Dance Team Doubles Down at Nationals

The dance team placed fourth in the Large Kick division and tenth in the Large Pom division.

Ava Rawson, Print Editor-in-Chief





Traveling over 1,200 miles to represent their school every year, the dance team competes against schools from all across the nation at the United Dance Associations Nationals in Orlando, Florida at Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Center, Feb. 1 through Feb. 4. The team placed fourth in the nation in the large kick category and tenth in the large pom category.

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The team holds up the nationals trophy after the awards ceremony.

“The team experienced so many special moments at Nationals, but making pom finals definitely stands in my mind,” head coach Shelli Vaughn said. “We have been working to reach this goal and return to finals since 2014. The joy and pride that we experienced when we heard our team name read out as a finalist was simply amazing.”

At the UDA National competition, it differs on how many teams are chosen to compete in the finals, there were 12 teams chosen for the large kick division and 13 chosen from the large pom division. UDA has nearly 5,000 athletes competing in their national competitions, all vying for a spot in the finals. Each team has to earn a bid for nationals, by winning a UDA sponsored camp or other competition, so every team there has beaten out their local competitors.

“I was really nervous because I know we had worked so hard throughout the season, we had worked hard in practices, we put a lot of effort into everything that we did as a team,” senior captain Kristen Rogge said. “So my expectations were pretty high, and I wanted them to be met.”

Pom Finals Routine

The team qualified for both large Pom and large Kick finals this year, for the first time since 2014. Which means that none of the current members of the team have competed in the finals for both Pom and Kick. This is also an improvement from last year’s results, where the team placed 5th in Kick and did not qualify for Pom finals.

“When we were in the stands and they announced that we made pom finals, everyone screamed and we stood up, we were in awe,” freshman Ashley Ulowetz said. “It was just so awesome because I just got to be a part of it.”

In addition to qualifying for both of their routines, the team also had a second stroke of luck when picking their placement for the order for when they would perform their routine for the final time. After each team has performed in semis and the finalists have been announced the coaches draw cards to see what order the teams will perform for finals. Nick Clement of NCK Choreography, a kick specialist the team has been using for years, who was there to watch the team perform their Kick routine, drew for the team after each performance. He pulled last for each routine, which is one in a one hundred and fifty-sixth chance.

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The team celebrates after discovering that they would be performing last in pom finals.

“We had out kick specialist Nick pick for us because our coaches get so nervous to pick the numbers,” Rogge said. “Him picking last for both of our finals dances is crazy, it was insane, I felt like it was a dream when he told us that for both times.”

Every team wants to dance last, according to Rogge. The judges always judge the hardest, on the teams that go first. They judge knowing that even if the routine they just saw was good there is another coming that could blow it out of the water, and they could regret the high score they just gave because this school deserves a higher score. So the judges score the last team the easiest, knowing that they have seen all of the routines.

“They save the good scores for later, so your not going to score as high if you go first because the judges think ‘that was good but we haven’t seen anyone else’,” Rogge said. “So going last is so important.”

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The floor that the teams perform on is modeled after Disney’s Magic Kingdom Castle and is officially sponsored by Disney World and the competition is aired on ESPN on a later date.

Nationals itself is unlike any other competition that the team competes in during their competition season, according to Rogge. Besides the travel, pressure, and stakes, the competition itself it immense according to Ulowetz. With teams from all across the nation, the dance team competes against schools with well over 2,000 students and many performing arts schools.

“We go to the top national competition, there’s teams from all over the country, teams that come from schools that have thousands of students,” Rogge said. “We are a small school, we have under 400 hundred students and we are placing next to schools and beating schools that have thousands of students.”

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Dancers run up and hug Sarah Mikels Harrington after they finished their pom routine in finals at Nationals Feb. 3.

To prepare, the team extended practices and increased the workouts before leaving for Nationals according to freshmen Sarah Totta. While they were competing the team had night practices in the parking lot of the hotel they were staying at and had specialists that they work with earlier in the season come and watch practices, like Clement. The team’s go-to pom specialist Sarah Mikels Harrington also came to watch the competition and work with the girls before their final time on the Nationals stage.

Finals Kick Routine

“You just want them to be proud of you, so you work even harder to impress them and make them want to come back next year because they really do help the team,” Ulowetz said. “They push us harder than just our coach can do because they are just more people that we want to show that we can do it.”

The next big thing for the team is the State Championship Feb. 23 and 24. The team has won State consecutively for the past 9 years. If they win this year they will have broken a Missouri State High School Athletic Association Record for the most consecutive state title wins.

“We need to keep our energy up, and not stop now because we still have State, so we have to keep working hard and pushing because we want to feel as good as we do about Nationals,” Rogge said.