Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the San Clemente High School Dance Team’s assistant coach, who is Savannah Hooks.
The San Clemente High School Dance Team came back from Anaheim in late March with a national title, validating eight months of extensive practice, adjustments, and performances.
At the United Spirit Association Dance Nationals, which took place March 22 and 23, the team earned first place in the Novelty and Musical Theater division. Competing in the hard-to-crack final stages for the Small Lyrical division, the team placed fourth.
Their Medium Lyrical group placed fifth, and the Small Dance team placed sixth.
Head coach Kelley Brown said the entire experience was special for all the teams who performed at nationals, including hers, who performed at the Anaheim Convention Center for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“First, it was extremely exciting to be in the huge arena, performing your pieces that you’ve been (doing) in high school gyms all season, (to now) where you have just a huge audience … you’re allowed to have your friends and family be there the whole time,” said Brown. “It was a huge moment, I think, just in general, to have people there in a huge area and no masks and that kind of stuff.”
She described the feeling of waiting to hear the team’s name called as full of anticipation, nerves, and excitement, with the dancers hoping to have their preparation pay off.
The team practices four days each week for a total of 15 hours, and Brown and assistant coach Savannah Hooks also work on instilling mental preparation. After all of that, and getting to show off their routines where everyone can watch, Brown said it was nerve-wracking but a powerful experience.
“Shoeless Joe” was their championship-winning performance, based on the baseball-themed 1955 musical Damn Yankees.
Brown said the team learned the routine along with all the others at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, first performed it at their winter showcase in December, and spent the months from August through competition season “cleaning” or adjusting the performance and making necessary tweaks.
Cleaning is the hardest part, as the coaches constantly analyze each section of each dance to make sure their dancers are properly performing the routine and adapting based off competition judges’ feedback.
“The girls are also excited about new aspects of the dance, so it keeps growing, and they’re able to grow within the piece itself,” said Brown. “The dance is never the same from week to week during competition season.”
Through all the development and adjustments, the routine changed 60% from when the team first performed it in December, she added.
Despite the stress of the season, Brown’s favorite part is the cleaning process and determining how that year’s team can keep improving. Her partnership with Hooks has been beneficial, and they also speak with the team captains to get their input.
“I think it’s so important for me to teach the girls that everything is always moving and always changing and always developing, so I truly enjoy the process so much,” she said.
Brown complimented the team’s variety in skills, ability to help each other and the work they put into pushing each member to reach their full potential.
The whole team performed during the “Shoeless Joe” piece, which she called special, as most teams don’t get to experience the moment they did.
“A lot of times, teams win in their smaller specialty routines,” she said. “Not the entire team gets to experience that excitement and joy in accomplishing a national title all together.”
With the high school currently on spring break, they’ll all get much-needed rest before preparing for their upcoming Spring Dance Concert on April 21-22.
Going forward, the team will get to have more fun as the coaches will add new dances for the recital.
“Now, it’s not really about competing and pushing; it’s a different type of push,” Brown said, adding: “They get to just perform their hearts out for their family.”