Stella Neville
Philomath junior Stella Neville soars through the air while the Shining Stars perform during Saturday’s Dancing With the Stars competition. The home team finished runner-up in the 4A/3A/2A/1A division. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Taking in the opportunity to dance in front of family, friends and fans on Saturday afternoon, the Philomath High School dance and drill squad only provided a taste of what’s to come by the time the state championships arrive in about seven weeks.

The squad’s routine lasted under 2 minutes — less than half of what it’s duration will be at state on March 18.

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“We only learned this choreography a week ago because of COVID exposures and so they’ve done a really good job,” 17th-year coach Lori Haslam said following Saturday’s Dancing With the Stars competition. “Plus, we have about 3-1/2 more minutes of a hip-hop (routine) … It’s going to be good this year.”

Routines at state can run from 3 to 5 minutes.

Philomath’s team captain, senior Ella Kelley, thinks the squad did well for its first competition of the winter season.

PHS senior Ella Kelley performs during an exhibition of this year’s all-state dance routine. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“I think we all came off the floor feeling that excitement like we’re ready to do this,” said Kelley, who is part of the DDCA all-state competition this year. “We’re ready to keep going this whole season and just improve a lot. It felt really good today.”

Dancing With the Stars is a full-day event with dancers of various ages. High school teams competed during an afternoon session. Perennial power Valley Catholic won the competition’s grand champion trophy with the highest overall score.

Breaking down the divisions, Philomath finished second behind Valley Catholic and ahead of Grant Union in 4A/3A/2A/1A. Clackamas won 6A and Corvallis won 5A but those were the only schools in those divisions.

The Shining Stars performed for the first time for the winter season on Saturday. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

In the show division, Clackamas took first place and Rex Putnam was second among the three schools entered.

“I’m really happy with our performance,” Haslam said. “We got second place next to a first-place team that is a state champion over and over again.”

The Saturday competition attracted a decent crowd with spectators required to wear masks. Dancing in front of an audience gives a boost to the dancers and adds an element of excitement to the event.

“It’s really nice that we could have spectators — we were kind of on the fence about that so it was really nice to see just everyone here,” Kelley said. “A lot of people from Philomath usually don’t come because competitions are far away and so it was nice to see everyone’s families here.”

Like other sports, dance involves a commitment several months out of the year. The athletes who compete put in the hours to stay in top condition.

“We condition a lot, we practice a lot,” Kelley said. “It’s kind of like breaking down sections into smaller pieces and just really drilling those out but also, building a bond with your teammates goes into that because if you don’t trust your teammates, it’s hard to perform together.”

The Philomath dance program has lower numbers than what has been typically seen in past years. One could venture to guess that a smaller squad places more pressure on the individuals with “more eyes” on them. But Kelley, who has been with the dance program all four years of high school, sees the smaller numbers as an advantage.

PHS dance team (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“It’s really nice to have a smaller team because I feel like I can connect more with everybody on my team,” Kelley said. “I feel like we’re a much closer group … and it just means we have to work harder. But you know, that pushes us further, so I think it is a really good thing.”

Philomath had last competed on Dec. 4 in the Dance Drill Coaches Association fall championships at Woodburn. The Shining Stars qualified in three of four genres in which it had competed — contemporary, hip-hop and novelty (or character).

The fall state championships are not separated by divisions with schools from 1A to 6A competing against one another. Philomath placed fifth in hip-hop (15.44 score, outstanding rating), seventh in novelty (12.11 score, excellent rating) and eighth in contemporary (15.11 score, outstanding rating).

Overall, Philomath placed seventh in the all-division competition.

To qualify in a genre for the fall state championships, a team needs to finish first or second at a fall competition and have a qualifying score. 

“For the fall season … we usually pick like four different types of genres that we want to do and then we just work through it — making sure those dancers are super clean,” Kelley said.

The Oregon State University dance team performed two numbers during an exhibition. The Western Oregon University dance team also performed. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

The Oregon School Activities Association championships in the spring features one dance category. There is also an all-class show division, which Philomath formerly competed in up until 2018.

In addition, state features a drill-down competition. Dancing With the Stars staged drill-downs on Saturday for novice and advanced dancers with the top 10 in each receiving medals. PHS sophomore Jadyn McMullen was a top-10 performer.