we don’t freestyle very well,” Dawes said. “We’re very robotic. We have to be coached. So, he got me a choreographer. He found it comical that I didn’t know how to freestyle.”
The shoot lasted two or three days, but it wouldn’t be the last time Dawes and Prince saw each other.
She then started working on Broadway and living in New York City, where she was invited to private Prince concerts in the late 1990s.
Then last year, Dawes and her husband saw Prince perform around Washington, D.C., with about 200 others. Her husband found a way backstage, but Prince had just left.
“I would have loved to have seen him to say thank you for the opportunity in ’96,” Dawes said, “and thank you for the years allowing us to enjoy your gift.”