by Bob San
In the history of Maple Grove High School, the competitive dance team has been by far the most successful athletic program. The Crimson won the state jazz competition in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2011 and was the state runner up in 2009, 2010 and 2012. They also won the state high kick competition in 2010.
After winning state in 2004, the Crimson program has been a state powerhouse and joins Wayzata as the state’s elite programs.
“In 2004 everything just clicked,” 12th-year Maple Grove coach Jill Leste said. “We had a senior class that had started as freshman and had been working extremely hard every year. The class of 2003 was also crucial in paving the way with a fourth-place finish that year. The 2002 team finished in fifth, so it was a gradual climb.”
Leste cannot pinpoint one specific reason the Crimson have been successful, but said: “Talented dancers, a work ethic handed down year after year, and consistency of coaching are probably the three biggest contributors.”
Madeline Schutte and Elena Smale are two of the current talented Crimson who are carrying on the program’s winning tradition. Both are two-year senior captains and four-year veterans who tasted success. They feel a lot of pride as members of the dance program and have worked hard to be successful.
“It takes a lot of pride to be a Maple Grove dance team member,” Smale said. “We all push to be our best.”
Schutte said, “We have very high goals because we don’t want to take a step back. We want to live up to each year and keep overachieving and doing better. We are always striving to be our best.”
One of the reasons the Maple Grove program has been successful is because it benefits from having many dancers with solid dance background when they join the dance team. Schutte and Smale are perfect examples. They both started dancing at 3 and trained in competitive dancing in studios before joining the Crimson.
“It’s a sport you have to start when you are really little,” Schutte said. “You can try and join if you have dance experience but if you’ve never danced before it is really hard to join the team. People don’t realize that to get your dance skills down it takes a lot of time.”
“There is natural talent for sure but it’s technique and training. It’s a lot of hard work,” Smale said.
The Crimson indeed invested lots of time and effort into their sport. Dance is a winter sport but the Crimson pretty much work on their craft year round.
“Our dance team has two tryouts, one for the summer/fall team, which competes a bit but basically gets together to prepare for the winter season, to get the girls ready and make sure everybody is on the same level,” Schutte said. “And we have winter tryouts to prepare for the season. During the winter season, we practice every day for 2 and half hours.”
It’s hard work but the rewards are great. Schutte and Smale both do it for the love of the sport.
“I just love being able to express my emotions and being able to entertain people with what we do,” Smale said.
“It’s really fun because we become a family, especially in the winter when we are together every day. We get to know each other and grow as a team. It’s just a really fun experience.”
Once the team is chosen, the Crimson have the good fortune of having a steady coaching staff to help them improve their skills. Leste is assisted by Stacy Marquardt, who has been coaching MGDT for nine years, Coley Wurm (eight years), and Krista Sorensen (five years). Both Wurm and Sorensen are former MGDT team captains as well.
“The coaches are so helpful. They are such a good support system for us,” Smale said. “They push us to be our best and guide our team and make the best direction possible. They always want the best for us and always know the right things to do for our team. They are just the biggest motivator and inspiration for us to work our hardest.”
“All of the coaches have been coaching us for at least five years,” Schutte said. “They love doing it as much as we do and they don’t want to leave either. They genuinely love us, love coaching and love doing everything we do. They really get to know us as friends. We trust and respect them.”
Talented athletes, great coaches and a proud tradition have carried the Crimson to great heights. The only thing they feel missing is that despite of all the program’s success, dancing does not receive the recognition and appreciation other sports do. The Crimson feel the reason is most folks don’t see competitive dancing as athletic.
“No one considers us athletes because it’s dancing and we just do it for fun. It’s recreational,” Smale said. “But really it takes a lot of hard work and you have to work together as a team.
Schutte and Smale, who both want to continue to dance in college, want people who know little about dancing to appreciate that just like any sport, dancers are athletes who work hard on individual skills and teamwork.
“I do feel I am completely an athlete because of all the hard work and effort that goes into it,” Smale said. “No one understands how much we put into it and the endurance we have and how much dancing takes out of you.”
“Our school can support us more and have more kids come to our competition,” Schutte said.
Schutte added that at schools, the public announcements often invite students to attend popular sports events but dance competition seldom gets mentioned.
But the lack of respect is not going to slow the Crimson. They are determined to do well for people who support them and to uphold the program’s glorious tradition.
“We get great support from our teammates, parents, coaches and community and that motivates us to be the best and do our best to make them proud,” Schutte said.
For Smale, the lack of respect makes her wants to work even harder.
“I think it’s really disappointing that people don’t recognize us as much because of how well we have done in the past and how well we represent our school as dancers,” Smale said. “It’s disappointing that we don’t get the respect we deserve as a team. There is always this motivation behind us to prove that we do deserve to be recognized and we are athletes.”