There was a different kind of atmosphere at Dance Olympus this year for the students from the Southwest School of Dance.
"As a team, we bonded a lot better this year," said Katlyn Bartz, adding that they were supportive of their fellow dancers.
Competing at nationals is not just about winning, said SWSD director Charlotte Wendel, it's about getting better. And this year's national competition from July 1-4 in Chicago was bigger, with 825 entries from 41 studios. SWSD took home 15 first place awards, six second place wins and eight third place awards as well as a special award for best presentation to the junior line ballet production of "Country Boy."
Photo courtesy of Rashell Thordson
Pictured are Southwest School of Dance students Breanna Ahmann, Macey Steen and Rebecca Sammons during one of the performances at a national dance competition in Chicago.
"It's definitely an audience-pleaser," Breanna Ahmann said of "Country Boy," a contemporary ballet.
"There was a lot of jazz thrown in it and musical theater," Wendel said. Wendel noted that a lot of SWSD's first place wins went to production numbers.
Normally there is a level playing field at nationals, Wendel said, but there were some studios that had professional choreographers put together various competitive dances.
Sophia Louwagie said the school had a limited amount of dances it could take to nationals.
"Because it was so big," added Emma Thordson.
Bartz was one of the first place wins with her solo jazz piece.
"I try not to anticipate winning because it makes it more fun to win," Bartz said, adding she never knows what to expect after a performance.
Despite it being a large competition with more than 800 dances, Sydney Matthys said she wasn't as overwhelmed. Thordson said she didn't feel as stressed and she could concentrate easier on her dances.
"It was laid-back," Thordson said.
Several dancers competed in the Dancer of the Year program, which involves a solo and an interview. Dancers also have to learn a production number in which all Dancer of the Year candidates take part. Ahmann said the production piece is the best part of the Dancer of the Year competition.
"And it's the best to watch too," said Sydney Matthys. For example, the Junior Dancer of the Year candidates performed to a Lady Gaga mix wearing masks. The Senior Dancer of the Year competitors danced to music from "Chicago."
But cheering each other on and showing support was apparent, Wendel and her students said.
"They encouraged each other," Wendel said.
Thordson said she had the chance to actually sit and watch other competitors at nationals instead of having to hurry off to the next part of competition.
"(There were) a lot of different styles I enjoyed watching," Thordson said.
Ahmann said that just being there watching fellow dancers compete was important.
Elizabeth Louwagie said she felt that after her solo performance.
"After my solo, I started crying," Elizabeth Louwagie said. Her friend and fellow SWSD dancer Emma Matthys gave her a hug after the solo.
Besides the competition, dancers can also attend workshops during the weekend. The workshops, which included different kinds of dance, were fun, said Emma Matthys. Thordson said she also had the chance to go to every workshop her level had to offer, including a musical theater one in which she got to perform to a piece from "West Side Story."
Plus, friendships with other dancers are reinforced during nationals, even if you are competing against each other.
"My favorite part is getting to see friends you've made in the past year and seeing them again," Ahmann said.
First place wins: Katlyn Bartz, senior solo jazz; Macey Steen, senior solo pointe; Adagio Meditation, intermediate trio pointe - Sydney Matthys, Katie Boerboom, Emma Thordson; Eberme, senior trio pointe - Macey Steen, Carly Salfer, Claire Anderson; Piazolla Libert, intermediate ballet - Isaac Marks, Alyssa Ahmann, Peyton Bruce
Dancer of the Year (Petite)
Elizabeth Louwagie, Rhyana Juutilainen
Dancer of the Year (Junior)
Allie Bottelberghe, Peyton Bruce, Shannon Chesley, Meg Ellis, Issac Marks (also fourth runner up for Junior Male Dancer of the Year), Emma Thordson, AmyLynn Thovson
Dancer of the Year (Senior)
Claire Anderson, Breanna Ahmann, Katlyn Bartz, Rebekah Criquet-Danielson, Abbie Doom, Carly Salfer, Rebecca Sammons, Macey Steen