Dancing and Disney: Poms return to nationals
March 27, 2020
For the second time in Fossil Ridge High School’s history, the Varsity Poms attended nationals in Orlando, Florida. During March 5-9, the team competed two dances, and bonded as they went to Walt Disney World. The team, consisting of five freshmen, four sophomores, three juniors, and one senior prepared for months to show off their routines and to feel their hard work pay off. Under the coaching of Billie Sprague, Tessa Lovell, and Sarah Lissek, the thirteen dancers concluded their season. The following are two articles written by Etched in Stone staff who are also on the team. They recount the trip through both the excitement and the unexpected obstacles.
Surprise adversity does not stop dancers
Since tryouts in May of 2019, Fossil Ridge High School’s dance team, my dance team, have prepared for our entire season, including for nationals. We work for an entire season, leading up to one finale, getting to compete in Orlando, Florida. Most students do not realize our season is ten months long. We work for almost the entire year, almost every day, cleaning old routines and learning new ones.
Over the summer, the team participated in a camp hosted by the Nation Dance Association, otherwise known as the NDA. There, we learned five routines in a three day intensive camp, dancing around ten hours each day. On the second day, we were evaluated on a dance that our whole season depended on. Based on our performance, the instructors could choose to give us a bid to the national competition. We had to perform with smiles and good expressions, remembering the routine perfectly and working as a team. We waited anxiously for the next day, when the bid would be announced in a showcase in front of our families. We received our bid, and everyone cheered. The road to nationals began.
We learned two routines in August to be competed throughout the entire season. The first routine was hip-hop, which many dancers were ecstatic to learn. After competing in pom last season, we were excited to improve our skills in another style. Our second routine was in a category of jazz, which includes traditional, sassy jazz, lyrical, and contemporary dancesㅡwe did lyrical. Unlike the mix of songs in hip-hop, we danced to one song, “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra. The song, all about the sadness and hope of finding comfort in difficult times, created a beautiful and emotional dance. After two long days of learning choreography, preparations began for the competition season. Both dances were choreographed by Marissa Ferrin, who we grew a close bond to as she came in to teach and condition us in a practice each week.
Before the end of the first semester, we competed in a total of four competitions—Front Range League, UDA Regionals, NDA Regionals, and CHSAA State Spirit. Competing at state was a big highlight of our season. We were only allowed to bring one routine, so we brought hip-hop to the floor. We dedicated months of practice into this routine, just to clean it. This included making sure everyone’s arms were at the exact same angles, feet placement was the same, trick timing was together, and every movement looked as if the team was one person.
Leading up to nationals were some of our most difficult practices. The team’s bodies were feeling the strain of pushing themselves to the absolute max, putting everything into two minutes of a routine. We had four dancers with knee injuries, as well as others had shoulder, wrist, ankle, or hamstring injuries. Going home at the end of practices meant it was time to ice,rest and renew ourselves for the next day. We pushed through pain and exhaustion to do our best for the team, as we did our routines over and over again until all tricks were nailed. With hours and hours of preparation, six a.m. morning practices on Thursdays, and basketball game routines on top of it all, we were motivated and ready to go.
From practices, we had a saying, “do it for the bruise.” In certain parts of our hip-hop routine we would push ourselves so much, that we all had massive bruises on the same parts of our knees or hips. So, we created that saying as a way of saying, “give it your all.”
Upon arriving in Orlando for nationals, months after our last competition, we got straight to business and we held practice that night. We had a half hour time slot at the convention center, where we would be competing the next day. This time slot was in the same room where we would warm up to compete, completed with many practice floors for teams to all dance at once. It was an intense practice for such a short time. We felt the humidity as sweat dripped down our foreheads.
Although extremely exhausted from waking up at 3:00 a.m. that morning and a long travel day, practice was go-time. We put everything into our routines, screaming at each other the whole time. Even when we perform we yell things like, “change,” “you got this,” “arms,” or counts of the music, to name a few. This helps us feel pumped up to dance, the energy of the group is up, as well as reminding each other when there is something new we may not remember as muscle memory takes over. We also have vocals choreographed into our hip-hop routine to keep tricks together or to keep the energy up throughout two intense minutes. These vocals are yelling “ha” when we land headsprings or have a big hit in the dance.
The next morning we had a few hours to get ready. Each room, containing four to five girls, got up and normally went directly to each other’s rooms. We helped each other braid our hair, and tease ponytails for hip-hop. Teasing hair, brushing hair backwards to create knots of poofs, was not a team favorite. However, it was perfect for creating a mean, crazy vibe for the dance that fit well. To make our makeup pop, we had green eyeshadow for Fossil’s colors, complete with glitter and fake eyelashes.
Once completely ready and dressed, we walked to a basketball court near the convention center. On the court, we walked through our formations and marked our dance—meaning facials and arms full-out, but no tricks. The next stage of our warm-up consisted of us in the hallway near the practice area, stretching and warming up tricks. We encouraged each other as a teammate would nail a trick, keeping the spirits high and boosting confidence.
In the same practice area we were in the night before, we got twelve minutes to run through our routine one last time before competing it. When we were almost done with our time, the unthinkable happened. Kelly Colanto, a team member who also wrote the other half of our article, dislocated her knee. Our coach, Tessa Lovell, carried her to the first aid tent. Although the team was told to focus as our practice time was up, we were all worried about Colanto. We are so close as a team, and losing a member is heartbreaking.
Before competing, teams wait in another room before going “on deck” to perform. In this room, we said a prayer for Colanto, hoping for strength and healing for her, as well as for the team if we had to go on without her. After that, we immediately jumped into reblocking formations and changing what we would do for several tricks where Colanto was involved. We all huddled together, lifting up words of encouragement, constantly saying “for Kelly.” We wanted to dance for her, and we hoped she would be okay.
Colanto came back into the room, ice on her knee, limping a bit, clearly in pain. She said she did not want to let the team down, that she would push through the pain, and compete with us. Within a few minutes, it was time to go on deck—meaning that we waited backstage to go on.
Backstage is the time where we say last minute reminders as well as constantly stating, “get hyped.” We tried to build up our energy as much as possible so we could explode once on stage. Hip-hop requires aggressiveness, power, and getting in the judge’s faces with our facial expressions. While on deck, we danced to another team’s music, just enjoying the moment and “getting hyped.” We went through our team traditions we have done all season before performing, such as shaking out our arms and legs to certain counts, ending in “kiss kiss, knee knee, knock knock, ‘sko Ridge!” We also said a prayer for strength, led by Taylor Gobel. The team always says if someone does not want to participate in the prayer, they do not have to, although every member joined.
Before we knew it, we were on stage. Our three coaches were able to go in a special area right in front of the stage, so we could see them yelling at us and pumping us up. We were all screaming at each other over the loud music, bass rattling in our chests. Led by adrenaline and our hype, we danced for our lives.
At the conclusion of our dance, Colanto limped off the stage sobbing, supported by teammates that rushed to help her. She did it, she still danced through the adversity. The team was extremely proud of her, and we still do not know how she pushed through that pain. After running off stage our coaches ran to us, screaming out of excitement and hugging everyone. Shortly after, a coach ran off to the medic tent to get ice for Colanto and Ava Sprague, who also had a bad knee injury.
Unlike getting ready for hip-hop, the team had to get ready much quicker for jazz. It was an early morning, and a smaller time frame. This busy morning was met with a little bit of stress, although getting ready was easier than the day before. Green eyeshadow was replaced with a more natural look and teased ponytails were replaced with elegant buns. When the team was ready to go, we immediately went to the convention center, showing up early to stretch.
With great relief, our practice on the rehearsal floor contained no surprise injuries. We focused extra on our technique—turns, extensions, and lifts. People see dance and think it is easy. They might believe that it is people in pretty skirts who just turn around and do stuff with their arms. Dance is so much more. We have to remember difficult routines while also thinking about pointed toes, engaged cores, and stretched legs. Our dances are just two minutes, but they contain as much cardio as sprinting. By the end we fight exhaustion, not letting it show.
When the time has come, we walk up as a team, setting our opening formation, counting so those who sit all go down at the same time. Performing is a whirlwind. Many say they “black out,” where they are so focused on the dance during the competition that they cannot remember what they did afterwards. When dancers perform, they are not thinking about the dance. They may be thinking about emotion or remembering to stretch their legs or engage their core, but they are not thinking about choreography. Our muscle memory takes over, flowing with the music and our body takes over, knowing exactly what to do.
In hip-hop, the dance we worked hardest on throughout the season, we were in the top 24 teams in the nation. We were hoping to qualify for finals, and it was tough on the team when Fossil was not announced on the finals list. However, we did not feel defeated. We worked for ten months, thirteen dancers putting their all into every practice. We faced difficult times with all of our injuries, and we took care of both ourselves and our teammates.
Looking back on the season, we are all incredibly proud. Everything we did, we did as a team. Our bond, hard work, and determination made us improve at each competition. We will miss our two routines, but are looking forward to new ones. Nationals was an unforgettable experience, and our team is already motivated from Orlando to compete again.
Team bonding meets amusement parks
What could be better than heading to Orlando, Florida for a national dance competition and going to Walt Disney World with your best friends? Nothing. Taking a week off of school to spend a vacation with the people you care for the most was a dream. Creating fun-filled memories that will last a lifetime was our goal. It was great getting to end an amazing season full of laughter and fun in Florida. Going to the National Dance Association, NDA, National competition for the second year in a row, was a true blessing.
Walking into nationals with a tight knit team, such as ourselves, already guaranteed that we were going to have the time of our lives. Meeting at the front of Fossil Ridge High School at 3:00 a.m. was exhausting, but also rewarding. Everything we worked for this season had led to this moment, before we stepped onto the plane that would take us to Orlando, Florida.
Taylor Goebel, a sophomore on the Dance Team, started a tradition her freshman year to reveal haunting stories of the Denver International Airport, while on the way to the landmark itself. Goebel created a presentation in which she showed all of the newbies on the team, warning them of the Bronco, Blucifer, that leads to the airport. She also shared photos of the mysterious murals hidden throughout the building. Since the recent construction there, DIA has played along with these rumors and put posters around the building that tease of alien activity, the illuminati, and many more strange coverups. Every member on the team got a good scare from these stories and Goebel hopes to carry this tradition throughout the remainder of her high school career.
Because of the recent Coronavirus outbreak, we took careful precautions in order to stay as clean and healthy as possible. We made sure to sanitize and wash our hands as often as possible in the airport as well as wipe down the airplane seats and tray tables.
On the three hour and ten minute flight to Florida, we slept, joked around, and prepared for the long weekend ahead of us. Stepping off the plane, we were hit by an immediate blast of humidity. Looking out the windows and seeing the palm trees, was surreal and a moment that was treasured.
We took a drive to our hotel and played “I-Spy”, “Name the Song”, and got our last moments of calm rest in. We got to our hotel rooms with our teammates and went down to the outdoor pool. The warmth in Florida, compared to Colorado, is unmatched and everyone was either sunbathing or taking a dip in the water. Florida weather is unpredictable and it soon began raining, so we went back to our rooms to get ready for a fancy dinner at the La Buena Vista Bistro.
The restaurant was very high class and particular; so it was hilarious to us that we were even allowed into the building. We bonded together while we ate our food and danced at the table, trying to catch breadsticks in our mouths. We headed up to bed to get a good night’s rest because we had to perform our hip-hop routine at noon the next day.
After competing, we went back to our hotel and got ready to go to Disney Springs, a shopping complex in Lake Buena Vista. Fifteen members of our group traveled there in a large Uber van, but four of us were lost in another Uber which took us nearly an hour to find the rest of our team. Once we got there, we paid far too much for a Ghirardelli ice cream sundae and walked in and out of the high-end stores on the avenue.
While driving back home, our Uber was making a left into the driveway of our hotel, missed the turn, then went into oncoming traffic before making a U-turn. We were all in the car terrified, but we were laughing about it the rest of the night.
Back at the hotel, we had a team meeting and our captain, Addison Elkin, read us a letter that our coach, Tessa Lovell, had written us. It was a heartfelt note which described the amount of love our coaches hold for us. All of us were in tears as we sat in the common room, enjoying one another’s company. We all decided we were hungry and ordered food delivery from a local burger diner; the fries were cold and soggy, but we still enjoyed the whole experience.
We had an early morning on Saturday so our set bedtime was at 9:30 p.m.―knowing us, however, we had too much energy because of the two hour time change and could not sleep until about 1:00 a.m. To pass the time, many girls in different rooms made Tik Toks. We woke up five hours later and did our hair and makeup once again for our jazz routine. After jazz, we went to the NDA gift shop and bought matching sweatshirts and pins for our bags.
The rest of the day was focused on heading over to Hollywood Studios, one of the Disney amusement parks. Our first stop was to our favorite ride, Tower of Terror. The Twilight Zone themed ride spooked a few girls on our team and we all held hands as we dropped down the 13 stories. Our next stop was Rock n’ Roller Coaster. We played Heads Up throughout the hour long line which was a great pastime. One of our team goals was to get funny looking poses on each coaster so that we could have souvenirs of our time there. Our go-to poses were rock/paper/scissors, sleeping, and the rock n’ roll sign. We decided to eat lunch before going on the newest addition to the park, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. This ride was directed mainly for children but it was still very adorable, and the detail in the animation was wild. Then we went to Slinky Dog Dash, the Toy Story themed ride. We waited in this line for about an hour, but this was our favorite line because there were places to sit and the detail that went into this ride blew our minds. The funniest thing about this ride was the huge buildup for a drop, yet we could not feel anything. By then, our feet were killing us so we sat down in the front of the park and freestyle beat-boxed, looking like idiots.
When we got back that night, we wanted to go swimming but the pool and hot tub at our hotel were crowded so we took a short walk to a resort down the street. The water at that pool was freezing so we decided it was best to go inside and eat ice cream from the shop.
Sunday was a designated day at the main park, Magic Kingdom. We all wore our matching national’s shirts and fanny packs, ready for the day ahead of us. First, we headed over to Big Thunder Mountain and played charades in line. We thought this ride had an action picture so we posed awkwardly waiting for a flash that never came. Splash mountain had a short line so we hopped in and were zooming down the water hill in our ponchos after a quick thirty minute wait. Our next mission was to hunt down our favorite Disney World snack, Dole Whip. We each bought a pineapple and vanilla swirl float that we ate in line at Space Mountain. This line was especially long―about a two hour wait. We were able to get through the first hour of this ride quickly by passing time with mind games such as “Johnny Whoop”, “Snaps”, “Green Glass Door”, and “Black Magic”. We were able to trick our coaches, who were very confused on how to play. We spent another thirty minutes trying to figure out riddles. The last portion of the line, however, felt as if it had been an eternity. In the end, the wait was so worth it―this ride was a team favorite, and I am sure it always will be.
There was a new race car track with a twenty minute wait, so we got in line and rode our cars around the track. Nearing the end of that ride, we were told to not push the gas as heavy but, being us, we purposely crashed into the car ahead of us around ten times, jokingly saying “oops, my bad” each time.
We were near starving then, so we walked to a futuristic themed restaurant and ate a bunch of unhealthy fast food. We then waited in a two hour line for the Peter Pan ride―all I will say is that it was definitely not worth it. By that time, we had about one more hour at the park so we split up and one group went to Big Thunder Mountain, again, and the others went to the Tiki room.
I could not have asked for a better ending to this day. It was pitch black outside and once we made our way up the “Big Thunder Mountain”, the beautiful fireworks began going off behind a huge rock. It was a moment straight out of a movie. For whatever reason, we were dying laughing once we got off the ride and made one more stop for Dole Whip once again. We ate the ice cream in front of the castle during the light show. A cast member, playing Tinkerbell, zip-lined out of the top story window which happened to be very funny to us and quite unbelievable.
We then left the park to get into yet another line on the way to the tram for transportation. We got back to the hotel and stayed up all night, knowing this was the last time we would all be together as a team. It was an emotional moment for us but we made the best of it―doing Tik Tok dances in our hotel rooms, of course.
Our senior, Elkin, was going to be staying in Florida a few days longer than us so that she and her mother could have a vacation of their own. Knowing this was the last time we would all be together as a team was heartbreaking but, we knew it would not be the end of our life-long friendships.
We woke up early the next day, packed, got our last breakfast, and were on our way to the Orlando Airport. We had a couple hours to kill before our flight, so we went and got Airport Chinese food―it did not compare to Panda Express as we hoped it would. We shopped around the stores and got our last souvenirs. Luckily, the photos from the competition were posted online and we all got a good laugh out of those. There were hundreds to go through and most of them were us making silly faces.
We got on the plane, ready for our four-hour flight. After a couple hours of sleeping, we were tired of sitting on the plane, yet we never wanted to get off. We wanted to suspend the time and stay with each other for as long as we could. We landed, said our goodbyes to one another, and headed home. It was a sad moment since it was the last time we would ever be with the same group of girls, unlike last year when there were still basketball games to go to after nationals. But this was it―the end of our season.
We had an amazing season and all of us were extremely proud of the effort and accomplishments we had gone through. We grew so much throughout the season and I could not have been happier with the outcome.