A-A Fusion Dance Team excels at state competition

Friday, December 11, 2020
A-A Dance Team Members - Front row: Lily Buckendahl, Jasmine Sliefert, Kennedy Berkland, Emily Arnts, Kaysha Brown, Ashley Hinkeldey. Middle row: Lydia Feis, Chloe Elston, Coach Brooke Nielsen, Karla Chicas, Emma Peterson, Jocelyn Launderville. Back row: Kelsie Aronson, Madison Theisen, Kim Weflen, Amelia Damewood, Emily Launderville, Faith Buss, Kyla Galvin and Hannah Colerick / Photo submitted

The Alta-Aurelia High School’s Fusion Dance Team encountered obstacles at state competition this year due to COVID but were pleased with the results and overall experience. The Iowa State Dance Championships was held on November 17-19 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

During their one-day performance on the 17th, the 19-member dance team had to go without a hotel stay and fine dining this year. Despite all of the changes, they came away with top honors. “For solos, we had two soloists earn division 1 superior ratings from the judges: Amelia Damewood and Jasmine Sliefert. Both of our team routines earned a division 1 and we were named state champions in small school hoopla. Kick was in 4th place,” Dance Team Coach Brooke Nielsen said. She is an occupational therapist for Sports Rehab and Professional Therapy Associates.

To be eligible for placing, all dances needed to earn a division 1 rating which is a minimum of 75/100 point average from the three judges, she said. “The competition was very different this year. Normally, state solo is the first weekend in November down in Newton and then team is the first Thursday/Friday after Thanksgiving in Des Moines. They combined both competitions this year so teams could make one trip, also did three days by small, medium and large schools and the block scheduling. Teams close to Des Moines had the early and late times and then teams further away were in the middle of the day to eliminate need for hotel stays.”

Soloists from L-R: Madison Theisen, Kennedy Berkland, Jasmine Sliefert, Amelia Damewood, Karla Chicas, Kaysha Brown, Ashley Hinkeldey / Photo submitted

Competition day began when the team met in the gym in the old high school at 8 a.m. on the 17th to do hair and makeup, and the bus left Alta at 10:30 a.m. “We arrived in Des Moines and performed our hoopla routine at 3:10, kick at 4:34, and then had seven soloists back to back starting at 5:37,” Nielsen said.

Alta-Aurelia performed in one day and other teams were spread out over three days to minimize numbers and allow social distancing for COVID. “All judging was done virtually, so they recorded the routines and then put them into the correct order for judging.”

Due to the governor’s proclamation, there was a limit of two spectators per dancer. “We are used to performing for a jam packed arena so it was a very different feel with barely anyone in the crowd and the girls had to work hard to keep their energy up, because usually your adrenaline kicks in with the crowd’s energy,” Nielsen said.

“So we just went, performed, had fun and came right back home. We had no idea going into awards how we did because we never saw any of our competition perform! The girls just knew they had to do their best and leave it all on the floor and that was what we could control this year! On a normal year, we would go down the night before, spend all day in Wells Fargo with an enormous awards ceremony that night.” This year, their spectators included family, friends and an elementary school class cheering them on.

The results took additional time this year because the judges, who usually take flights to the competition from all over the country, could not attend in person. Teams had to wait until December 5th to watch the awards ceremony virtually. “We were able to meet as a team and livestream the awards ceremony onto a projector in the gym,” Nielsen said.

“State competition this year isn’t about winning. This year is about strength, resilience and perseverance in hard times. These girls have worked hard through every obstacle 2020 has given them, and come out stronger both individually and collectively as a team..... and THAT is something to be proud of for sure,” Nielsen wrote in a Facebook post.

One of the team’s captains is senior Faith Buss who has danced for three years. “State competition was great, everyone on the dance team worked unbelievably hard in tough circumstances,” she said. “Even though State looked different this year we were so glad we got to go perform our routines and show off all our hard work at state.”

“The state competition was a lot different this year,” Buss said. “We all wore masks during practice and at state. There we extra precautions leading up to state and at state to ensure everyone’s health and safety. At the state competition there was a limited amount of people that could come per person, so there were less people in the audience at state.”

“Overall we were so grateful for being able to go to Des Moines for the state dance competition this year and compete as a team.” Buss, from Aurelia, said her favorite dance is the hoopla.

The other team captain, Amelia Damewood, is a junior and said state competition was a lot of fun. “Our team was excited to be able to perform in Wells Fargo Arena. Our routines were well prepared and we felt confident we would do great. State brings team bonding opportunities and the best memories,” she said.

“State competition looked much different this year. When preparing, we had to make sure to choreograph all our routines so we remained 6 feet apart. For our team, that meant no hooking up when kicking.

“We were lucky enough to get to go down to Des Moines, even if it came with some new rules. We did not get to stay in a hotel or have a team supper at a fancy restaurant, but we did get to order food and spend time together in our school lunchroom. There was a much smaller crowd and no judges in person. We wore masks the entire time in order to ensure everyone’s safety. The fun did not go away even though some restrictions were made.”

“I would like to thank all our supporters for believing in us even with a crazy year!‚“ Damewood said. She has danced since the age of 7 and her favorite styles are the hoopla and jazz. She is from Alta.