Merrill Bluejay Varsity Dance Team hip hops their way to State
TINA L. SCOTT
The Merrill High School Bluejay Varsity Dance Team had a fun and energetic season, despite having to do some competitions virtually or without spectators. Nonetheless, the Merrill Dance Team showed their moves, and their skills, in both hip hop and jazz routines this year, and ultimately, their hip hop routine put them in the running for the State competition. The State competition will utilize all of the qualifying teams’ performance videos from the Regional competitions from which they advanced, where they will be judged in a virtual event the end of April.
While many people don’t think of dance as a sport, per se, it is a Varsity lettering sport in Merrill, just like football or basketball, and the level of skill and athleticism is equally as high. Most students who make the Varsity Dance Team have been training as dancers for years by the time they get to high school, with many starting before the first grade or even in pre-school. Skill, flexibility, agility, stamina, grace, timing, and more are needed to compete in dance.
This year’s team is comprised of 13 very talented students. Seniors Breanna Cammack, Jozelyn Gebert, and Bryanna (Brea) Pieper; Juniors Kierra Boyd, Isabella Hoff, Alynn (Allie) Renzelmann, and Anna Schlegel; Sophomores Conor Sayles and Alexandra Schulz; and Freshmen Katy Glaze, Regena Lahti, Cadence Ryman, and Bridget Steinagel. The Dance Team was coached by Cassie Schulz, Head Coach; Susan Ryman, Assistant Coach; and Sydney Robert, Volunteer Coach.
The first competition this season was at Hortonville on Feb. 13, 2021. The Merrill Bluejay Varsity Dance Team took second place out of two teams in the hip hop competition, losing to New London. In the jazz competition, they took seventh place out of seven teams, losing against Edgewood, Port Washington, Seymour, Tomah, Waupaca, and Little Chute. It was a rough start to the season, and showed just how fierce the competition could be.
The second competition at Franklin was a virtual competition on Feb. 20. In the jazz competition, the Bluejays came in second place out of two teams, losing against West Allis Central. They did slightly better in hip hop, coming in fourth place out of five teams, losing against West Allis Central, Waupun, and New London.
The Bluejays’ third Dance Team competition was at Ashwaubenon on Mar. 6. In the hip hop competition, the Bluejays came in seventh out of nine teams, losing to Mosinee, New London, Catholic Memorial, Burlington, Whitnal, and St. Francis. In the jazz competition, they were in fifth place out of seven teams, losing to Notre Dame Academy, Tomah, Onalaska, and New Berlin Eisenhower.
While a weaker group of dancers might have grown discouraged, Bluejays are born with a fighting spirit, and these Bluejays just kept practicing, working on their routines, and upping their game.
At the Regional competition in Sparta on Mar. 15, the Bluejays went up against LaCrosse Logan, Onalaska, Stoughton, Tomah, West Salem, and La Crosse Central in the jazz competition. In the hip hop competition, they danced like nobody was watching against La Crosse Logan, Sparta, La Crosse Central, and Mosinee.
“We ended up taking second in hip hop at Regionals and fifth for jazz!” Coach Cassie Schulz announced. Their hip hop performance qualifies the team to go to the virtual State competition in a few short weeks.
“To say this Dance Team year was about perseverance would be an understatement,” said Assistant Coach Susan Ryman. “These athletes have been amazing, practicing five days a week from early September until the end of March. They have struggled through COVID and injuries, as well as canceled performances and competitions. Through it all, their determination amazed me, and I could not be more proud or blessed to work with this team.”
“This season has been a rough one dealing with the transition to an entirely new coaching staff and then on top of that, facing all the obstacles presented by the COVID pandemic,” Coach Schulz said. “The team was quarantined several times early in the season, and during those weeks we were only able to practice via zoom meetings. The dedication these teens showed by running through entire practices from home is outstanding.”
“We also had some lows concerning injuries and have had several girls out this year at various times due to sport related injuries,” she said.
“In dance, when a team member is injured, you can’t just simply pull them out,” Schulz explained, “you have to completely rework the formations which often will change the choreography for other dancers, and this team took every change in stride and never faltered.”
“The team showed amazing perseverance this season and faced each of these obstacles head on. They refused to give up on their goal to make it to State, and now their hard work and dedication is paying off. I could not be more proud of the team this year and I can’t wait to see what next year will bring us,” Schulz said.
Coach Schulz said multiple dancers stood out this year in a variety of ways. All around, “If I had to choose an outstanding dancer this year, I would say Brea Pieper,” she said. “She is amazingly skilled and dedicated to her sport.” Brea is a Senior so, sadly, this will be her last season competing with the Bluejays.
“Conor has grown as a dancer this year and has improved his skill tremendously!” Coach Schulz said. “Not to mention he is our most skilled acrobatic dancer and brings up the team’s trick scores with his back-handspring, beautiful aerial flip, and many more skills.” Conor is a Sophomore and will hopefully return to compete with the team in the coming years.
“Alynn (or Allie as we all call her),” is another dancer who has grown this year, Coach Schulz said, describing her growth this year as “insanely amazing.”
“She worked hard to master her turns this year and has really come out of her shell as a dancer and a person,” Schulz said. “You can really see the newfound confidence when she performs. On top of that, she almost never missed a practice, and was always there ready to work hard and with a positive attitude.” Allie is a Junior.
In a sport like Dance Team, athletes with specialized skills can stand out, but ultimately, the success of the team comes down to teamwork. Timing and working together is everything. Perseverance and attitude can make or break them. And you can’t underestimate the value of spirit … team spirit, that is. This group of dancers really does know how to put the “Team” in Dance Team. Good luck at State, Bluejays!