Dance team adjusts to new coach and larger team

September 9, 2019 — by Manasi Garg and Tiffany Wang

After the departure of coach Kaitlyn Landeza at the end of last year, the dance team is adjusting to new leadership as well as having a bigger squad, including the first boy to ever join the team, senior Xore Huang. 

The squad has welcomed new head coach Maleia Fernandez, while this year’s captains are seniors Kaitlyn Thompson and Lillian Wang, with junior Isabelle Lee and sophomore Jordan Shyh as assistant captains. 

When her contract came to an end at the end of the year, Landeza left to take care of her new baby, leaving an important hole to fill.

Fernandez grew up in Southern California and has toured with singers such as Ariana Grande as a backup dancer. After being a guest choreographer for high schools in Los Angeles, she realized she wanted to teach full time. 

Her main goal as a coach this year is to give the team a solid foundation, making them more well-rounded and skilled dancers who are comfortable in different styles of dance, whether lyrical or hip hop.

More importantly, however, Fernandez said she hopes the team bonds well and has a good dance experience. 

“These kids already love to dance,” Fernandez said, “but I want them to come out of high school still liking dance, whether they decide to pursue it professionally or not.”

Thompson, the team captain, said that since Fernandez joined them, she has implemented positive new changes and pushed them to become better. 

“She corrects our mistakes very differently than our old coach, and I like her approach better,” Thompson said. “Instead of yelling at us, she explains things more and is more detail-oriented in the corrections that she gives.” 

Thompson also said that the team will be competing in many more dance categories with Fernandez. Another change is that instead of hiring choreographers like in previous years, Fernandez is choreographing all of the dances herself. 

“She knows what needs to be done,” Thompson said. 

Currently, the team is practicing for school events such as rallies and home football games, but they are also learning and preparing routines for the upcoming competition season, which begins in January. 

The team plans to go to three regional competitions and one national one: Valley Christian on Jan. 18, Homestead on Jan. 25, Monte Vista on Feb. 8, and they will attend Nationals in Anaheim on March 20-21. 

Senior Nicole Wong said that while she is looking forward to this year, she also feels that there is a little added pressure that comes along with her role as being one of the oldest. 

“It’s interesting because in previous years I never really felt a difference between the grades,” Wong said, “but this year I realized, ‘Woah, everyone’s looking up to me.’ But it’s mostly just pressure to make sure everyone on the team is OK.” 

Wong recalls that when she was a freshman three years ago, there were only 10 people on the team. Now, there are 22 members, including Huang, who said he does not feel excluded or separated from the rest of the team. 

“I don’t think there is a difference between girls and guys because we are all dancing to the same song so there is a sense of unity,” Huang said. 

Even with all the changes, Wong has seen progress so far during the team’s 3-hour practices, which happen every day after school.

“Initially I was worried because there are so many personalities this year, so I wasn’t sure if we would all get along,” Wong said. “But with this new coach and team, I feel like everyone is going in the same direction and we all want the same thing — to succeed and win competitions.” 

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