By Sarah Sikandar
Signal Staff Writer
When 13 students from West Ranch High School danced to Fergie’s “London Bridge” at the Contest of Champions Competition in Orlando, Florida, many in the audience knew they were a tough competitor. Precision, synchronization and innovation got the West Ranch dance team this year’s grand prize in multiple categories. They also came home with 12 national titles.
The Contest of Champions Nationals is an open competition, organized in Florida since 1984. The competition doesn’t require any affiliations and invites participants from all over the country. The Grand Champion title is awarded to one team out of 75 teams from 50 states competing for the highest-scoring dances in the entire competition. This year, more than 800 schools from 14 states participated. After COVID-19 lockdowns, this also meant the teams had to adapt to being on stage again.
West Ranch dance also won in the extra small category, which includes lyrical, jazz, hip hop and contemporary. Theirs were the highest-scoring dances in the competition in the National Title category. In some categories, including Small Jazz, the team posted a near-perfect score.
Competition Director Laura Davis, who has been with the competition for 21 years, says that the team was superior in every category.
“Their performance was technical and heavily polished. Choreography was creative and innovative. They were exquisite and beautiful because they were so well prepared.”
Davis says the consistency was just one aspect of what the team did right, including costumes. While some groups are good in one area, West Ranch dance team impressed judges in all categories.
“They were a pleasure to watch. Extraordinary in every area. In terms of their technique, precision, innovative choreography. They had fresh ideas. They were one of the most talented groups I’ve seen in all my years with the competition.”
The team’s coach Tammie Johnston has been running the program for a decade. She humbly accredits the students’ commitment to their victory. Dance, she says, is sports meet art.
“There’s different choreography and quality of movement that they must be taught. I teach them the techniques, how to dance and how to execute things. But they know that everyone must pull their own weight.
Instead of being a challenge, she finds the process rewarding “because of the freedom I get to be creative; the support that I get from the parents; and the mutual respect with the kids. I don’t have to force them to work hard, and they are quite literally the hardest-working girls I have ever worked with.”
Competition or not, the dance team practices year-round and as competitions get closer, they sometimes train for eight hours straight, apart from extra practices on the weekend.
Ava Markovich, a senior at West Ranch, and the team’s senior captain, has been on the team for four years. She believes cooperation and mutual understanding make them a strong team.
“Having a strong coach and seniors is important. Coming from a captain’s point of view it’s our job to make sure the team is working hard and stay positive. We have to keep reminding ourselves that it’s about teamwork, we’d rather win for ourselves than win a title which is more of a rewards for our hard work.”
Samantha Jones, a senior, is the team’s head captain. The team’s biggest strength, she says, is their connection with each other.
“Without that connection we wouldn’t have been able to get where we did. We are always with each other. We dance 20 hours a week. If there’s ever a problem, we are open with each other, including team discussions and we make sure everyone feels included. If there’s an issue, we fix it immediately.”
The team, she says, has an amazing coach. “I think if we had anyone else, we wouldn’t have accomplished. She is kind and caring about each student.”
Thanks to their hard work and teamwork, West Ranch dance is officially the best dance team across all 50 states.