MARSHALL - Overall, said the Southwest School of Dance students, competition can be a good bonding experience.
At the most recent regional competition, dancers shared dinner together at a pizza place at the Mall of America, the older dancers presented the younger competitors with granola bars along with a note of encouragement and dancers even prayed together before going onstage for one of the competition pieces.
"I think we really worked well together," said dancer Sophia Louwagie.
Every dance the Southwest School of Dance brought to regional competition Feb. 24-25 in Minneapolis qualified for nationals and the studio earned 25 first place wins. seven second place finishes and one third place.
Isaac Marks and Megan Kock qualified for junior Dancer of the Year, while Rebecca Sammons, Bridget Marron, Claire Anderson, Breanna Ahmann, Amylynn Thovson, Emma Thordson and Katlyn Bartz qualified for senior Dancer of the Year.
"It was a good experience for us as dancers with the workshops," said Emma Matthys. Besides competition, dancers also got to take part in workshops of various dance types, such as ballet, jazz and contemporary.
"It was a big competition too, probably one of the biggest ones (we've been to)," Anderson said. For example, the Robbins School of LeMars, Iowa, brought 72 dancers to regionals. Altogether roughly 220 dancers from 15 studios took part in regionals.
February's competition also marked the first time Lauren Noriega got her first-ever first place win for a solo. She performed a hiphop dance to "Party on 5th Avenue."
"It was a surprise," Noriega said. Her fellow dancers said that Noriega didn't think she would get first. "I had trouble with it, but I kept up the energy. It was scary going onstage and seeing all the people."
Noriega said her sister had showed her the song before she decided to use it for a solo. Ahmann choreographed Noriega's solo and also competed for the young choreographer award.
"It was a funky song," Noriega said.
Kock made junior Dancer of the Year for the first time.
"It was kind of surprising, but not really," Kock said.
One of the memorable group dances was to Tom Waits' "Whistling Through the Graveyard," which had gravestones that said things like "Tap to Heaven" and "Dead on My Feet" and coffins, the dancers said.
"All the judges thought it was really funny," Matthys said. It also was one of the school's first place wins.
Anderson did a solo to Claude Debussy's "Serenade For the Doll," a song she'd listen to often on her iPod.
"The first time I heard it, I envisioned dancing to it," Anderson said.
The dancers also noted another group dance "Saving," which Elizabeth Louwagie's character has cancer and couldn't do anything because she was weak and was in a wheelchair. Toward the end of the dance, she gains strength.
Noriega said director Charlotte Wendel chooses songs that can be happy and other pieces that can be sad.
"It helps us with emotions," Noriega said.
"I love that dance," Matthys said about "Saving." "That's my all-time favorite dance to watch."
The dancers said it can be hard to keep their emotions to the song.
"You have to zap them and suck them into the dance," Wendel said.
"That's what we've been getting better on is our facials," said Emma Cole.
Precision: Junior division - Mandolin Concerto; Senior division - Concerto
High score: Solo - Rebecca Sammons, third runner up; Solo, male - Isaac Marks, third runner up; Duo/trio - Back to the Earth, first runner up; Junior small group - Mandolin Concerto, first runner up; Senior small group - Concerto, first runner up, Into the Wild, winner; Large group - White Blank Pages, second runner up; Line - Paladio, second runner up, Somewhere Only We Know, winner; Production - Marco Polo, second runner up, Schertzo, first runner up.