WINDERMERE — Among several schools from around the state, Windermere Preparatory School Dance Team garnered six awards at it first Universal Dance Association Florida Regional Championships Jan. 19 in Orlando.
The team of 38 girls, ranging from 11 to 17 years old and grades six to 12, won sixth place in the high-school jazz competition, fifth place among middle-school jazz entries and first place for its open jazz routine.
Jazz has been a particular focus for the team this school year, coach Allison Harley said.
“Coach Stephanie Crane and I watched a lot of videos, and where our school lacks is the technique area, and jazz is one of those dances,” she said. “We didn’t focus on things like hip-hop, because our girls need better body control. Our girls have been working on jazz technique throughout the season.”
That work paid off, as the squad fared well among 250 to 300 dancers participating in this event, which was open to the entire state, Harley said.
“This is only our third year as a dance team,” she said. “We’ve been up and down with dance and then cheer. This is only its first year adding middle-school girls. They came in fifth place, which wasn’t last, so as a coach, I was ecstatic, and they were, too. Our season is yearlong, but we’re winding down after the next competition. We prepare all year long for this.”
That next competition will not be UDA Nationals, because of scheduling conflicts, but Champion Dance Nationals Feb. 28, where the three aforementioned groups and some soloists will perform, Harley said.
“We (have done) a national competition held in Orlando that works the same as UDA,” Harley said of the Champion Dance event. “It’s more of a tour company that gets schools all over to come compete, but they include the Disney and Universal packages. But it’s not a national qualifier or anything. If you want to be anything in the dance world, as far as schools are concerned, you need to go to UDA.”
Even so, having a jazz group that won first place at regionals was one of several big steps for the program.
“It was to a song by the a cappella group Pentatonix,” Harley said. “The open category means it’s basically jazz, but you have other techniques, as well. The staple was one big kick line of 28 people. The song was the Daft Punk medley Pentatonix put together. That made it a more eclectic piece. People told me they loved the dance and didn’t want it to end with all of the elements in it. There was jazz, lyrical, hip-hop, kick. And there’s always power in numbers, even if it is easy choreography. Twenty-eight people up there doing the same thing looks really good.”
Three soloists also won awards: Celeste Lin finished 10th; Emily Whitt received sixth place; and sixth-grader Haley Park won the second-place trophy in her first competitive solo, Harley said.
“She practiced every day,” Harley said of Park. “She actually learned her solo in probably less than an hour. I just gave her all the choreography, and from there we cleaned it. I know she practiced every day to get sharper, improve technique, stretching every single day.”
Although Park felt intimidated as a first-time soloist on a big stage with no one else to feed off for energy, she knew she had to perform bigger and tell her story, Harley said.
Park is determined to get first place Feb. 28, despite competing against a broader division of middle-schoolers, including teammates, she said.
The success of all of the dancers at this event will be a building block for what Harley hopes will be the preeminent school dance team in West Orange County, she said.
“My goal is to establish a well-known name for the program,” she said. “There are high schools in places like Seminole County with dance programs around 20 or more years. Here in West Orange County, there really isn’t a school that has that. It would be great for Windermere Prep to represent that side of the county.”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].