Dance team kicks off to powerful start while adjusting to new coach

September 23, 2023 — by Shirina Cao and Jessica Li
Photo by Anika Kapasi
The dance team performs their hip-hop routine to the song “Hot in It” for the football game on Sept. 1.
Although the team has had troubling keeping consistent coaches in recent years, they have worked to adapt to different teaching styles.

Junior dance team co-captain Anisa Taymuree ran up to the center of the football field on Sept. 1 with the other members and got into position. The football team was leading big at the end of the first half against Santa Cruz and everyone was in good spirits. As the first beats of the song “Hot in It” started playing from the loudspeakers, her face morphed into a sassy smile, matching the vibe of the high energy hip hop dance. Her body moved with carefully controlled energy to hit every accent and executed every spin and hand movement flawlessly.

After the performance, Anisa turned to her fellow teammates and felt proud of how far they had come since the first time everyone met at auditions in April. The 14-member team spent the summer learning various choreographies during their annual trip to United Spirit Association (USA) summer camp while simultaneously bonding with newer members, fostering a strong sense of community within the team long before the school year began.

“We’re starting off the season with a bang,” Taymuree said. “Our performance [during the game against Santa Cruz] might be the hardest hip hop choreography we’ve ever had, but it’s bound to get the crowd hyped up.”

Under the guidance of new coach Toni Strout, the team has been working on cleaning their hip-hop routine as well as jazz, pom, and lyrical routines for dances later on in the season. Strout has been dancing for 41 years and graduated from San Jose State University as a dance major, which has undoubtedly helped her lead the team. Veteran members have quickly adapted to her coaching style, finding it to be a huge improvement from their earlier experiences. 

In the past few years, the team has struggled to find a stable, long-term coach with the skillset to properly instruct them. Sophomore May Gendeh, who danced under both last year’s coach Namaad Jackson and current coach Strout, said she has high hopes for the new season.

“The transition between the two coaches has been relatively smooth since Strout understands our team well and knows how to guide us to victory,” Gendeh said. “She’s efficient with handling time, organizing practices and events and she is always informing us on the dates and times beforehand, which is a definite benefit to the team.”

On the other hand, senior captain Michelle Wan found that the transition between coaches has made carrying out her duties as captain difficult. As the team is on its third coach since her freshman year, many aspects like formations, dances and practice schedules have changed with each new coach.

“Since this is my fourth and final year on the team, I find these changes with coaches to be pretty drastic and difficult to overcome, but I have a positive outlook on the season,” Wan said.

Wan, alongside senior captains Erika Andersson, Annalyn Bui and Taylor Chu as well as junior co-captains Anisa Taymuree and Saejel Thomas, are working to ensure the team is cohesive, both in dance synchronization and in team chemistry. As the season begins, one of their top priorities is to ease the team’s five freshmen into learning new dance styles and adapting to the team dynamic.

The team trains three days a week in the dance studio, with each practice session lasting around two hours and 15 minutes. In the fall, the dance team mainly focuses on preparing for the frequent football game half-time performances. However, when competition season starts in January, practices will begin to ramp up with additional sessions held on Saturdays for up to three hours, in preparation for the USA National dance competition in May.

Freshman Chloe Nguyen, who trained at Creative Culture Dance Academy prior to the dance team, looks forward to bonding with other members during competition season and nationals.

“For dance, changing teams was not a hard transition at all. I already knew a few members on the team, so they helped me integrate well into the program,” Nguyen said. “Also, since I already had experience dancing for a long time, it was great that I could apply it to this team.”

For Nguyen, entering the dance studio is like being transported to a whole new world where she can momentarily immerse herself in the art of dance — a treasure she can’t find anywhere else on campus. However, beyond the art form itself, Nguyen has also come to cherish her close friendships with teammates.

“The most special thing about this team is how close my bonds are with my teammates and the way I always feel welcomed and valued within the team,” Nguyen said. “We all get to pursue what we love and form friendships that will last a lifetime. I always look forward to having a blast dancing with my best friends.”

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