Shining Stars squad finds way to shine above year’s challenges

When Philomath High’s dancers took the floor for the state championships last weekend, a fan-filled Memorial Coliseum did not await them. The stands and hallways were not filled with counterparts from other schools competing for the top prize. Philomath’s own squad was much smaller than usual, a pandemic-influenced trend seen with most extracurricular activities.

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Instead, the Shining Stars performed hip-hop and contemporary dance routines in their own school gymnasium. The bleachers had a limited number of spectators because of COVID-19 precautions in place for an event lasting less than 30 minutes.

But it didn’t matter. The girls had smiles on their faces for the opportunity to compete in a sport they love in front of any kind of audience, no matter how small, especially after last year’s state championships were canceled.

Rachel Billings, the lone senior on the eight-student squad, said the May 1 event that it’s been a special year sharing the floor with teammates who care about dancing as much as she does.

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“It’s been pretty difficult but I think all of the girls that stayed on the dance team are the ones who really wanted to be here, which has made it such a great experience for all of us,” said Billings, who has been involved with PHS dance since her freshman year. “It’s been a great dynamic this year. … It’s just everyone enjoying themselves and they are there because they love to dance.”

Ella Kelley
Ella Kelley performs during the team’s hip-hop routine. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Junior Ella Kelley, who has also been dancing since her freshman year, had a similar perspective.

“It’s a little different but I feel like we’re a little closer, we’re all like one group,” Kelley said. “So I think we’ve all become close friends because of how small our team is.”

Billings and Kelley shared captain duties for a very young squad — the roster includes four freshmen and two sophomores.

Rachel Billings
Rachel Billings performs a move during the contemporary dance routine. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“Some of these girls, it’s their first year so they’ve never really had an audience before and this is the biggest audience we’ve had so it’s really pushed us in a different way,” Kelley said. “I think we all feed off the energy of the crowd and it makes us dance better.”

Kelley said there’s a certain degree of pressure that comes along with being a captain on a young team, but she had nothing but good things to say about the other dancers.

“I like growing with people, improving my skills and helping other people improve their skills,” she said.

Lori Haslam serves as head coach of the Shining Stars with Kayley Kildea assisting.

Billings, who only minutes after the event had ended was participating for the Warriors in the high jump at Clemens Field, said it’s been weird with most of the competitions done virtually.

“We had one competition (besides state) where we did have people, but other than that, it’s mostly been virtual this year,” she said. “Dance is very much a sport where you feed off the energy of the people around you and it’s hard to build off energy that isn’t there.”

PHS Shining Stars
The PHS Shining Stars perform during the May 1 state championships organized by the Dance Drill Coaches Association of Oregon. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The limited number of folks who were on hand showed their support for the team members and cheered their performances. Sitting in the center at the top of the bleachers were three judges who had traveled to Philomath for the in-person, culminating week performance.

Results were expected to be released this weekend.

“We did state this year similarly to how we usually do our fall competition set, which is doing genres of dance as opposed to having a set and then doing it in your division,” Billings explained.

Haslam brought the dancers, a few cheerleaders in attendance and a few others out on the floor to perform the “grand finale” routine for a fun end to the event.

The Shining Stars and guests perform the “grand finale” during the May 1 state championships event at Philomath High School. (Video by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Joining Billings and Kelley on the Shining Stars roster this season were sophomores Morgan Gross and Stella Neville, and freshmen Abigail Workman, Alexa Eckhold, Jadyn McMullen and Kayli Blake.

“I just love the team and I really enjoy dancing,” Billings said. “It’s something I’ve come to love a lot.”


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