Cedar Heights Junior High's winning dance team is about fun, hard work and building character.
Tough and Graceful
by Rodika Tollefson
Cedar Heights Dance Team Requires Stamina, Good Citizenship
During a recent practice session at Cedar Heights Junior High in Port Orchard, a group of about two dozen girls jumped and swirled while listening to their coach: “Five-six-seven-eight, hit one, hit two, hit three …”
The coach, Kathryn “Kate” Grieve, reminded the girls about the position of their toes, legs, arms, heads etc. as they practiced their routine, piece by piece. Now and then she’d make comments like “Christmas tree” and “Where is your head?”— or give out praises.
The routines look like a mix between studio dancing and cheerleading — but they are not an ordinary choreographed expression through music and movement. Each routine is like a two-minute sprint session, according to Grieve, and these young ladies need good body and arm strength to be successful. An expectation is, in fact, that the dancers are at the top in their physical education class.
“It’s hard work. I love proving to people it’s a sport,” said Kayleigh Vetten, a freshman who’s been with the team since eighth-grade and is co-captain this year.
The team, — currently consisting only of girls, grades seventh through nine, practices close to seven hours a week — and that doesn’t include the mandatory regular one-mile runs with the students who need to make up PE, or the bi-monthly competitions during the season.
“It takes stamina, strength and physical fitness,” said Grieve, who started gymnastics and cheerleading at a young age and continued on through high school and college in a dance team.
To be selected for the team, students not only have to learn a routine for auditions but also must have at least a 3.5 grade-point average, have good attendance and a good discipline report. “For my team to be successful, I need to have not only great dancers, they also have to be great citizens,” Grieve said.
Good citizenship, in fact, is part of the team’s goal. The group is involved in community service projects regularly. They also hold a study hall every week, and are expected to be “above and beyond” the average student.
“I like that this teaches them life lessons. It’s not about the dances they’ll learn, it’s about the skills they’ll learn,” Grieve said.
That is the main aspect that attracted ninth grader Tamika Tiller, whose older sister also was on a team in junior high. “She said she learned a lot of life lessons and it pushed her toward her dream,” Tiller said. She, too, is learning how to better communicate, take criticism and even be patient.
The team performs at halftime during football games at the school and other athletic events. Last year, it changed the name from drill team to dance team — to better reflect the trend of gravitating toward studio-style dancing. This year, the officers — three captains and three co-captains — even selected a more lyrical routine.
Grieve’s high expectations for her team have been paying off. Cedar Heights frequently places well at competitions, including several first and second places this school year. On Jan. 29, the girls will leave for Orlando, Fla., to compete in the Universal Dance Association’s National Dance Team Championship. It’s the team’s fourth year of going to nationals, and they are one of two junior highs competing from Washington state — the other is John Sedgwick JH from the South Kitsap School District.
The prestigious event will be televised on ESPN, and participating shows the dancers “they’ve accomplished a lot,” Grieve said.
Part of their success, Grieve said, is a group of “fantastic parents” and the district staff who support the team and are just as dedicated as the dancers. “It takes every single one of us to make it successful, and also keep it fun,” she said.
The team is a good fit for the girls who are highly competitive, including ninth-grader Hannah Lawrence, one of the three captains. Having never danced before, Lawrence didn’t think she would make the team, but worked really hard for the tryouts, she said. The team is like a family, she said.
“I love to perform. You get this adrenaline rush — you’re the center of attention,” she said. “People are watching you, and you are doing what you love. It’s a lot of pressure, too, you have to put everything out there, your heart and soul.”