The A-D-M Dance Team, a fine arts program at A-D-M High School, doesn't always have time to hold a regularly-scheduled team practice, but the girls on the team are still finding success at competitions and hope to have even more at the State Dance Competition in Des Moines on Dec. 1 and 2.
At the State Solo Competition, held at Newton High School early in November, three A-D-M dancers competed and came away with high honors. Cari Walton, a freshman won the State Title for Class 4, Emily Wilkerson, a junior, received a Division I rating and Dakota Jones, also a junior, received a Division II rating and was close to a Division I rating.
A-D-M Dance Team coach Tara Leete said that any work that was done for the State Solo Competition was done in addition to the work they did for their team routines.
"They've had to stay after, they've had to work on their own on top of their other routines," Leete said. "Two of them actually take dance at a studio, so they've put in studio time."
Cari, who attended the State Solo Competition as a freshman, said she wasn't sure of what to expect and didn't expect to put up the kind of score that she did. She had been to the competition before but only to watch the bigger schools.
"I didn't know what the competition was going to be like," Cari said.
She said she was a little worried about what reaction the judges might have to her routine since it was a little bit of a different style and told the story of an ice sickle that is melting and then refreezes.
"Some people may not see that," Cari said. "I had, like, skills in it but it was different than a lot of the other girls and I think that might have actually helped me because a lot of the judges really liked it."
Lori Walton, Cari's mother, said that Cari is "an actress while she dances."
Cari goes to school at Van Meter and dances for the A-D-M Dance Team, but says that the girls on the team have opened up and accepted her and were happy for her after she won the title.
"They've just been really welcoming with that and it's been great," Cari said. "The teams' been really nice and everything."
Wilkerson's routine was choreographed by Leete while the other two had their routines for the Solo Competition choreographed by instructors at their studios. Leete also choreographed the jazz routine they will perform at the State Competition this weekend while the pom routine and the lyrical routine were choreographed by helpers that she brought in.
They also sent four girls, Wilkerson, Jones, Amber Gehring, a freshman, and Danielle Selover, a sophomore, to audition in Ames for the All-Iowa Honor Dance Team. Selover and Wilkerson were two of 254 in the state that get selected for the team.
In addition to competition and dancing success, there is also a scholarship that dance team members in the state of Iowa can apply for. A-D-M senior Alexis Stine was one of 90 applicants in the state and made the final 20.
She had an interview with judges at the State Solo competition and will know if she is one of the four winners at the State Competition this Thursday and Friday.
"It's pretty big honor for her just to make that elite 20 group," Leete said. "There's a lot of people out of the whole state, so hopefully we see how that all turns out."
Leete also said that the Tigers will be awarded for their combined academic grade point average during the State Competition.
The members of the A-D-M Dance Team are also involved in other activities, such as sports or cheer leading, so finding time when they can all practice together is a struggle at times.
"We are kind of pressed for time so the girls know that it's all or nothing," Leete said. "We're kind of in for the long haul."
Cari said that they are starting to get more and more practices in recently because of how close they are to competition time. She said that as a result she has taken a break from her solo work.
"That's (solo work) not the number one priority," Cari said. "Because right now we're getting ready for State so we have to be ready for that."
Leete said that it's especially hard during football season when the cheerleaders are involved during the football games at the same time as the dance team but that everyone is pretty flexible and makes time to practice with the dance team.
"We kind of work our schedule around their things," Leete said. "Just the other day we sat down and we looked at our calendars for the next... month and tried to set as much (practice time) as we could."
She said that they record video during rehearsals and when they are learning new routines so that those who miss practice due to other practices and activities can watch the video and practice on their own.
Walton said that after missing a practice, they kind of just have to "catch up and go along" when returning to working with the team.
"I just jump right in as soon as possible and get in there and dance with all the girls," Cari said. "The girls help me out and everything like that."
While Leete does have a handbook and a list of rules that she wants them to abide by to be a member of the team, she also understands that she has to be flexible.
"I have to be flexible, otherwise I wouldn't have a team," Leete said.
Building the program
This year the Dance Team at A-D-M has 12 members, which is double from last year. There are three members this year that don't dance and have taken on managerial roles with the team, however.
Last year, for the first time, she hosted a "Dancers' Experience Workshop" for those in grades 6-12 who might be interested in joining the Dance Team and to get the word out about the program.
Those who participated got to see what Dance Team is all about and got to see how Leete would run a practice.
"Some people don't even know there's a dance team," Leete said.
While the school does give financial support for team-related things, such as entry into the State Competition and uniforms, but for State Solo Competition, costumes and anything else, they are on their own to raise the funds.
Leete said that the Dance Team, in the last few years, has put themselves on the map. She said that she is hearing that the A-D-M Booster Club is saying good things about them.
The A-D-M Dance Team will have three performances over the two days at the State Dance Competition. They will perform their Jazz routine at 6:04 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday, Dec. 1, their Pom routine at 8:36 a.m. at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday, Dec. 2 and their Lyrical routine at 3:52 p.m. at Hy-Vee Hall on Friday as well.