by Mike Conlon
Victorious team with trophies at USA Nationals.The time was not the only thing springing forward last March. A spectacular, crowd-pleasing performance in the Small Hip-Hop category earned the San Clemente High School Dance Team its fifth national title in five years at the USA National Championships at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The small hip hop team, consisting of Whitney Ayer, Chloe Cruse, Kelsey Hutcheson, Tiana Joncich, Janaye Jung, Dani Luna, Amalia Porcel, Allie Roy, and Natalie Spaeth, confidently strutted onto the dance floor and gave a near-flawless, pressure-packed performance.
“With some great performances before them, they knew the pressure was on. They had to show high energy and hit their marks, and they came out and nailed the entire routine,” stated Coach Kelly Devine, now in her fifth year at San Clemente. “I’m really proud of how they came through.”
This victory marked the second year in a row that the Tritons took home the National Championship in the small hip-hop category, although only one dancer returned from last year’s winners.
This young team, featuring only one senior, also brought home three other trophies, finishing third in the Character category, third in Small Dance, and fifth in Large Hip Hop, all against competition from Southern and Northern California, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
It also marked the first time ever for the team to receive an invitation to perform in the Small Dance category, “The Escape,” in the evening’s showcase event featuring top-scoring performances. Their previous four appearances had all been in hip hop. The routine, performed by Ayer, Hutcheson, Joncich, Luna, Spaeth, Devon Rys, and Alexa Montoya featured tightly synchronized spins, rapidly shifting formations, as well as breath-taking music and movements. Before the large arena crowd, the team gave one of its best performances of the competition season, finishing only six tenths of a point out of first place.
“This was quite an advance for our team because we finished ahead of two tough Orange County teams, El Dorado and Esperanza. The girls really established their presence on the stage and received a great reaction from the audience,” Devine stated.
The dance also marked a courageous performance by the sophomore Montoya, one of the more decorated Triton dancers, who had badly sprained her ankle the previous evening, slipping during her solo performance. Not only did this cost her a chance at a higher individual award (she still finished 9th overall at Nationals), but Devine had to make quick adjustments to three team dances on Saturday.
“We took her out of large hip hop, and reduced her role in “In the Navy,” (Character dance). But she said she could try one dance with all of her difficult moves, so that was ‘Escape.’ Her performance under the circumstances, especially all the turns and her signature ‘scorpion’ pose [balancing on one leg while lifting the other over her head] was amazing. They all fed off her energy and did great,” stated Devine.
Another favorite of the audience was the Character Dance, “In the Navy,” which featured swing moves, rapid turns while holding life-preservers, and high-paced, shifting formations. It finished in third place overall, but was the highest scoring performance by any California team. Beside the dancers mentioned above, other Navy girls included Erika Brittain, Megan Conlon, Chanel Cook, Kelli DeAngelis, Salina Forest, Gabby LaCarre, and Jenny Stiefel.
Overall, Devine was pleased with the entire team’s performance, especially over the last six weeks featuring long trips to many regional competitions in order to qualify for Nationals.
“They worked hard and supported each other. We had some ups and downs at Nationals, but mostly the girls gained great experience, hung in there after Alexa’s injury, and learned what it takes to be a champion. The future is very promising,” stated Devine. b