NORTH SIOUX CITY -- Inside a rehearsal space at the 5678! Dance Studio on Monday night, instructor Haley Hutton put a group of younger students through their paces during a strenuous jazz routine set to the theme of the movie "Fame."
The high school-aged dancers were more than up to Hutton's challenging choreography.
Indeed, the 16 dancers from the 5678! Dance Studio placed in the top 10 in two categories at the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF) Dance Worlds Competition, held April 27-29 at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Florida.
According to dance studio owner Melissa Strong, this is the fourth consecutive year that 5678! students earned the right to compete in the contest, which attracts dancers from around the world.
However, this is the first year that the school's senior contemporary dance team (made up of students ages 14-18) and open coed jazz dance team (made up of students age 14 to adult) placed so well. The senior team placed 10th, and the open team placed fourth.
"The students truly deserved the accolades," Strong said, after the team's return. "The Worlds is always very competitive and our kids gave their all."
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Literally competing on the world stage was a new experience for Dakota Valley High School ninth-grader Audrey Hoekstra.
"It was interesting seeing how dancers from the world do their routines," she said.
While this was Audrey's first time at the Dance Worlds Competition, it was actually Molly Saltzman's fourth trip to the contest.
"You really have to stay focused at all times," Molly, a Bishop Heelan Catholic High School 12th-grader, said of the competition, which has ballet, jazz and contemporary categories. "There's so much to do and not a lot of time to do it in."
For Dakota Valley High School 10th-grader Freddie Linden, large-scale competitions allow him to see other male dancers perform.
"I'm the only guy (on the 5678! senior and open teams), so it's fun seeing other guys from other groups involved in dance," he explained.
Actually, Freddie had to sue the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) to become a member of his high school's competitive dance team.
In 2018, the SDHSAA voted to allow both boys and girls to participate in the sport of competitive dance. That overturned a longstanding rule that forbid mixed-gender teams.
According to Brooklyn Mace, a Dakota Valley 11th-grader, dancers don't have "off" seasons like other athletes.
"Our season never really ends," she said. "We may be able to take a couple weeks off. Outside of that, we're always practicing."
Which is fine by Heelan's Molly Saltzman, who said she took up dancing at age 2.
"I really think dance has given me the discipline and confidence in other parts of my life," she said.
That's important to Strong, who said many of her students take dance classes as many as five days a week.
"The students that we have want to be here and want to excel," she said. "They deserve to be recognized."
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