Kodiak dance team earns bid to nationals in Florida

The Kodiak High School dance team poses in front of the sign at Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Wash., where they won a bid to the Universal Dance Association’s National Dance Team Championships in Orlando, Fla. Back row from left: Tessa Heiberg, team captain Nique de la Fuente, officer Anelise Zimmer, co-captain Katey Doyle and Kylee Miles. Front row from left: Tessa Brown, officer Hailey Thompson, officer Lexie Ortiz and Carissa Larson. (Sarah Nugent photo)

At 8:30 a.m., while hundreds of other Kodiak High School students enjoy their summer vacation by sleeping in, the girls of the KHS dance team are getting their day started.

Twice per week, they gather at that hour in the school’s dance studio for practice. It’s the only time many of them can make it — they also work summer jobs.

That kind of dedication tends to pay off, as it did earlier this summer, when nine dancers traveled to a pair of camps in the Northwest U.S. and returned with a raft of awards.

Aside from their individual achievements, they also accumulated several team awards and an invitation to February’s Universal Dance Association National Dance Team Championships in Orlando, Fla.

“They’ve been to several different national competitions throughout the years, but the team has never been to this particular nationals competition. It’s the largest in the country,” team coach Sarah Nugent said.

The accomplishment is particularly notable because the Alaska State Activities Association, which regulates high school sports, does not recognized dance as a varsity competition.

“With the ASAA guidelines, you need to have a minimum of four regions, and I think there’s only dance teams in three of the regions,” Nugent said. “There are a few local cheer and dance competitions … but there’s not many dance teams left operating in the state.”

That means Kodiak had to go several thousand extra miles to get attention. The nearest UDA qualifier was in Washington state.

“It used to be that you could send in a tape of your performance and be judged. Now the only way to earn a bid to nationals is to go to summer camp and perform in person,” Nugent said.

Though the entire team couldn’t travel to the summer camp, Kodiak still took home the Superior Team Trophy at UDA’s Washington camp, earning a berth in the Florida competition.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounded, team captain Nique de la Fuente said.

“There was only nine of us, and other teams had 20 girls,” she said. “We did not get it the first try. That was our first time ever performing that routine together.”

Instead of a blue ribbon, signifying the highest mark, the team earned a red ribbon, signifying the second highest, de la Fuente said. But after the team competition, the teams broke into small groups, and the Kodiak girls excelled there. As they earned individual honors, they garnered points toward qualification.

When all was said and done, they had enough to earn a bid to Florida, de la Fuente said.

“It means a lot to us; we worked really hard at summer camp,” co-captain Katey Doyle said. “It shows that we’re on that skill level.”

As tough as earning the bid for Florida was, actually traveling there and performing will be even more difficult.

Because it isn’t an officially recognized sport, dance receives far less funding from the state. That means a lot of fundraising in addition to the long hours of practice.

“You’re looking at roughly $1,200 per person in airfare and $600 in competition fees, transportation … close to $2,000 per person,” Nugent said.

Because dance competitions can cover several different categories — “Think about it like a track and field nationals,” Nugent suggested — the team will be focusing on the high kick event.

That involves a two-minute performance that displays difficulty and a minimum of 50 kicks.

“And to be considered a kick, it has to be considered 90 degrees or above,” Nugent said.

The high kick event is a chance for the team to demonstrate its flexibility and strength, Nugent said.

“The higher the kick, the more flexible the dancer and the more strength she has in her core.”

Nugent is still working on the choreography for the competition routine, but she already has some things nailed down.

“Our theme this year for our annual dance concert is true colors, and we’ll be doing a dance to the song ‘Gray’ … specially edited to be within our two-minute time limit … and we have special costumes that fit with that color scheme,” she said.

“It’s going to be difficult there,” Doyle said. “Even if we don’t place, the competition and that experience … will be worth it.”

The team will not begin rehearsing its competition dance until late September or early October, Nugent said. That will give the squad a chance to hold fall tryouts, and prepare for homecoming and other events — and squeeze in a few more 8:30 a.m. practices.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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