Battle of the Northeast

Riley Preiss, Editor

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After months of preparation, of practicing our tricks and routines in the Commons, of choreographing and re-choreographing dances, of the sweat and frustration that not many people realize comes along with making a dance as perfect and easy as it seems, we arrived at our biggest, and most difficult competition yet.

Are you shocked? Yes, dance has a competitive side. Peers and adults alike often don’t realize the high stakes and intensity of the competitive dance world. In our town it is even more of a shock to people when they hear that no, the Dalerettes don’t stop once football season ends… in fact those routines are simple compared to the work required during the winter season. For us, late October means tryouts. Anyone interested in the team must tryout in the category they feel they excel in, or for every team if they would like to be in all three of the dances. Spots on each of the three teams (hip-hop, dance, and pom) are extremely competitive due to our limitation on the number of dancers we take per team. Some girls overlap in dances, making it that much harder to get a spot. Our team of forty dalerettes shrinks to about nineteen for our winter season, and after three days of tryouts, we set out to learn the dances we will be performing in three short months. This year, our pom team of thirteen girls impressively learned an entire routine in one six-hour rehearsal from award-winning choreographer Danielle Bradle. The fast-paced, intricate routine was a challenge for the team, and over the next few months we perfected and cleaned through it over and over again, gaining stamina, focusing on technique, and of course, practicing facial expressions. The dance and hip hop routines were choreographed by the captains themselves, who put in long hours of planning and picking music on top of the daily practices after school. However, come January, it is all worth it.

As a senior captain, this competition season is particularly important to me. My team is truly a second family, and the other three seniors and I all agree that walking into this final season has been bittersweet for us. It is surreal that after four long years our “dance careers” are ending. This has definitely made our drive to win that much more intense. We have competed in two of our three competitions this season. And January 13th was our biggest one yet.

At 5:AM my alarm went off and it was time to spend the next two hours getting ready for the day to come. Packing on stage makeup, fake eyelashes, glitter, and the works is nothing if not time consuming. I slicked back my hair into the tight uniform bun, bobby pins and all, and double checked that all of my costumes and shoes (and snacks) for the long day ahead were all packed. On the two-hour drive to North Brunswick High School in New Jersey, I was jittery. The team was texting the whole time, updating each other on who would arrive first and sending some positive messages and reminders to prep for the day. At 10:AM we arrived at the high school, and frankly, it was massive. The school, which felt more like a college, had a huge gym; the center covered by a wide marley floor, perfect for dancing. On one side of the gym sat parents and spectators in rows of giant bleachers. The panel of eleven judges sat at a table directly in front of the dance floor, prepared to watch dances for the next several hours. On the opposite side of the gym, dance teams and coaches alike watched the competition. Despite being competitors, the best part of the competition in my opinion is the support of other teams. This competition was huge. There was no denying the incredible talent and tricks of every age category. Girls as young as five years old impressed in their division with glitzy costumes, eye-catching facial expressions, and tricks I didn’t even know existed. College teams such as the University of Delaware, Towson, St. John’s, and Stony Brook stunned in their final run of their routines before they head to Orlando, Florida to compete at nationals the following week. Watching what is to come for us on the college level was inspiring. The standard is set that much higher, and the flawlessness with which every team danced made me almost sympathize with the judges. How on earth do they choose a winner?

After stretching as a team, warming up our bodies, and of course running through each dance in the practice room, it was time to perform our first dance. The Battle of the Northeast is a State Championship, run by the Universal Dance Association (UDA). We have never competed on this level before, mainly because Long Island does not offer many options for competing, hence our travels to New Jersey. As each team lines up down the hall in order of performance, girls nervously rehearse in their heads, some pray, and if you are the Dalerettes, we nervously make jokes and huddle together reminding each other of last minute corrections and hyping each other up. Our coaches play the song over and over again to get the rhythm in our heads, as we tune out the music of other teams whose coaches do the exact same thing in the hallway surrounding us. As the routine before ours begins, a captain leads a final pep talk and we line up. When our team name is called, my heart flutters a little bit. Our coaches yell their last wishes of luck: chins up, eyes up, “walk out like CHAMPIONS.” We take our first steps into the gym and immediately judges begin scoring. Presentation is everything in the dance world. Hair and makeup matter, costumes matter, and opening forms are especially important. Finding the center of the floor and making sure we are in perfect lines is more difficult than you would think, especially under the scrutiny of hundreds of people. The DJ blasts our song and “5-6-7-8,” smiles and energy abound. Once the two minute routine is over we nod our heads, heaving slightly, and walk out as professionally as possible. A cheer from the crowd (mostly our moms) reinforces the feeling of giving it everything we got, and over the next seven hours, we do this two more times. Every time you go on, it is as equally nerve-racking and exhilarating as the last.

I feel lucky to be on our team. We are extremely supportive and really more focused in making each other proud than winning (although, obviously, winning is the goal). After competing, teams have all sorts of different traditions. Many dancers I find actually very upset after going on, crushed at a mistake they made or falling out of an ariel or turn. It is hard to comprehend, but a small mistake like that can mean the difference between first and second place in such a tough competition, and many times dances don’t place by a tenth of a point. However, our team’s encouragement of one another is something I am grateful for. We never let each other beat ourselves up too much. Accidents happen and no one can predict a fall or mistake to come under such pressure. While on more cutthroat teams a mess-up one time in a performance could have you removed from the dance all together for the rest of the season, our team tends to give second chances, although college is a whole different story.

At the end of the day, we didn’t win. When awards began around 9:PM, we were all thoroughly exhausted, ears ringing slightly from the blaring music of the last 12 hours. When our categories were called, we sat in a tight circle holding each other’s hands, identical to the sixty + other teams filling the entire gym floor. For hip hop we placed 6th out of 18 teams, 8th out of 20 for dance, and 3rd out of 12 for Pom. We weren’t first overall, but I’m still proud of how far we have come. It is difficult to compete with teams whose dance programs are extremely more developed than our own, teams who have been practicing together since middle school, and have designated dance studio space. When we returned the week following the competition, our goal is always to take the judges’ corrections into consideration, study the videos of our dances, and improve for the next one. This weekend is our final competition, and while everyone else is concerned with Super Bowl activities, we will be entering what is to be my final Dalerette Competition ever. As the end of an era for me and my senior friends as dancers, we are hopeful this might be our time to finally take home a first place spot!

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Battle of the Northeast