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The San Clemente High School Dance Team performs during the United Spirit Association’s 2016 high school national championships, which took place last weekend, March 18 and 19. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Robertson
The San Clemente High School Dance Team attends the United Spirit Association’s 2016 high school national championships, which took place last weekend, March 18 and 19. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Robertson

By Eric Heinz

Moments before performing in front of a national stage, the anticipation rises for the San Clemente High School Dance Team.

No one can see the thousands of people in the stands while waiting for the curtain to open, and then they hear it.

“San Clemente, welcome to the floor.”

Dance3
The San Clemente High School Dance Team performs during the United Spirit Association’s 2016 high school national championships, which took place last weekend, March 18 and 19. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Robertson

The curtains open and year’s work comes together on the biggest stage.

That was the scene last weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center for the United Spirit Association’s 2016 high school national championships.

Since 2004, the San Clemente High School Dance Team has established itself as one of the premier high school programs in the nation.

The team has qualified for the national competition every year for the past 12 years, racking up several titles in different divisions.

Danielle Luna Braithwaite, the head coach of the dance team, earned four national titles in her time at SCHS.

“Nationals went great. We had two dances that qualified for the final round,” Braithwaite said. “For each division they take the top 25 percent to re-compete in the finals, known as the night show, and we placed third in both of those.”

[box]2015-2016 San Clemente High School Dance Team, Varsity and Junior Varsity: Lauren Adolph, Brianna Anderson, Isabell Bothwell, Lauren Chong, Sophia Cook, Raquel Griffith, Kayla Hernandez, Rachel Hughes, Lily Hurtubise, Alexandra LeCause, Idalis Ledezma, Tessa Matson, Chloe Moodie, Kate Mordock, Madison Nixon, Hailee Robertson, Elysha Romano, Allison Stay, Sarah Turbeville, Jayden Watt, Julian Zozlua Coaches: Danielle Luna Braithwaite (Head Coach), Hartley Klement, Marisa Prolo Dance Program Director: Lauren Peterson [/box]

At the state competition a few weeks ago, the dance team they took first place in “medium dance,” based on group size of 10 to 12 dancers.

“Our success is based on hard work, positivity and teamwork,” senior captain Chloe Moodie said. “If we’re all bonded, then we’re going to have a successful year because it’s all about teamwork and being cohesive.”

The team members said they rehearse about 15 to 20 hours a week.

Braithwaite said the strategy of the dance team is to study their competition and to find a dance the team thinks will score the most points with the judges.

“This year we really focused on our large pieces because basically most of the girls were in those and we thought those had the best chances of competing in the night show, large lyrical and large dance,” Braithwaite said, adding those are the dances that earned the team third place at nationals.

Most of the members of the team said they have been in some kind of dance class since they were 2 or 3 years old.

“With new girls every year, it’s kind of a guessing game to see how cohesive we’re going to be, and by the end of the year we end up being a pretty awesome team,” said junior Jayden Watt, a junior varsity team captain.

The San Clemente High School Dance Team performs one of their main pieces during rehearsal on Monday, March 21. Photo: Eric Heinz
The San Clemente High School Dance Team performs one of their main pieces during rehearsal on Monday, March 21. Photo: Eric Heinz

Competition at this level is fierce.

“Sometimes our competition is really hard, so if we don’t win it’s a bit discouraging because of all the hard work we put into it,” varsity captain senior Rachel Hughes said. “But when we do win, it’s like the greatest feeling ever.”

Hughes said she plans to dance in college and hopes to become a professional dancer either by performing or teaching.

“My favorite thing about dancing, especially on this team, is finding connections and making it more about the team,” Hughes said.

Braithwaite said the dance team also does community performances. She said all six of last year’s seniors who graduated came back to support this year’s team.

“There’s a lot of sacrifice in being on this team, but it also comes with a lot of rewards such as going to these competitions and the sisterhood these girls build between one another,” Braithwaite said. “The captains especially take on a lot of responsibility in getting schedules ready, registering for competitions and all that. I would say a lot of them walk out of this feeling like they’ve learned something more than just dance.”

Moodie said she had experienced just that.

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]Last Dance
On May 20 and 21, the dance team will perform the five competition routines and a co-ed number, a junior varsity and varsity performance and dance on film, which showcases the dances performed in the community. The event will take place at the high school. [/box]

“I didn’t expect to grow as much as a person from being on this team,” Moodie said. “I’m really becoming responsible.”

Danielle Luna Braithwaite, San Clemente Dance Team head coach, embraces one of the team’s dancers during the United Spirit Association’s 2016 high school national championships, which took place last weekend, March 18 and 19. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Robertson
Danielle Luna Braithwaite, San Clemente Dance Team head coach, embraces one of the team’s dancers during the United Spirit Association’s 2016 high school national championships, which took place last weekend, March 18 and 19. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Robertson

Sophomore Idalis Ledezma said even though she didn’t have any leadership roles last year, she learned how to help take her team to a higher level in her first year as a junior varsity captain.

“It’s a lot of what the captains do that motivates the girls on this team,” Ledezma said.

During tryouts, the team’s reputation precedes itself.

“(Tryouts are) honestly really intimidating,” Ledezma said. “You have to compete … and you really don’t know what to expect, but you just pour your heart out and during those times I really grew as a dancer because I was basically pushing myself to the limits.”

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