Taylor Kaurin was excited about going to state for more than the usual reasons.
“I was really excited about it,” the Hinckley-Big Rock junior said. “I always have this argument with the boys that dance isn’t a sport, but it definitely is.”
“This is a big deal for our team,” H-BR senior Caitlin Walley added, “to show our school we could do it.”
Kaurin and Walley are co-captains of the H-BR dance team, which qualified for the Illinois High School Association’s first-ever competitive dance state tournament last weekend in Bloomington. Sycamore also qualified in a different class.
“It’s really cool to say we are a part of the first IHSA state competition,” Sycamore coach Alyssa Pawola said. “It’s a really good experience. I’m very happy for them.”
“It is very exciting,” H-BR coach Lindsay Byington agreed. “The girls are very excited to represent the school. They have been working hard to get this.”
Though there was no IHSA tournament last year, this is the second year the Lady Royals qualified for a state competition; last year, the team took second in Team Dance Illinois. Kaurin and Walley agreed that the experience they gained last year helped them this past weekend.
“You get a feel of what state is really like,” Walley said.
H-BR qualified for the state 1A tournament by taking sixth place at the Tinley Park Sectional Jan. 19 with 44.93 points. Sycamore qualified in 2A by taking fifth at the Minook Sectional with 75.17 points. DeKalb was eighth (61.77) and Kaneland 11th (34.2) in the same sectional.
Since preliminaries were held the same day as the Castle Challenge, the Sycamore dance team competed in Bloomington, then made it home in time for their halftime performance at the game.
According to IHSA Assistant Executive Director Matt Troha, competitive dance was officially sanctioned by the IHSA in October of 2011, with the first season beginning in the fall of 2012. With a total of 241 teams competing across the state in this first season, 91 qualified in three classes.
Troha said each team could have up to 28 dancers on the floor for their routines, which varied from one minute, 45 seconds to three minutes long.
Many teams, Pawola said, like to perform as long as possible in order to show off their talents. The Sycamore routine lasts two minutes, 45 seconds.
The Sycamore team, Pawola said, decided to stick with one routine for the entire season, which included four competitions prior to the state tournament. They performed different routines when at community events like high school basketball games.
“As the year went on, we shaped our routine,” she said, adding that they took comments from judges and other sources. “We were continually adapting and changing it to improve it.”
Like Sycamore, Byington said H-BR has used the same routine all year, which is closer to two minutes long.
In some dance competitions, teams are divided by routine, such as hip-hop, pom, kick or lyrical. But the IHSA competition uses an open format, grouping all the routines in each class together. Every one is judged by a panel of six judges.
The top 10 teams from Friday’s preliminary round advanced to Saturday’s finals.
Since this is the first time for the IHSA state final, Pawola wasn’t sure what to expect.
“This is a huge honor, but we would love to place,” the first-year coach said prior to the competition. “Our goal is to go as far as we can.”
Neither Sycamore nor Hinckley advanced to the second round. Sycamore finished 19th in 2A with 64.96 points; in 1A, Hinckley finished 28th with 40.98 points.
Among area schools, Rochelle finished fifth in the 1A state finals with 68.92 points.
Walley and Kaurin said dancing is harder than people think it is.
“It’s easier to hurt yourself in dance (than other sports),” Kaurin said.
To prove her point, she wrote an English paper at the beginning of the school year on how dancing is the most dangerous sport.
H-BR junior Kelsey Sipp said there’s a big difference between softball, which she has played since the first grade, and dancing, which she has done since her freshman year.
“Dancing is more of me experiencing myself,” she said. “Softball is more aggressive and competitive.”
Making it to state may have meant more to Katie Hoffman than anyone else.
“This is pretty rewarding,” the H-BR junior said. “I’ve done track for three years and I couldn’t get to state. I go out for dance and I make it to state my first year. I think that’s pretty cool.”