Dancers share their experiences from studios to school team

September 29, 2023 — by Florence Hu
Dancers strike their starting pose at the Sept. 22 Homecoming football game.
Many dancers must make the decision to leave their studios in order to compete for the school team.

Gathering around in a circle, each of the 14 dancers stepped their right foot into the huddle as senior dance captain Taylor Chu delivered her words of encouragement before the Sept. 12 football game. On “1-2-3- TOGA!” — or as some liked to think of it,  “toe-ga” — the team raised their feet and tapped their toes as they cheered.

Afterwards, the Homecoming crowd quieted as Chu ran onto the field with the team, shuffling into their pyramid formation. Posing with her head down and hands crossed, she waited for Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time” to ring across the crowd. Over the hushed voices, the sudden beat drop immediately brought out the crowd’s enthusiasm as cheers filled the bleachers.

With five weeks of practice under their belt, Chu and the team were more than ready to perform their competition pom routine. Since pom routines in particular required dancers to have precise hand positions, veteran members drew from their past year of experiences in pom.

After placing 3rd and 6th in their category at Nationals for their pom and jazz routines last year, the team has high expectations for the upcoming season. Though they lost three senior captains from last year, their new coach has been helping clean their four dance routines — all of which were professionally choreographed this year (as opposed to only one last year). While currently in their offseason, the team has been working to help the incoming freshmen adjust and sharpen their moves in order to bring out their synchronization. 

Of their four competition dance routines this year, the team has been practicing pom and hip hop dances; their lyrical and jazz dances have yet to be choreographed. Although competitions don’t start until January, they are still practicing around eight hours a week to drill the choreography into their muscle memory. 

In addition to these competition dances, new routines for football games need to be picked up quickly and rehearsed in the two weeks leading up to games. 

A main focus this year has been helping freshmen transition to having team practices instead of taking lessons at a studio.

Nearly all of the dancers entered the team in freshman year after years of training at studios, which focus on establishing the basic foundations that are incorporated into many choreographies. 

At competition studios, perfect techniques are prioritized, and training is often more rigorous as a result. This focus on technique prepares dancers for the school team, which spends the majority of the time running through, cleaning and rehearsing their dances.

Because their time commitment can be as intense as 15 hours per week during the height of competition season, it’s difficult for dancers on the team to continue dancing at their individual studios. 

Junior Anisa Taymuree, who trained at Dance Academy USA for eight years before joining the school team, said that she still manages to take two hours of hip hop lessons a week at the studio.

“At the studio, I’m just trying to push myself to my limits and reach my fullest potential in hip hop and advance my techniques,” Taymuree said. “When I’m on the school team, I’m pushing myself to do techniques and tricks that I’ve never done before, so I’m learning something new every day while I’m [on the team].”

For senior Erika Andersson, who trained at East West Music and Dance in Cupertino prior to the school team, making the difficult choice meant leaving a studio she’d been dancing at for six years.

“It was a bit of a hard decision because I really liked my studio team and all my friends,” Andersson said.

While she enjoyed taking classes like ballet, jazz and hip hop with different groups of people, she said that, at times, dancing at her studio was more stressful because there was always a rush towards competitions. 

“Dancing with the school is more enjoyable and relaxing,” Andersson said. “It’s a great community because we’re with each other for so many hours every week.” 

For others, the transition felt like the natural choice. For her part, team captain Chu entered the team during the pandemic, which made it easier for her to transfer from her studio since it gave her the chance for a fresh start. In addition to having closer and more convenient practices, Chu said that she wanted to show more school spirit, an opportunity that joining the team gave her.

This year’s new coach, Toni Strout, spends extensive time to help the dancers in the thorough but necessary process of cleaning their moves, sophomore May Gendeh said. During practices, Strout always pauses to adjust positions until every hand and foot is pointed in the same direction, count by count.

“Our coach’s approach to cleaning each movement step by step enhances the really well-choreographed dance,” Gendeh said. “I think we’ll be able to place higher this year with our cleaned routines.”

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