Area dance teams headed for state tournament Feb. 12-13 at Target Center
Synchronized high kicks, dizzying turns, gravity defying leaps and maybe even a pirouette or two -- state dance team competitions are among the most entertaining events hosted by the Minnesota State High School League each year.
This year's incarnation, set to take place Friday and Saturday, Feb. 12-13, in the Target Center in Minneapolis, will be more exciting than most for lakes area residents: Three local teams have advanced to the 2010 state dance team tournament.
The Detroit Lakes Lakers, Frazee Fly Girls and Pelican Rapids Valkyries all placed in the top three in section competition this season -- which punched their tickets for the state tournament.
Detroit Lakes took third in the jazz category in Section 4AA, while Frazee and Pelican Rapids finished first and second, respectively, at the Section 4A jazz competition this past weekend. (Detroit Lakes is a larger school and does not compete in the same division as the other two.)
Pelican Rapids also took first place in high kick/precision -- which marked their first time making state in that category, according to coach Tami Seifert.
"This will be our fifth time at state in jazz," said Seifert, who has coached the Valkyries since they became a competitive team seven years ago. "It's been kind of a good run for us.
"We took second in our section, behind Frazee -- but this was our first time advancing (to state) in kick and we were section champions," she added. "Oh my gosh, we're flipping out about that!"
Like their neighbors to the south, the Laker dance team is also bound for the Target Center.
"We finished third out of 14 teams (in jazz), which qualifies us for the state," said Laker dance team coach Ronita Hackel.
Hackel has been the dance team coach in DL for the past seven years, and said she still enjoys it.
"I enjoy working with the dancers, I enjoy the sport itself -- I enjoy all of it," she said.
But her favorite part of the job is watching her team get better from week to week.
"These girls have improved at every invitational," she said. "The best thing was to see how happy the girls were at making the state placement."
"Just watching the looks of accomplishment on my dancers' faces when they walk off the floor is so rewarding to me as a coach," Seifert agreed.
"They put so much into every practice," she continued, noting that they put in more than 160 hours of practice time alone (not including competitions). "When they know they've done a great job as they come off the floor, that's the most rewarding part of my season."
"I like to see (the dancers) set a goal, and to help them achieve that goal," said Theresa Fett, who has been the coach for the Frazee Fly Girls since their beginnings as a non-competitive team, 15 years ago.
"Last year, our goal was to get into the top six (at state)," said Fett. They finished fifth out of 12 teams. This year, their goal is to make the top three -- or higher.
"You have to set your goals high -- it's always achievable," Fett added.
"The season has gone really well," Hackel said. "We've been to invites in Bemidji, Alexandria and Wayzata, and we've placed in all of them."
Though Detroit Lakes did not host an invitational or dual competition this year, Hackel said, the team does hold a Laker Dance Show each January to showcase the dance team's talents.
Choreography and costumes
Long before practice even starts each October, the process of selecting the music for the high kick/precision and jazz routines begins.
Coaches work closely with their choreographers to find just the right piece of music for each routine. The number of choreographers chosen from each team must be no higher than one-third of their total membership, Hackel said, according to MSHSL rules.
High kick routines differ greatly from their jazz counterparts, with very precise, synchronized movements that are tightly choreographed. As the name implies, each routine must contain roughly 50-75 kicks, and must be between 3 and 3½ minutes long.
Competitive scoring is based upon factors including degree of difficulty, synchronization and of course, showmanship.
"They look at different kinds of kicks and combinations, and how difficult they are," Hackel said. "We can add a few dance skills, but mostly it's about the difficulty of the kicks involved."
By contrast, jazz routines are much more varied in content, and require a higher degree of technical skill.
"A jazz routine can be very fluid, or very tight," explained Siefert. "It can be lyrical, or balletic -- you see a lot of different types of jazz."
Each jazz routine has to be between 2½ and 3 minutes long -- and contain enough technical difficulty to impress the judges.
"Jazz is a lot different (than high kick/precision)," Hackel said. "It has so many different elements with the skills -- different levels of turns, leaps, flexibility. You have to have a certain amount of all these elements in the routine to get the scores that you need (to place)."
Though Fett's background is more in cheerleading and theater than in dance, she said, "I have good assistant coaches."
Most of the Fly Girls, however, have many years of dance studio experience before they even start their first practice.
"You can spot a girl who has studio dance (experience) a mile and a half away," she said. "High kick/precision is much more endurance based -- in jazz you really have to have the technique."
Fett enjoys matching each year's routines to the personalities of the dancers involved.
"Each team really does have a personality all their own," Fett explained.
Many hours are spent, first selecting the right piece of music, and then matching the choreography to the music.
Costumes are chosen -- or often custom-designed -- to fit the tone of each routine.
"The costumes, to me, have to fit the song," Fett said.
"We usually design our own costumes," Seifert said. "Every year is a little different."
For instance, for their high kick routine, the Valkyries had a football theme, so their costumes were made to resemble referees' uniforms -- albeit with a few more sequins.
For their jazz routine, Seifert said, they used Fleetwood Mac's "Big Love" -- the song was a personal favorite of hers -- so the costumes needed to be red, to symbolize love.
Unlike some of the bigger schools, however, financing can be an issue when it comes to costuming, Fett noted.
"We have to think about money, and how to make (the costumes) look as good as we can with limited funds," Fett said, adding, "We have a great seamstress."
Dance team participation is good at all three schools.
Detroit Lakes and Pelican Rapids each have 22 members on their roster, while Frazee has 16 on its varsity squad (with an equivalent number in junior varsity, Fett noted).
"At sections, we had 18 on high kick and nine (dancers) for jazz," said Hackel.
"In the jazz category, I currently have 10 that dance, while in the kick category I have 16," Seifert said.
Participation in the high kick routines is usually higher than in jazz, the coaches explained, because the visual impact is much greater with a large number of dancers kicking in unison.
Practice starts roughly two weeks before the first competition in October, Hackel said; the season will conclude with the state tournament at the Target Center on Feb. 12-13.
Though the competitions are often intense, the three area teams are very supportive of each other, Fett noted.
"We're not in (section) competition with Detroit Lakes, but when we are at the same event, we cheer each other on," she said. And even though Frazee and Pelican Rapids are in direct competition with each other, they remain "mutually supportive," Fett added.
"The Pelican dancers are just really nice girls, with great coaches, and they're very deserving (of a state berth)," she continued. "We're all cheering for each other. Everybody knows we're there to win, but they want to win just as much. It's a friendly competition."