Palo Alto High School’s dance team performs at Paly sporting events
It all started for Palo Alto High School dancer Isabel Obrien (‘12) at age four, when she first tied on her ballet shoes and slipped on her pink leotard and tights. She learned the basic techniques of dance, such as pointing her toes and straightening her legs, at a very early age. From the beginning of her dance career, she dreamed of performing in front of an audience of thousands.
Fast forward to Friday Dec. 17, 2010 when these dreams became a reality for her and the other four members of Paly’s dance team. During halftime of the California Division I football state championship game, the fluorescent lights illuminated the stadium in Carson, Calif. as the six girls stood ready on the 50 yard line. Amid the pouring rain, they twirled and kicked their legs to the beat of the Black Eyed Pea’s “The Time” setting the perfect stage for their first season as one of Paly’s newest varsity sports.
“Dancing at state was awesome,” team member Obrien said. “It was under really treacherous conditions. We had two inches of water in the grass underneath us. Girls slipped and one fell but it was so much fun. We pulled it off and I think it went really well overall.”
Unlike mainstream sports at Paly, the dance team was founded last fall by aspiring Paly dancers who dance together at Dance Connection in Palo Alto. The current senior members were part of Paly’s dance club in the 2008-2009 school year, but they wanted to expand the club into a performing team.
“[The current seniors] had been in the dance club and they wanted to have a more formal team where they could have auditions so that they could make the best team possible,” dancer Kate Apostolou (‘13) said.
Now in its second year, the dance team has expanded with the formation of a junior varsity team, the addition of a seventh member on the varsity squad and a new coach. Last year, the girls on varsity took over the reins by choreographing their own routines without a coach. Olivia Maggi (‘13) helped put together many of the routines.
“I help my team by creating the routines each week, and making up routines comes really easily to me,” Maggi said. “I ask my team for their input about song choices and then I listen to the song on repeat so that I can visualize a routine in my head.”
With the establishment of a junior varsity team, the addition of a coach was much needed. Mandy Bowen, recently moved to California, and volunteered to coach the girls in order to stay involved with dance.
“I help [the junior varsity team] with practice, choreography, music, and making sure the girls are where they need to be,” Bowen said. “[The varsity girls] take care of everything themselves.”
The girls are self driven and set their own goals. This year, one of those goals is to perform against a wider range of competition.
“Because we have so many senior dancers this year, we really want to go to nationals,” dancer Natalie Brock (‘12) said.
The dance team will compete in a competition in Vallejo, Calif. in February in order to qualify for nationals. In order to accomplish this goal, the dance team practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. They also take technique classes outside of the dance team to maintain their skill level. These extra classes improve the girls’ form and technique, which allows them to perform high-level routines at home football and basketball games.
This year, the team will participate in more dance competitions outside of school. The girls hope to differentiate themselves from their competitors by displaying their own unique style of dance.
“We mostly do jazz with a hip-hop edge,” Apostolou said.
In order to succeed at dance competitions, dancers take many aspects into consideration.
“We are judged on technique, costuming, choreography, performance, expression and execution,” Obrien said.
It is the combination of all of these components that creates the ideal dance performance. The team will participate in their first competition of this year on Oct. 9. This competition involves a new style of dance called pom. Pom is a jazz style of dance with pom-poms.
“It’s been pretty stressful getting our routine together, because pom is a new where what we are used to is more [flowing] and rhythmic,” Brock said.
When people watch the dance team perform at halftime, they often don’t realize the amount of time and effort that these girls put into the dance team. Despite all the hard work the athletes put in, they still look forward to performing in front of the crowd.
“Being up there and getting to perform and having the football lights on you is all worth it because you feel the crowd watching you and reacting to your energy and what you really want to portray through your dance,” Obrien said.