east high dance team

Sioux City East High School Black Raiders were named 2018's Character Counts dance team of the year during the Iowa State Dance & Drill Team Association (ISDTA) High School Competition, held Nov. 30 in Des Moines.

SIOUX CITY -- Ashley Flynn, 18, is used to getting double-takes after telling people she loves chemistry.

"Chemistry is usually considered a class you're required to take and not something you enjoy learning about," the East High School 12th grader acknowledged. "But I can truly say that I love chemistry."

Next year, Flynn will be going to Minnesota State University, in Mankato, Minnesota, with an ambition to, someday, become a high school chemistry teacher.

Plus she'll continued to pursue another equally important passion: dance.

"Science is important to me but I've been dancing since the first grade," Flynn said. "Dancing will always be a big part of my life."

Flynn was one of the 43 East students who participated in the Iowa State Dance and Drill Team Association (ISDTA) High School Dance Team Championships, held Nov. 29 and 30, in Des Moines. The team was awarded first place in show production, second place in co-ed, fourth place in lyrical and fifth place in jazz.

"Plus we got a seventh place finish in our hip-hop routine," Flynn noted with a laugh. "I may not be the most natural pop-and-locker but I'm getting better at it."

While dance coach Kayla Kellen is pleased with the team's state competition ranking, she's more elated that her students were also recognized for their distinguished academic honors as well as for outstanding community service.

"When our East High Black Raiders was named the Character Counts! Team of the Year, I just lost it," Kellen said of the honor bestowed upon the team by Drake University's Robert D. and Billy Ray Center. "The other awards demonstrated the team was made up of good dancers. The Character Counts! honors showed they are also good kids."

That's important to Kellen since her team's average Grade Point Average (GPA) hovers around 3.8.

"You have to show character in order to come to school at 5:30 in the morning and rehearse dance routines," she said. "You have to be willing to work extra hard in order to fit in extracurricular activities along with a full slate of classes."

"Somehow, my team fits everything into their day," Kellen added.

Like Flynn, Kellen began taking dance lessons at a very young age. 

"Surprisingly, I was actually on East's dance team when I was a student," Kellen said. "Becoming East's dance team coach means coming full circle for me."

Over the years, she said dance as a sport is gaining more relevance.

"For a long time, dance wasn't given the same prominence as activities like basketball," Kellen said. "Anyone who has had any dance training know we work out as hard as any other athlete."

Flynn nodded her head in agreement.

"I think having guys on the dance team gives it a sportier feel," she said. "It helps."

A few weeks after the ISDTA competition, Flynn admitted this will be a bittersweet year.

"This is my last year on a high school dance team," she said. "That thought is starting to set in."

Still Flynn is excited about her future.

"People think it's weird that I'm into science as well as the arts but I think they totally connect," she said. "In chemistry, you learn about the Periodic Table and, in dance, you learn about the pointed toe."

"Both can be important if you want them to be," Flynn added.

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