The Illinois High School Association conducted the state finals in competitive dance Saturday at the Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington, naming the following state champs: Highland High School in Class 1A, coached by Emily Wellen; Lake Zurich High School in Class 2A, coached by Theresa Johlie; and York Community High School from Elmhurst, in Class 3A, coached by Kristen Baron.
When thinking about competitive dance, what comes to mind for most people is the team that performs at a football game during halftime, said Tracie Henry, IHSA’s assistant executive director in charge of the activity, in an IHSA podcast. “But the competitive dance portion is much more technical. We have teams that might be your traditional pom team, but we also have kick teams, we have hip-hop teams, lyrical teams, jazz teams, and you’ll also see a number of schools that will mix a couple of different styles of dance together.”
At the state finals, in Class 1A, for example, the exercise performed by Morris High School, which came in just a few ticks on the judging score sheets behind state champion Highland, put together a routine that looked like one that might be performed by a professional ballet company. Except it was tighter, with every turn by its 16 or so dancers rotating in unison.
Teams are judged on discrete characteristics of their routine that fit together and give the dancers ownership of their show. These 10 categories are known as “captions,” as they are called in competitive marching band, including choreography, musicality, difficulty, technique, synchronization, staging, showmanship, transitions, and overall visual effect.
The IHSA first named state champs in the event in the 2012-13 school year, making this the sixth state series. That makes this one of the newest additions to the roster of more than 40 sports and activities sanctioned by the IHSA.
Top finishers this year in competitive dance in each of the three enrollment-based classifications are shown here:
- Highland H.S.
- Morris H.S.
- Montini Catholic H.S. (in Lombard)
- Lake Zurich H.S.
- Geneva H.S.
- Lake Forest H.S.
- York Community H.S. (in Elmhurst)
- Maine South H.S. (in Park Ridge)
- Stevenson H.S. (in Lincolnshire)
Having watched the tournament remotely, I can say every team looked genuinely happy to be there, and the execution by the 30 teams in each class that ended up getting invited to the finals, based on their scores in sectional competitions, was impressive: well synchronized and showing evidence of athleticism and a lot of rehearsal.
There were gymnastics tricks, ballet, poms, and all variety of synchronized and often sharp and rapid movement on the dance floor. Occasionally a soloist would break away from the rest of the group, which would support her by their movements and present the dance as a digital artist might design an ad with a text layer, a background layer, and a visual foreground layer.
Furthermore, one could see a very intimate connection between the dancers at the state championship level and the music they chose for their routines. Aerial cartwheels by five dancers in front, for example, always seemed to land at the most perfect moment in the song. The audience could literally “see what we were hearing,” much like a marching band would interpret the music with its visuals that tell a story.