Dance team members grow as individuals and develop bonds with teammates

April 1, 2019 — by Anna Novoselov and Emilie Zhou

Filled with excitement and anticipation, the dance team sat in a circle in a large auditorium at the Anaheim Convention Center, holding hands and anxiously waiting to hear which teams placed at the USA Dance Nationals. Every time their team was called out, the girls screamed with excitement.

From March 15 -19, the 19 girls on dance team and their coach Kaitlyn Landeza were accompanied by supervisors Julia Peck and Monique Young to Anaheim to compete at the USA Dance Nationals. The team placed second in medium lyrical, third in large pom, fourth in large hip hop, and fourth in medium jazz.

Nineteen girls are on the dance team, but due to numerous injuries throughout the year, many sat out from competitions throughout the season and only 18 girls could perform at nationals. Nationals was the team’s last competition with their six seniors: Francesca Chu, Lidya Demissie, Alexandra Li, Chloe Peng, Mira Spendlove and Amy Tang.

“Although we scored really well and took home four large trophies, the best part of nationals was being together as a team, doing what we love and watching all of our hard work pay off,” junior captain Kaitlyn Thompson said. “We don’t dance to win, we dance to share our passion and love for dance with others, and most importantly, have fun.”

For most of the competition season, the team participates in regionals against teams from Northern California. Nationals, however, allow the team to compete against teams from all over the U.S. and demonstrate what the girls’ year-long efforts have accomplished.

“You’re against so many more people, so many more teams and the judges expect more out of you at nationals. Your regional competitions matter, but in a sense, they are your practice runs for nationals,” Thompson said.

To prepare for nationals, the team attended several regional competitions starting in January while also maintaining their rigorous practice schedule after school.

“It is extremely difficult work, but the only way to get through it is knowing that [the hard work is] going to pay off in the end,” Thompson said. “It’s really intense. We keep going to build up our stamina; we run things over and over again; we clean [routines].”  

During the five-day trip, the team grew closer and celebrated the culmination of their season and their year of hard work. Thompson said that being at nationals created a “new energy” that united the team.

However, after nationals, the team was notified that Landeza would not be returning next year as the dance coach. According to assistant principal Kerry Mohnike, the district has already put out an ad for a new coach and will soon start conducting interviews for the position.

“The dance team has grown so much over the past four years and Coach Kaitlyn has been very important to that growth,” Mohnike said. “I think they’re in a good space now to move on … and we’ll bring in a new coach and kind of a new approach and feel to the team. I think it’s going to be positive for everyone.”

Because the team culture may have to “shift and adapt” with the replacement, the school hopes to find a new coach within the next three to four weeks to avoid disturbing tryouts and summer camp.

Besides dealing with the news of their coach’s departure after nationals, the team is getting a short break before the new season starts again, typically with auditions held in late April and the first practice with the new team set in May. During this time, one challenge the team faces is finding a new sense of unity among members.

“In summer, the first few practices are always kind of awkward because it’s the old people who are super close from all the experiences we’ve shared and the new people we just don’t know very well,” Thompson said.

According to Thompson, the team usually starts to “fall into a group” after they all attend an annual week-long dance camp organized by the United Spirits Association. At the camp, the team stays in dorms and attends practices each day to perfect their techniques and learn new routines that can be used at rallies and football games. Thompson said that because the team spends so much time together, “it’s impossible not to become best friends with everyone on the team.”

Although the team begins with a wide range of skill levels, the girls improve and begin to dance as a unit by the end of the season.

“Over the summer is when people make the most growth technically, so in April you might be one dancer, but come competition season you could be doing tricks you never thought you could,” Thompson said. “It’s really fun to see the team grow.”

Team bonding events, practices, regional competitions and nationals also help the team grow closer and develop lasting friendships. Thompson said that the big trips and team huddles before performances are among her most treasured memories.

“We all support each other and practices are usually really fun because you become so close to your team members and it just becomes sort of like hanging out with your friends while dancing,” senior captain Chloe Peng said.

During the school year, the team practices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m and on Saturdays from 8 a.m to noon. After warmups, the team does across-the-floors if time permits, which allow the girls to practice techniques such as battements, turns, chaines and piques. Then they clean their group dances — hip hop and pom. Pom is an upbeat style of dance that involves pom poms and a lot of kicks, jumps and turns.

Afterwards, the 13 people in the small jazz dance and the 11 in the lyrical/contemporary practice their routines.

Thompson said that jazz is energetic and technique-based while lyrical and contemporary dances have more fluid movements.

“My favorite is lyrical because it's easier to connect with your emotions and relate emotions to the dancing,” she said.

For smaller dances, the team hires a choreographer who conducts a master class, in which the girls learn a short routine and then have an informal audition. Later, the coach and choreographer discuss and decide who will be in each dance. Team captains also have the options of having a solo, but are not required to have one.

While the competition dances are usually choreographed by a professional, the rally and football game routines are mostly choreographed by the dance team members themselves. Sometimes the team performs dances learned at camps.

Thompson said at competitions, she is a mixture of adrenaline and nerves because the team never knows how the judges will perceive their dances.

However, numerous successes throughout the season, including placing first in pom and second in lyrical at regional competitions, have helped the team grow in confidence.

“The most rewarding part of dance is that feeling when you walk off the stage, knowing that your hard work paid off and that the dances looked good,” Peng said.

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