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West dance team struts its stuff at state contest

Success comes as result of dedication

Feb. 27, 2013

The Wauwatosa West Trojan Dance team members aren't cheerleaders.

Hip-hop moves, handstands, spins and a male dancer separate the group of close-knit competitors. As a team, they recently wrapped up a season that saw them secure a regional championship and two slots, including a second-place finish in hip hop, in the state competition in La Crosse earlier this month.

The dancers have a history of success in competitions, having taken second place at the regional competition the last four years and placing 16th in the national competition in 2010. This year they made a double-placement at state in hip hop and poms dance routines, a difficult title to claim due to the vast difference between styles.

Smashed stereotypes

The team members, coached by Anne Shaw, prefer to separate themselves not only from hip-hop dance stereotypes but from gender stereotypes as well.

"For other teams, it's a lot of booty shaking," coach Anne Shaw said. She added that while the Trojans respect the other team's styles, she thinks the typically female dance moves, like booty shaking or hair whipping, aren't challenging enough for her team members.

The 23-member team starts practicing for in May with break dance moves like stalls and head spins, and other choreography.

Jed Violanda, a junior, is the only male member of the team and has won several awards for his performance. Moving from a private school to a public school in third grade, Violanda taught himself dance as a way to make friends.

His real passion is for hip-hop dancing, so much so that he doesn't participate in the cheerleading-theme poms routines. Violanda breaks stereotypes even in his style of dance, focusing more on lyrical expression and fluid movements.

"Nowadays you just see dancers try to hit beats and go really hard," he said. "I try to make my style a bit different."

The team sets its routine early in the year and practices hitting the choreography perfectly, a task they admit is difficult due to the size of the team.

The hip-hop choreography is technical, Shaw explained. "With hip-hop, people don't realize that there are specific techniques and certain ways things need to be done."

A team game

Hitting moves in perfect synchronization involves two things: constant practice and team cohesion. The members practice throughout the year to perfect their muscle memory, but they also work hard on pregame rituals and exercises to keep them working together.

One such pregame ritual involves a magical potion the dancers call juju juice. The juju is actually roll-on peppermint oil the team applies to their wrists, which they rub together to pump themselves up for a competition.

"As they dance they get a whiff of that peppermint oil and it keeps them from getting in their heads too much," Shaw said.

Getting each other stoked and supporting each other is easy when you have a team that describes itself as family. When Shaw started four years ago, there were 15 new members and seven returnees. They were all new and worried about their new coach.

One of the 15, senior Marielia Manzanet-Schmidt, said the team melted its worries by forming a solid foundation and support structure for itself and the coach.

"It's not just the seniors that bond," she said. "We try to bring the freshmen and everyone along to include them. We've been there, and we know how it is."

Shaw is important not only as a coach, but as an anchor for her team. When Violanda gets what he calls choreoblock, he'll look at YouTube videos, sometimes with Shaw as a guiding hand.

Shaw also invests heavily in her team, spending hours outside of practices with members, encouraging them. She laments that she can't encourage them through the tougher parts of their routines while they're performing, so she stays steadfast in her pride and trust in her team.

"Usually toward the end of the dance, some of the moms and I are in tears," she said. "They're my babies, and they're doing so well and I'm so proud of them. I can't tell you how proud I am of them all the time. They're ridiculous human beings."

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