PERFORM  — Members of the Kokomo High School dance team joined forces with Logansport’s dance team for a special group performance.
Herald Photo / Jenn Goad
PERFORM — Members of the Kokomo High School dance team joined forces with Logansport’s dance team for a special group performance. Herald Photo / Jenn Goad

In its three years, the Kokomo Middle and High School dance teams have experienced great growth, not only in ability but also size. 

When the program began, roughly 15 middle school students and 15 high school students chose to take part in the new class and team. Today, there are so many students wanting to participate that instructor Gina Curl said there most likely will be enough high schoolers to have a varsity and junior varsity team next year.

“We needed them to buy into the program. We had the regular fusion class, and that has taken off, too. I think both seeing the performances and the kids bringing friends are helping the program grow,” Curl said. “This community fosters the arts so much, and so does the school corporation. They were ready for this to happen. They had the music. They had visual art. They needed a dance team.”

Students can participate in the Fusion class that feeds into the team, or they can take part in it as an extra-curricular activity, although Curl said most of the middle school students choose the class. They practice every day of the week and most Saturdays, she said.

Through the program, the biggest impact Curl sees is the kids opening up to one another and to the dancers they compete against.

“A lot of these kids were really shy the first time I got them. The confidence I see in them is translating into other things. I see them staying off social media more. They’re dancing, interacting with others. They all help each other. It translates into self-confidence. It translates into a family,” said Curl.

Emily Riggle, a member of all three of the competitive middle school dance teams, said the programs have helped bring her out of her shell.

 “Once I got on the dance team and saw everyone, I became more outgoing. I wanted to do more social things,” she said.

Three-year dance team member Ava Briggs said she had tried several sports and couldn’t find one she really enjoyed. When dance was offered, she decided to try it and said it was something that she finally liked.

Members of the dance teams can try out for three different types of dance teams within the program. In middle school, there is a pom team, jazz team, and hip-hop. For high school (this year), there is the hip-hop team and jazz team. The students compete and perform routines for those teams, and some have the option of performing in solos, duos, or ensemble routines, as long as they meet the technical requirements set by Curl.

“The kids have to meet a certain skill level to do the small-group routine. I have paired up with Kari (Neuhauser) at Dance Elite, and the kids take a technique class. Once they meet the technical requirements, they can be paired off (for the other routines),” she said.

The teams will compete in an upcoming state tournament. Two of the high school dancers, Lexie Hall and Jonathon Ying, already have qualified for Semi-State.

Regardless of what routines the students participate in, they all are considered to be one family that supports each other.

“There are a bunch of different personalities, so you can talk to anyone about how you are feeling. They’ll understand because they might have the same problems,” said Sophia Wyman, member of the middle school team.

“We don’t have to be scared to talk to anybody. The coaches always let us know we can talk to them about anything. It’s very open,” added middle school teammate Victoria Fuentes.

Briggs said being a part of the team also has opened up her social circle.

“I’ve met so many new people. Exchange students have been part of the team throughout the years,” she said. 

Curl agreed, saying that dance has given them a family and an educational outlet. 

“I expect them to do way more than just dance, too. They have to learn how to write ‘thank you’ notes. They are expected to attend charity events. I’m a big advocate for being polite and using manners. We encompass all of that,” said Curl. “Here, they have dance, and they have a family. The kids who have anxiety are seeing that recede. It doesn’t matter who you are – shape, size. None of that matters. It’s about unity. You are one person out there.”

The expectations set by Curl trickle down to the students in the way they conduct themselves at practice, in public, and at competition. The Indiana High School Dance Association includes sportsmanship awards at each competition to help foster positive behavior between the dancers and teams. The dancers are encouraged to cheer on each other, as dance can make the performers feel vulnerable during a performance, especially the solos, duos, ensembles, and jazz routines.

“If you are not a good sport, it is looked down upon. These kids cheer for each other. A lot of doors are opened for the kids, and we want to foster good relationships with each other,” Curl said.