Young hopefuls with dreams of joining the Cleveland Middle School dance team might find gaining a place on the roster far easier than keeping one.
Coach Kelly Owens admitted to expecting a lot out of her young dancers.
“Sometimes there is a shock when they first join the team. No matter how much I prepare the students about the way I am or the way my program is run, they are like, ‘Oh my gosh!’” Owens said. “Some parents say I treat the girls like adults, and I do.”
A two-week boot camp starts off every season. Girls learn three competitive dance routines created by Owens and the team choreographer, Susan Dyer. This year the girls have learned a baseball-themed hip-hop routine; a circus-themed jazz routine; and a pom routine.
All three routines will be performed at every competition the girls attend, from October through March.
Daily practices from the time school lets out until 5:30 p.m. prepare the dance team for the seven scheduled competitions.
According to this season’s scoresheet, the hard work, discipline and sweat have paid off.
One of the team’s biggest challenges since its creation in 2001 by Owens has been competing against teams from West Tennessee. She warned the girls they may not place at the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s recent dance competition. The girls cheered when the judges’ scores revealed they were runner-up in the state in the junior hip-hop category.
Additional competitions have proven the winning streak is alive and well at Cleveland Middle.
Owens said the dance team placed first in pom, hip-hop and jazz at the Jam Fest in Nashville. A fourth award was given based on the young team’s interactions with others at the competition. The judges took note of Cleveland Middle’s friendly demeanor and gave them the Sportsmanship Award.
Another competition, Fusion Dance, garnered the girls in blue and red additional wins, with firsts in all three categories. Their top scores made them the competition’s Grand Champion. The title came with hoodies, medals and a banner, much to the girls’ delight.
Competition routines are fine-tuned at practice and sometimes performed during halftime of football and basketball games.
The baseball-themed hip-hop routine often receives the most praise. It once even resulted in the basketball coach from the opposing team seeking out Owens to shake her hand.
Additional routines are learned each week to perform at sporting events.
“Our Michael Jackson routine really brought down the house,” Owens said with a smile.
Dancing at the football and basketball games is a major time commitment. Cleveland Middle has girls and guys teams for all three grades. Owens said the team only performs at the sixth-grade games if it is either home advantage or against a team in town. They perform at every girls’ and boys’ seventh- and eighth-grade game.
Dancers Anna Craig, Maya Sharma, Cassie Jones and Jordan Kidd readily admitted learning the routines can be a lot of hard work.
However, they say the payoff is worth it.
“We are like a big family,” Maya shared.
Added Anna, “[Coach Owens] gets on us if we start any drama.”
Owens herself said she does not allow drama to be aired on her team. Girls who begin conversations with, ‘I know you don’t want to hear this,’ are promptly sent back to practice. Owens tells the dancers drama on the team can mean the difference between first and fifth place.
Cassie said the team has been especially close this year. Jordan explained that might be because there is now one team instead of a junior varsity and varsity.
Every dancer needs to hold some type of potential to make the team. This does not mean girls trying out need to have any prior dance experience.
“[Friends at work] tell me to take less because they see how tired I get,” Owens said. “If [students] have any potential in dance, and they have rhythm and they have good grades and their teacher recommendations are good and I just see the spark in them, then I take them.”
Part of being a teacher means Owens has the capability to give the right instruction in order to build a dancer.
Jordan said being on the team has been a blessing. She said it is a privilege the girls do not take for granted.
“It is a really cool experience,” Anna said. “It is really hard, but not a lot of people quit because it is just so fun and really worth it.”
Christmas break provides the girls with a chance to catch their breath before they finish the second half of the season strong.