Wednesday night, the team gathered in our seniors’ room at the hotel to exchange gifts for our “secret Nationals buddy.” While we were in the middle of gift giving, our coaches returned from a coaches meeting ashen-faced. Something was seriously wrong.
We stopped our gift giving and Cara delivered the bad news.
“They changed the rules this morning. The fly is illegal.”
Now, I had been expecting something more along the lines of, Nationals is cancelled, or We got disqualified judging by the look on Cara’s face. So the news that the trick we had been working on for weeks (at the expense of our arms muscles and wrists) had been declared illegal was not so bad, relatively speaking.
Still though, this meant making a major change to our choreography the night before Prelims. The fly being illegal meant we could no longer have it in our routine.
We gathered in the hall as Cara showed us what she wanted to replace the fly with. There was a a hint of panic in the air as we mentally erased the fly from our routine and tried to insert this new trick into our memory. One by one, we practiced the new trick in the hallway so Cara knew we could do it.
We went to bed that night not having tried the trick together or even knowing if it would work as well as the fly did, but there was nothing that could be done until we had our practice time in the Ocean Center the next morning.
At 7:30 am Thursday morning, my alarm went off signaling the start of the day we’d all been working towards since January: Prelims.
The set-up of Nationals requires a bit of explanation. Prelims are pretty straight forward. Each team performs their routine and after a few more teams go, a group of scores is announced. From each division, the top half of the teams will advance straight to finals (ex: if there are ten teams in your division, top five move onto finals from prelims). The remaining teams compete in the Challenge Cup which is a little bit like a wild-card round.
In Challenge Cup, the remaining teams perform again (later that night after Prelims) for a new score. The winner of the Challenge Cup also advances to finals. It’s a harder route, but it brings you to the same destination.
So, Thursday morning, I jumped out of bed and began working on getting my hair back into a slick bun. We were doing zig-zag parts in everyone’s hair with rhinestones for a little extra bling on the stage. Since we all had to be uniform, I was doing everyone’s parts.
When everyone’s hair was done we pulled on clothes and made our way to the Ocean Center stage to watch our cheerleaders perform. On the way, I stopped for vanilla kreme #2!
We were excited to go see the cheerleaders because having an enthusiastic fan base makes such a difference when you’re performing. To see that you have people there cheering you on is great motivation, so we wanted to do all we could to help the cheerleaders do well! Plus, I really wanted to see the routine they’d been working on for so long!
The cheerleaders were first in their division to go and they did great! They had a ton of energy and their dance sections especially were really tight and clean. It was a huge blast watching them perform and seeing all their hard work come together! They performed later that night in Challenge Cup and came in third. Even though they didn’t advance to finals the next day they rocked it and represented our school really well. The cheerleaders also returned the favor and supported us at our Prelims performance which was a great motivator. The cheerleaders hadn’t been to Nationals since before I was a freshmen so it was a new experience to have them there cheering us on!
After we watched the cheerleaders, we returned to the hotel to finish getting ready. We added rhinestones to our hair and our coach, Cara, did our makeup so we all looked the same. We glued on false eyelashes and rhinestones around our eyes. Up close we looked pretty crazy, but on the stage the makeup really makes our facials pop.
When we were all done and ready we congregated in our hallway and trekked to Peabody Auditorium where dance prelims were being held. We wanted to go see our choreographer, T.J’s, team perform at prelims before our practice time at 1pm.
T.J’s team was amazing. They competed in Division I open (which means they can do any style of dance and don’t have to stick to the rules of the dance category like we do: 30 seconds each of jazz, pom and hip hop) and were absolutely amazing. They have flawless technique and their dance was so clean. Every dancer was so fierce and they attacked every move. Later we found out that they scored a 9.5 which is really high, even for open where scores tend to be slightly higher than in the dance division. It was great inspiration to watch them go before our practice time.
At 1pm it was time to go to the big warehouse in the Ocean Center again and do our rotation on the practice floor. 12 minute stretch, 12 minutes to turn and 12 minutes to run the dance, from there we had 15 minutes backstage at Peabody until the moment of truth: our prelims performance.
When our practice time began I started to get in my zone. When I’m nervous I get really quiet. I sit and stretch and focus on the dance and don’t talk much. I nailed all my tricks in practice and went through the dance as much as I could when Cara asked us to do it full-out (I sprained my ankle last week so was taking it easy unless we were on that stage – not taking any chances!). We were finally able to really try our new trick, and to our great relief, it worked. It wasn’t as impressive as the fly, but it was easier, and most importantly, it was a legal move.
Before I knew it, we were backstage at Peabody applying the eye-black to our hands that we smear on our faces at the beginning of the pom section. We called my dad for a motivational speech and he told us we needed that champion swagga and to make him proud.
Fully motivated, we headed backstage to the practice room. One more chance to get out the nerves, but I knew I was past that point of whipping out any more fouettes before our actual performance. We listened to Lisa, our captain, give us a pep talk, then it was time to wait in the wings.
My stomach was twisting as we watched the team before us out on the floor. We watched as one girl’s shoe flew off in the middle of a performance, a sure deduction that could hurt their chances to go to finals.
Suddenly I was hearing the announcer say our town and school name, Lisa was counting 5, 6, 7, 8 and we were walking out onto the floor.
The first beat of our music reverberated through my entire body, I smiled to myself, this was it.
Through pom I hardly remember anything, just that I remembered the pom part that got changed and that I was making the most ridiculous facials. Then, when I came down from the toe-touch straddle, my concentration broke. As I pulled my legs around, my heel hit on someone near me and the back of my shoe slipped off my foot.
There was no way to fix it, but I couldn’t let it fall off and risk the deduction. Through the entire hip hop section I was distracted trying to keep my shoe on my foot. I did all the choreography, and managed to somehow cling to my shoe, but I know it wasn’t the best I could have done it.
Regardless, I still felt great on the stage and was really excited when we finished. We got off the stage and found our coach who told us that the dance looked good. Now it was a waiting game.
We were the last team in our division (Division II dance) to go so we knew what score we had to beat in order to make it into the top half and advance straight to finals: 8.727. We waited anxiously for dances to end and for the announcer to say our score.
“We have a new set of scores…”
I held my breath.
We got an 8.6. It wasn’t enough to bring us straight through to finals. We would be fighting for the last spot in Finals at the Challenge Cup.