Rockford dance team makes grand entrance to competition

First year going very well with five tournament titles

Danielle Hagen-Johnson (left) and Leiana Jensen compete for the Rockford jazz dance team that has won five of the six competitions entered in its first season. (Photo by Melissa Marohl)

Danielle Hagen-Johnson (left) and Leiana Jensen compete for the Rockford jazz dance team that has won five of the six competitions entered in its first season. (Photo by Melissa Marohl)

BY DAVE PEDERSEN

A first-year program normally takes a back seat to the more experienced teams, but the first Rockford dance team has been in the driver’s seat, heading in the right direction.

The competitive dance program started last season under the direction of coach Heather Holasek, who concentrated on building skills and teamwork.

Rockford entered competitions this year and proved to indeed be ready to go. In the six competitions so far this season Rockford captured first place in five and was third in the other. The team won Saturday’s nine-team GFW Invitational, which included defending state Class A Jazz champ Yellow Medicine East.

“I didn’t expect us to do this well our first year competing,” Holasek said. “We are having an amazing season. My jazz team is young with three sophomores, three freshmen and two eighth-graders. We’re very excited for sections, but we are also excited for future years.”

The Section 2A meet is Saturday, Feb. 8, at Bloomington Kennedy. The competition begins at 10 a.m. and Rockford will compete at about 2 p.m. The top three advance to state with three teams from the other four sections. The state meet is Feb. 14-15 at the Target Center.

Rockford’s Trystin Gruber (left) and Chloe Beck helped the team win first place at the recent Watertown-Mayer Invitational. (Photo by Melissa Marohl)

Rockford’s Trystin Gruber (left) and Chloe Beck helped the team win first place at the recent Watertown-Mayer Invitational. (Photo by Melissa Marohl)

Rockford captured top honors at competitions in Hayfield, Fridley, ACGC, Mayer-Lutheran and GFW, while placing third in Aitkin.

“I expect a lot from my dancers,” Holasek added. “I’ve always been a coach that truly commits, and I expect my dancers to be extremely dedicated. I hope to build a strong dance program at Rockford with the help of my dedicated dancers.”

Holasek received Class AA Coach of the Year honors from the Minnesota Association of Dance Teams in 2007 after winning a third consecutive state championship with Spring Lake Park.

This is Holasek’s 10th year coaching a high school dance team. She worked with Spring Lake Park from 2003-2010. She also coached at Andover High School in 2011 before coming to Rockford in 2012.

“I live in Hanover, so when the position was available I couldn’t resist being 10 minutes away,” Holasek noted. “After 11 years of studio dance, I joined my high school dance team at Champlin Park. I’ve always enjoyed dancing with a passion, perfecting form/technique and creating a routine for spectators to enjoy.”

The Rockford dance program has eight girls on both the jazz and the kick team. Only the jazz team is competing this year and the kick team will come on line once it grows big enough. Teams are able to compete with five to 26 members in jazz and five to 34 members in kick for all three classes.

Rachel Retterath coaches the fall team during the performance season and Holasek coaches the winter team during the competitive season.

Jazz team members include Chloe Beck, Lindsey Condon, Baylie Gruber, Trystin Gruber, Danielle Hagen-Johnson, Leiana Jensen, Kiah Mathiason, Alyssa Nelson, Lizzy Shusta, Annika Simpson, Sadie Skeie, Kali Spangler and Sam Vraspir.

“It’s actually much easier to shape a young, small team than an older, large team,” Holasek said. “I am able to give my dancers a lot of personal attention. I really like having a small team, but I would like to have a junior varsity team in the future.”

Currently, Rockford dancers have a range of experience. Some have dance studio experience, gymnastics experience or no experience at all. Holasek began offering community education dance classes last spring. A community education dance studio is in the works.

“Dance is becoming more popular at Rockford, especially with elementary students,” Holasek said. “At our annual youth dance camp last fall, we had 90 participate, which was a great turnout. We hope the program grows over the years.”

Scores at competitions are awarded by judges to teams, not individuals. Jazz routines are scored on the criteria for technique of turns and leaps, difficulty of skills and choreography, execution (timing and placement), visual effectiveness, content of the routine and routine effectiveness (presentation).

Each judge can award a maximum of 100 points. Typically there are five judges at each Invitational, seven judges at the section tourney and eight judges at the state tournament.

Holasek said what makes for a good jazz routine is “something new and interesting with proper form and technique of skills. There also should be the correct amount of difficulty, but not too difficult so the dancers are unable to accomplish the skills. There also must be great presentation and energy.”

The Rockford jazz team will be performing at a varsity basketball game on Feb. 3 and again at the snow week pep fest.

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