Gotta danceBy wearing big smiles and having a good time, area dance teams from East Ridge, Park and Woodbury are making the sport of dance look easy. But it isn’t.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, Woodbury Bulletin
When’s the last time you tried to kick over your head?
By wearing big smiles and having a good time, area dance teams from East Ridge, Park and Woodbury are making the sport of dance look easy.
But it isn’t.
Some competitive high school dance teams can practice up to three hours a day, six days a week. For example, Park’s dance team holds four three-hour practices each week and lifts weights with the school’s strength and conditioning coach every week.
Park first-year head coach Amanda Hemmingsen-Jaeger competed in dance in high school and was captain of the Wabasha-Kellog team.
“Dance has really evolved into a very athletic sport,” she said. “Girls at the top are doing 20 rotation turns, and jumps and leaps and kicking over their heads over 70 times – it’s really very athletic. It takes a lot of strength, coordination and flexibility.”
Woodbury’s head coach, Ashley Wolf, is in her second year with the team. Wolf grew up in Woodbury dancing for the Woodbury Dance Center. She graduated from Woodbury High School in 2005 and was a member of the Royals’ dance team. She now teaches at Woodbury Middle School.
“The girls are in the high school practicing at 6 a.m.,” she said. “They’re working hard and kicking butt every day. They don’t leave until it’s perfect and can’t perform until it’s perfect. That’s our standard on the dance team and that’s not going to change.”
A school can have both performance and competition squads. Performance squads practice during the week and show off their skills at other varsity sporting events like basketball games. Competition squads bring things to another level, competing in conference and additional invitational meets.
Park and Woodbury each have competition and performance teams. Park has had a competitive team the past three years. Woodbury has a competition team for the first time this year. Though it has in the past, East Ridge – coached by Jenn Reillo – doesn’t have a competitive team this winter, but still has a performance team and will be performing at the final conference meet of the year – at Mounds View on Jan. 28.
“Our goals this year have been to be a sharp team, have really good execution and increase their kick heights,” Hemmingson-Jaeger said. “It’s been a really fun bunch to work with this year. In my coaching I can motivate them, but I’ve also seen a lot of personal motivation too.”
Woodbury’s dance team is led by its two captains – senior Kelsey Gilbertson and junior Amanda Claphan. Park’s captains this season are seniors Amy Struve, Lexy Lamar and Steph Vrieze.
“Dance takes a lot of practice,” Lamar said. “We have to make sure every move is on the right count. Sometimes an entire practice we’ll just work on one move, making sure we’re all together. It’s a lot of work. You get really tired.”
Claphan said she knows there are people that don’t believe dance is a sport, but thinks they’re wrong.
“It’s definitely a sport,” she said. “It’s really hard. Maybe it looks easy, but if you spent a practice with us, you’d know it isn’t. It’s really difficult, but it’s worth it.”
Vrieze said she thinks dance is the ultimate team sport, because in dance just one or two superstars can’t make a team good.
“In other sports it’s individual and a team,” she said. “But, in dance you have to be doing the same thing as the other 22 girls at the same time.”
Though it’s hard work, Gilbertson said she feels dance is therapeutic.
“If you’re having a problem or if you’re sad or stressed out, you can dance it out and feel better,” she said. “It’s a stress reliever and lets you get your emotions out.”
All the hard work boils down to the teams’ three minute performances at their meets.
At the meets, dance teams compete in two categories – high kick and jazz/funk. Teams are scored on 10, 10-point categories ranging from difficulty of skills and choreography to execution and technique. Each score sheet is comprised of 84 elements the dancers are judged on.
“The meets are so much fun,” Gilbertson said. “Those three minutes are a lot of work. You’re exhausted afterwards. But, it’s so worth it.”
Hemmingsen-Jaeger has been a dance team judge for six years and spent two years as an assistant coach at Cannon Falls before taking the reins of Park.
She said she is very proud of her hard-working athletes and takes the team’s competitions seriously.
“Dance team takes a lot of dedication and a lot of hard work,” she said. “I think what we’re trying to start, at least at Park, is building the basic foundations to get everyone to a good, competitive level, so then we can then build upon those foundational things and we can teach more difficult skills and techniques.”
Struve said it means a lot to her to be able to compete for her high school in the sport she loves.
“I just have a ton of high school spirit,” she said. “It’s been cool to be able to dance as a sport for my high school. That’s my sport, that’s what I do and have always done. I just dance.”
Dance team is a rapidly growing sport in the state of Minnesota.
Last year, dance was the No. 1 revenue generator in Minnesota State High School League girls sports, and fifth overall (behind football, hockey, boys basketball and wrestling).
This year, Park has 23 girls on the team from eighth grade through 12th grade. Woodbury has 17 girls on its jazz competition team, 19 on its kick competition team and roughly 20 more on its performance team.
Woodbury has one of the largest groups of girls competing in the meets.
“My philosophy is if the girls dance well, they’ll perform,” Wolf said. “We put out the biggest groups of girls on the floor.”
Like in all other high school sports, East Ridge, Park and Woodbury compete in the Suburban East Conference against teams from Roseville, Stillwater, Forest Lake, Mounds View and Cretin-Derham Hall.
“Competitions are nice because there’s actually an award at the end of it all,” Wolf said. “Without meets, I can say good job as many times as I want, but it won’t matter as much as when they compete and they can get rewarded.”
In the SEC, Forest Lake and Mounds View have the teams to beat currently. However, Hemmingsen-Jaeger said the conference is full of up-and-comers.
“It’s actually a pretty exciting conference and I think it’ll be one to watch in the next few years,” she said.
For East Ridge, Park and Woodbury the season culminates at the 15-team Section 3AAA tournament on Feb. 11 at Bloomington Kennedy High School, where the top three teams will reach the state tournament – held Feb. 17 and 18 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
“We’re off to a good start. We’re stepping up the intensity of our choreography and the skills of our dances,” Hemmingsen-Jaeger said. “Basically, the goal is to improve each dancer and achieve their personal goals as well to improve the team to get them into a more competitive arena with the bigger schools.”