Crossing Boundaries For Dance

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September 13, 2010 by David Gillaspie

I saw the Dance and Drill State Championships at Memorial Coliseum.  I went with my wife, her friend, and her friend’s daughter. 

Just me and the girls going to the dance championships.

My buddies said, “Heh?”

But what did I really see?

As a long-time sports fan, my standards for a great event are high.  It needs teams with a seasoned rivalry, like Yankees and Red Sox, Celtics and Lakers or, it turned out, like Tigard Tigerettes vs. Lincoln Dance Team.

Just like wrestling coach Dan Gable’s nine consecutive championships at University of Iowa, Lincoln Dance’s coach Sara Anderson dominates.  In the 4A, now 6A, large-team competition, she has six championships in a row, going for seven.  That’s more than Oregon City’s girls basketball dynasty. 

To make the competition more urgent, Tigard finished second to Lincoln’s dance team five times.

I’m an avid sports fan.  My wife agrees, but calls it something else.  She says I think every game is “The Big Game.”  She calls my interest in the Dallas Cowboys an obsession.  I disagree.  I don’t even have a jersey.

More than anything else, I like to see how the local teams fare.  I was in an Autzen Stadium luxury box for Tigard’s OSAA Football Championship in 2003.  I was matside when Tigard wrestler Tyler Gillaspie won Freestyle and Greco-Roman State Championships in 2006.  I’ve been to sporting contests ranging from grade-school soccer to NFL games, from girls youth softball to, major league baseball.  I’ve been to kids recreational league basketball games and NBA play-offs.

This year’s dance and drill championships became one of my highlights.

After seeing the recent Oregon state wrestling championships at Memorial Coliseum, I wondered how the place would look for dance and drill.  I used to watch the Blazers play there.  I’ve seen the circus there.  What would it look like for dance?

I didn’t need to take a sample to feel magic in the air.  I realized the seriousness of the moment when an usher blocked me from taking my seat during a performance.  There would be no distractions from the nosebleed section.  Others joined me waiting on the steps, excited parents and friends there to see the show.

It felt contagious.

The ladies behind me, a row from Pendleton, ran a commentary on costumes, hair, make-up and dancing.  They sounded like they knew their stuff.  One of them said the teams are judged on technique, spacing and alignment, precision, choreography, floor patterns, maneuvering, projection, repertoire and musicality.  Each category is worth 100 points.  She handed me her rule booklet.

The ladies really liked Tigard.  One of them said Lincoln beat their team after their only title.

Was it a good show?  Just the best show of any school event, coming from someone who has seen extraordinary middle-school plays, choir performances and guitar class concerts.  One team after another transformed a basketball court into the biggest stage in the state.  It felt like a Broadway show, a Radio City Music Hall review and Cirque du Soleil without the acrobatics.  After the team competition, I wondered how high school girls could be so good, so exact.

Then I saw the drill down.

Girls from every team filled the court and waited for it to start.  Drill down – the winner is the last dancer standing.

The girls lined up in dance fashion and the caller gave the first order.  According to the OSAA Dance and Drill Handbook, the caller in drill down can call any of 25 orders for the dancers to execute.  I’ve seen square dancers and I learned to march in the army, but drill down is beyond them both.  Every move the caller orders has protocols within them and missing anything means disqualification.  When only the finalists are left, the scrutiny increases – no mistake is missed by the judges.

The last two standing were from Tigard and Cleveland high schools.  The caller gave an order and the girls obeyed.  One of them got it wrong – one of the judges missed it.

The cruel way of crowning the team champions played out at the end.  The teams gathered together on the floor.  The winners were announced by playing their theme music.  There will be some who will never hear John Lennon’s “Imagine” the same again.

Lincoln came in fourth this year.  Tigard broke through after five tries.  The celebrations exploded like fireworks with brightly costumed dancers flying all over.

In the end it was all Tigerettes as the Pendleton mom’s predicted, with three dancers singled out for All-State honors. 

How do high school girls get so good?  It reminded me of the joke where one person asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and the other answers, “Practice.”

Saturday night the Tigerettes had the answer.


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