Geneva, Naperville dancers win state with 'talent,' 'intensity'
Suburban competitive dance teams claimed first place in the Class 2A and Class 3A state finals Saturday in Bloomington.
Class 2A winner Geneva High School scored a three-peat of championships and became the first school to win three years in a row since the Illinois High School Association began hosting a state series for competitive dance in 2013, coach Amy Van Wagenen said.
"We had an undefeated season this year," Van Wagenen said about her group of 18 dancers, who grabbed first place with their lyrical performance to "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston. "I truly believe that my girls are some of the most talented dancers in the state."
Class 3A winner Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville claimed victory for the second year in a row with a jazz routine the school's 18 dancers choreographed themselves to Michael Jackson's "They Don't Really Care About Us."
"We really liked that song a lot for its beat and its message and we felt that it was powerful," coach Sonja Rzeszutko said. "The strength of this team was really jazz."
Each of the 19 suburban squads that placed among the top 30 in the state -- 10 in each of three categories based on school size -- found something to celebrate after Saturday's final competition, coaches said.
For Aurora Central Catholic High School, the highest-placing suburban team in the Class 1A division for small schools, the celebration point was improving from last year's eighth-place finish and achieving a team goal of finishing in the top five, coach Terri Varney said.
"A fourth-place finish was the highest we've ever been," she said about her 18 competitors who danced a jazz routine to a cello version of ACDC's "Thunderstruck." "We felt like we were more excited about our placement than the top three teams."
Finishing second in Class 2A, Lake Zurich High School was thrilled to score so well with an unusual dance format -- hip-hop, coach Terri Johlie said.
In the IHSA state series, dances of all styles -- including lyrical, jazz, poms and hip-hop -- are critiqued using one standard score card. Competitions held before the IHSA sanctioned competitive dance separated the styles into their own categories, coaches said.
"For us, it's really also gratifying that hip-hop is able to still stay in there and be competitive with the other styles of dance," Johlie said. "It's a lot more heavily dominated in a way with lyrical and jazz routines."
Lake Zurich dancers also were proud to score so highly with 22 performers -- a higher number than usual. The more dancers, the more difficult it is to get everyone's movements synchronized. Along with technical skills and execution, synchronization counts, coaches said. So does another intangible: intensity.
"Our biggest factor today was really the intensity of the performance and the execution," Neuqua coach Rzeszutko said.
After emerging from a curtain at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, teams competed on a black, rubbery dance floor illuminated with bright lights. Compared with typical high school gyms the dancers are used to, the setup created more of stage effect, Aurora Central Catholic coach Varney said.
All the better to showcase the talents of the best high school dancers in the state.
"It's not easy," Geneva coach Van Wagenen said, "even if they make it look easy."
Suburban dance winnersCompetitive dance teams from the Northwest and West suburbs dominated the standings in Saturday's Illinois High School Association state finals. Suburban squads made up 19 of the 30 top teams divided into categories for large, medium and small schools. Here's how they placed
Class 3A (large schools)
1. Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville
2. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire
3. South Elgin High School
4. Barrington High School
5. Warren Township High School in Gurnee
6. Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora
7. Lake Park High School in Roselle
8. Mundelein High School
9. Wheaton Warrenville South High School
Class 2A (medium schools)
1. Geneva High School
2. Lake Zurich High School
3. Libertyville High School
4. Wauconda High School
5. Crystal Lake Central High School
7. Deerfield High School
9. Fox Lake High School
10. Vernon Hills High School
Class 1A (small schools)
4. Aurora Central Catholic High School
5. Montini Catholic High School in Lombard
9. IC Catholic Prep in Elmhurst