Troupe steadily improves, step-kick by step-kick

In six years, Fallston High School's dance team has gone from nearly last to nearly first

February 12, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

2000 is a year recalled fondly by members of Fallston High School's dance team club. At the same time, it's one the dancers would like to forget.

It was the year when the school founded the team. It also was the year when the dance troupe, led by a science teacher with no dance expertise, performed at just four school athletic functions and finished 31st out of 36 teams at a regional competition.

"We didn't know what we were doing, but we made do with what we had," said Carrie Cummings, an earth science teacher who has been the coach of the team since the beginning.

What a difference six years makes.

The 17-member troupe - which performs dance styles ranging from pom to jazz to kick line to hip-hop - has racked up top-three finishes 15 times in state competitions and five times in national competitions. The dancers perform at every home game of Fallston's football and basketball teams.

And the troupe's performance at a regional competition recently earned it a spot in a national competition this month in Ocean City.

"I never thought the team would be where it is today or have the amount of talent we see at tryouts," Cummings said.

The coach remembers the spring of 2000, when a student asked her to lead a girl's dance team club. Cummings was reluctant because she had no dance experience.

"I played on athletic teams throughout school and I knew nothing about dancing," she said.

But she agreed to take on the job and started the club the next fall with 21 dancers. Despite the troupe's slow start, the endeavor quickly grew on Cummings.

"Each year, I become the dancers' mothers for nine months of the year," said Cummings, who also is the adviser for the senior class. "We have team dinners and go see movies and we just hang out. It's like becoming a family."

Three years ago, Jennifer Richardson, also an earth science teacher at Fallston, joined the team as assistant coach.

At the national competition Feb. 25-26, the dancers will compete in the newly added varsity hip-hop division, in addition to the varsity pom and jazz divisions.

"Hip-hop is the big thing in dance now," said Cummings. "So we wanted to give it a try."

For the seniors, the competition is their last chance to bring home a trophy.

"Winning first place at the nationals would be the perfect ending to my experience on the dance team," said 17-year-old Jackie Kappus, one of three captains. "I would love to walk away with a first-place trophy, but either way, I've had a great time."

Preparation for a competition is rigorous, said Lydia Hornick. The senior captain said the team spends about six hours a week practicing for the competitions, at which they perform a two-minute routine in each division. The effort and teamwork required to perfect the routines builds unity among the dancers.

"I play on athletic teams also, and the bonds our dance team formed are not comparable with any other sport in the school," said Hornick. "I think that not only our hard work but also our closeness got us to the nationals each year. It helps us to work very well together."

The club is based at Fallston High, but isn't officially sponsored by the school. Cummings said that the independence the troupe enjoys as a nonschool-sponsored club imparts freedom and autonomy that enhances the bonds among the team members.

"No one tells us what competitions we can compete in, or what uniforms we can wear," said Cummings. "And we don't have to start our season when the athletics start. We can get together anytime we choose. The bond we form spending so much time together certainly plays a part in helping us to succeed at competitions."

Tryouts for the team are in May for returning and new members. Competitions begin in September and end in February after the national event. The team members spend the summer fundraising to cover expenses, which include travel and hiring a choreographer.

Although Cummings doesn't share the girls' knowledge of dancing, she's learning, and has even developed an affinity for critiquing performances.

"I still don't dance and I don't know the technical terms the dancers use, but I just make up my own," she said "And now I can look at the girls when they dance and know what looks good and what doesn't."

While most of the club members started dancing at a young age - some as early as 2 - their reasons for wanting to join the club are diverse, from being part of a team to being with friends to a desire to compete.

Lauren Carnesi, a sophomore at Fallston, said she found the club to be a great way to get acclimated to high school during her freshman year.

"Everyone knows the dance team members so you get to know your way around quickly and have fun while you do it," said Carnesi, 15, of Bel Air.

Carnesi said she quickly found her niche on the team, as the one who helps get the team revved up for a performance.

"I don't get nervous before I perform. I get a rush of adrenaline and I use that to pump other people up," Carnesi said. "But when the lights shine on us up on the stage, we get into a zone and we're ready to go."

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