The FHC Varsity Dance Team is waltzing their way towards Nationals


Sofia Hargis-Acevedo

Here is the entire Dance Team at a football game from earlier this year.

It’s officially the time of year that the FHC Varsity Dance Team has been preparing for: Nationals season. Approaching her second and final time competing at Nationals, junior team co-captain Ali Grendel is expecting nothing less than previous years—but this time around, she is absorbing every moment she can.

“I really hope to enjoy it because this is gonna be my last [time competing at Nationals],” Ali said. “I kind of want to soak it all in and have fun with my team and hopefully do well, but that’s not on top of my priority list. I just want to go there and have a good time.”

Due to COVID-19 complications, Nationals was canceled last year, leaving the dance team deprived of their sole mission. Although this was unfortunate, Ali recounts the last time she attended Nationals to be a highly positive, productive experience—she hopes to bring that same energy into this coming competition.

“While we were [at Nationals in 2020], it [was] pretty much just dancing,” Ali said. “The whole time we practiced, but it was really fun team bonding. We all got to room together, [and] it was fun being with the team and doing dinners and that kind of thing.”

While Ali and a couple of other team members have competed at Nationals before, freshman Paige Jacobs is new to the scene. Being a relatively new member of the team, Paige would seemingly be expected to feel at least somewhat anxious about the competition—fortunately, this is not the case. Replacing her nonexistent nerves is an overtaking feeling of excitement.

“I’m really excited because I know the team so well,” Paige expressed. “I think we’re going to do really well because we keep growing together and [keep] living in the moment. I already know what’s going to be different, and that’s what I’m the most excited for—it’s not going to be a normal competition, and I want to experience the difference between a regular competition and a Nationals scene.”

Team bonding is an essential part of Paige’s desired Nationals experience. With substantial camaraderie, Paige believes that the team will perform even better. After all, dancing is not just about perfect extensions and flawless technique; the performance plays an equally important role in the overall success of a routine. So with how well the dance team gets along, Paige is planning on bringing that extra bit of oomph to her dancing and hopes to have as much fun as possible.

“I think that we have bonded together really well and [have] gotten comfortable enough to have joked before [going on] stage,” Paige said. “I think every competition, we just keep getting better and better because we keep bonding. That’s what it’s all about—having fun with your team and living the experience.”

Senior team co-captain Emily Smith—also awaiting her final Nationals experience—heavily agrees on the importance of bonding through the enormous amount of time the team spends together. But beyond just interacting with her home base, the FHC Dance Team, Emily is hoping to make connections with other competing teams to fulfill her final National competition. 

“My personal goal is to [not] be afraid to meet new teams,” said Emily, in hopes to extend her connections with other dancers. “Even though you’re bonding with your own team, I think it’s fun to see the other teams from all around.”

Besides her willingness to meet other teams, that does not mean that Emily is lacking competitiveness. Of course, good sportsmanship is the standard, but Emily wants the dance team to outshine all others and come out on top.

That’s what it’s all about—having fun with your team and living the experience.

— Paige Jacobs

And with every routine run-through, morning practice, and an extra hour of practice contributed to cultivating their skills, Nationals does not seem out of reach by any means to Emily. She knows how hard each dancer has worked, so she plans on every ounce of the dance team’s dedication to shine through onto the stage.

“We definitely put in a lot more work outside of dance,” Emily said. “We take videos of ourselves doing the routines and then post them all together. Then, we do corrections even outside of dance over the phone, which I think is just something that a lot of other teams don’t really do. [What] I’m hoping to gain this final year [is] knowing that we’re a successful team.”

Even though the team is aiming high for success, winning is not the overarching goal—having an enjoyable, memorable experience is. In the end, winning is great, but coming out of Nationals with stronger connections and having the chance to perform is far more enriching.

Whether it be the first year or the final year of competing at Nationals, members of the dance team are looking forward to making this competition their stomping grounds for harmony and friendship—and of course, incredible dancing.

“I think that we stand out more from other teams because we all get each other,” Paige said. “We love to dance, but it’s not our main priority. I feel [that] friendship and this bonding and having a good time is what makes us so good.”

With the Dance Team Union National Championship coming up on Feb. 18th, FHC Dance is sifting out the last of their imperfections and is revving up for the competition. While they are all prepared to have fun with each other, they are still collectively working towards their goal—reaching the Finals round. Even though they are not necessarily solely concentrating on first place, they still want to dance their way into the last, most intense round.

“When we went to Nationals a couple of years ago, we got into the Finals round for all three of our routines,” Ali said. “This year, we’ve been working on achieving that same goal. That’s what we’re hoping for when we go. We’ve been to three [regional] competitions this year, and we’ve placed pretty well. We’re just hoping to keep going up from here and show positive growth.”

Once it comes down to the wire, going absolutely full out is necessary. That does not just apply to the dancers, though—it’s an audience effort as well. As the crowd’s energy rises, so does the dance team’s in the heat of performing. For Ali, the surrounding energy is what tops off the experience as a whole.

“During the competition, one of the most exciting moments is [going] out there and performing,” Ali said. “There’s just so much adrenaline because that’s the moment that you’ve been waiting for all year—[it’s] what we’ve been practicing for. Then, our coaches and all our parents are sitting right in front of us, and they’re cheering super loud and banging on the floor. It’s a really intense environment. It’s really, really fun.”

Nationals in general can be quite the stressful, overwhelming experience, so finding those pockets of bliss can lighten the whole trip out. Since the competition takes place in Florida, the team has the chance to bask in the sun as well as everything they have achieved leading up to that exact point. 

Beyond every detail that the dance team has worked to etch into their Nationals experience, this competition is the perfect opportunity for them to ruminate on their accomplishments as individuals and as a team. They have shown that perfection is not the priority, but that rather growth and bonding through the dancing is. 

“My general feelings [for Nationals] are nervous but excited,” Emily said. “[I’m] nervous for the work that we’re gonna do, but excited to see the outcome of it. I feel confident in knowing that we will do the best that we can.”