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Liberty Dance Team wins state

Eyes regional and national titles in debut season
The Liberty High School Dance Team celebrates their victory at the Iowa State Dance Drill Team Association event. In its debut season, the team won First Place in both Class X Pom and Class II Contemporary, as well as Judges’ Choice in the latter category on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The girls are preparing for regionals on Jan. 14, in Davenport, and nationals on Feb. 17 and 18 in Orlando. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– It was an unexpected victory.
“The competition is tough. The bar has been raised in our competition in the last five years quite high,” said Kathy Enyart, Executive Director for the Iowa State Dance Drill Team Association (ISDTA). “So for them to come as a new face, that’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment.”
On Thursday, Nov. 30 and Friday, Dec. 1, the Liberty High School Dance Team, in their debut season, won First Place in both Class X Pom and Class II Contemporary, as well as Judges’ Choice in the latter category’s first year at the state dance competition. This followed on the heels of Liberty’s Oct. 22 First Place Overall Grand Champion victory at the University of Iowa Spirit Spectacular at the Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“Here was a team, some with a lot of experience and some with pretty much no experience, and they came together and had this awesome accomplishment,” marveled Head Coach Katie Melloy.
Liberty High’s premiere dance team features a roster of alumna from various schools and backgrounds, including girls possessing no prior dance team experience. As such, the team of nine freshmen, three sophomores and three juniors wasn’t predicted to be instant championship material.
“Only two of us had ever been on dance team before, and I wasn’t one of them,” Josie Anderson confessed with a snicker.
A former student of West High, Anderson, a junior, had about a year of studio experience at Développé Dance Company, in Kalona, along with a broad background in other athletics.
But what was anticipated to be little more than a warm-up season held far greater promise than the team could have imagined.
“It’s really crazy– we weren’t really expecting it,” remarked junior Gabriella Aguirre. A former student of Clear Creek Amana, Aguirre’s dance background is studio-based much like Anderson’s.
“We were just kind of hoping we would try our best, leave everything on the dance floor and give it all we have. We have this amazing chemistry as a team. I think that really showed on the dance floor, and the judges saw it.”
The largest state dance competition in the U.S., the ISDTA hosted 270 competing high schools and 24 colleges with nearly 5,000 participants total. Students performed 602 routines over the course of two days with about 15,000 people in attendance.
Strong leadership proved an essential ingredient to the Liberty girls’ success. Head Coach Katie Melloy, renown for her success at West High, is backed by Assistant Coach Madison Vernon, a third grade teacher at Alexander Elementary; and Rylee Villhauer, a student at University of Iowa and dance instructor at Nolte Academy in Coralville.
“They have their own lives and then they dedicate tons of time to these girls and believe in them, so it’s really cool to have them in the school,” lauded Melloy.
Veteran choreographer Jenna Delashmutt rounds out the staff, having provided a blueprint for the girls’ dance routines.
Although the team is in its infancy, one can’t deny the sweat equity that’s paved the way for their success. And with state titles in-hand, the squad is riding this momentum by training even harder for their next challenge.
“We work an average of three days a week for about two and a half hours. But we do add-on practices, so in November they could go up to five days a week,” explained Melloy.
“We all have something that we’re really, really good at, whether it’s turning or being really flexible or being acrobatic in some sort of way. It just depends on the studio that we came from or what gym you did gymnastics before,” said Aguirre.
“We all come together as a team, and the coaches find a unique way to use all the things that we’re good at and make a routine out of it.”
While dance often finds itself overshadowed by more conventional sports, the Liberty Dance Team is eager to emphasis the athletic devotion it requires.
“I’ve played seven other sports, all contact sports, and dance is probably the hardest sport I’ve ever done,” said Anderson.
“We sweat, we bleed, we cry like every other sport, and I don’t think dance team gets recognized as much as all the other sports,” insisted Aguirre.
“Lots of girls want to do this now, and it’s as competitive as football, baseball, basketball or volleyball.”
Melloy reinforced this, describing it as extremely athletic and citing the team’s rigorous schedule which includes performance P.E. during daytime class hours.
“It takes every person on that floor working together. You have the team aspect; you have the athletic aspect, you have the competitive aspect,” she added
Despite being an assortment of students from various schools and backgrounds, the opportunity to work together in celebration of their passion has formed a strong bond among teammates.“They all take really good care of each other. That camaraderie is not always the case,” said Melloy of the new team. “They didn’t know each other, and now here they are, really good friends doing these great things together.”
Anderson said, while it was hard leaving her previous school, she’s found a new home in the Liberty Dance Team.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Anderson said of the transition from her previous school. “I was there for two years, and it was kind of hard leaving all my friends. But I kind of have a family within the dance team.”
With victory at state under their belts, the spirited squad has a new goal for the season: making finals on the national stage and bringing home a trophy.
“We want to keep that ladder going every year, every season,” Melloy insisted.
But such an endeavor doesn’t come lightly, physically or financially.
“We have sponsors to fund the season,” the coach explained. “With all the traveling and the costumes and photography costs, it gets expensive. So the girls are constantly fundraising,” Melloy said. She added the dance team is always interested in finding creative ways to help the community and support their squad.
In the meantime, the Liberty High Dance Team has its sights set on regionals, in Davenport, on Sunday, Jan. 14. Then they’ll cap off the season in Orlando, where the girls will face teams from around the nation on Saturday, Feb. 17, and Sunday, Feb. 18.
“They’re so young and they’re going. And I’m glad they’re going,” Melloy beamed.
“With a very first-year school and all these girls that are new to it, that’s an accomplishment itself.”