Dance team wins award at Festival of Champions

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Senior Marilyn Yin leads a line in Dance Pom. (Photo: Sofie Zalatimo)

Sofie Zalatimo and Maia Johnsson

The Palo Alto High School dance team is celebrating its award from the Festival of Champions competition Saturday at Cupertino High School, its final competition before Nationals.

The team received an award for its contemporary piece in the X-Small category, which encompasses primarily contemporary style routines with five or fewer dancers. Paly placed fourth out of eight teams, which junior dancer Anna Hagan said was exciting given the strong routines from competing schools.

“I am pretty happy with the results of [the] competition,” Hagan said. “We got fourth place in X-Small, which is amazing because there were very good teams that were competing against us in that category.”

The team also competed a Dance Pom routine using pompoms with sharp jazz movements as well as a Disney-themed musical theater routine in the Character category. Despite winning a trophy in the X-Small category, Paly placed last out of four teams in the Dance Pom category and fifth out of six teams in the Character category, both of which fell below the threshold for an award. Coach Alanna Williamson said she was disappointed that the team’s Pom and Character routines did not win awards.

“I feel confused about the scoring in many ways, mainly because sometimes we genuinely and clearly perform and execute the routine better than the previous competition, but our score goes down,” Williamson said.

Hagan said the Character dance was a challenge this season, but she said she was proud of the team’s improvement at this competition.

“We also improved with our Character piece, which was good to hear since we have been struggling with that one due to the fact that the judges haven’t been really understanding it,” Hagan said.

With the team planning to attend Nationals later this month in Anaheim, Williamson said the team plans to alter the choreography in the Character piece with hopes of scoring higher.

“Right now, the only dance we’re feeling a little bit insecure about in terms of how it will score [at Nationals] is our Character dance, but we’re hoping to work with an outside choreographer to redo pieces of it,” Williamson said. “Regardless, it’s our most fun piece for sure, and I’m so proud of how they [the dancers] have been executing it.”

Paly attended Regionals earlier this month, and, according to Williamson, the X-Small contemporary piece qualified for the more competitive Championship division at Nationals by surpassing a score of 85.5 out of 100 points.

“This is the first time our team has ever made it to the Championship division, which means we will have the honor of performing with the best of the best dancers,” Williamson said. “Our Pom routine will be in the Open division, which means we have a higher chance of taking home a first place [award]. I feel like if they [the dancers] continue to work hard on the feedback we’ve been given, that’s a real possibility.”

Following a completely virtual year, the team faced the challenge of relearning how to dance cohesively, according to sophomore dancer Rachel Ho.

“There’s been a huge focus on getting to the correct formation, or cleaning different arms and heads so we can look alike and dance cohesively,” Ho said.

Ho said she is proud of her team’s success throughout the competition season given the challenge of transitioning back to an in-person environment.

“I was really pleasantly surprised by how well the team has done this season,” Ho said. “After an entire year of dancing in my room and having little to no space to turn, jump, or dance with full range of motion, it’s been so nice to get back into the studio and fall into a far more normal routine.”

Ho said she hopes that Nationals allows her to learn from a broader range of dancers and teams.

“I think a personal goal for Nationals will be to try and learn and observe as much as possible from the other teams outside the Bay Area,” Ho said. “I think it’s easy to become satisfied with focusing inward, but I think discounting the value that different dancers bring is a big mistake when it comes to improving and evolving your own dance style.”