Moves with a message

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By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

McNary High School’s dance team often flies under the radar when it comes to the Celtic sports offerings, but this year’s team is intent on changing that.

“People don’t give us a lot of credit, but you have to learn to be with people and bond together instead of just trying to be the best person,” said team captain Shelby Williamson.

At a recent competition, the team set out to tackle an issue sadly becoming more and more relevant to the high school experience: teen suicide.

While most of the other teams set out to electrify with upbeat routines or get them raging with military-style anger, McNary sought to tell a story with Nickelback’s If Everyone Cared playing in the background.

To set the tone, they sat in a circle and shared their stories of being bullied. It wasn’t long before the tears started to flow.

“It was really sad, but doing it allowed us to play the roles,” said captain Perla Tellez.

Williamson broke down again just as she called the team into its first position eliciting a chorus of “awws” from the audience.

“Everyone else was doing happy or really (cheerful dances) & we made them cry,” Williamson said.

The judges weren’t exactly thrilled with the performance, but the team received its highest marks for projection, on which its judged for members’ ability to emote with their steps.

“We decided to do it in April after someone at Sprague had committed suicide. We had just kind of decided that they were ready to handle a bigger issue,” said Tegan Willett, head coach and owner of Santiam Valley Dance Academy in Salem. “It didn’t win any trophies with it, but we accomplished what we wanted to do.”

Willett coaches the team with her younger sister, Teryn Thomas. Both women were part of the dance teams that won state championships at Santiam High School.

“The technique wasn’t exactly where we wanted it, but the emotion was incredible,” Thomas said.

Now that the big, emotional performance is in the rearview, the team is prepping for its next big test, the state competition in March.

“We’re doing a lot of technique stuff and trying to get our precision down because our goal is getting in the top eight teams at state,” Williamson said.

Their plan is to do a military-esque hop-and-step routing to Björk’s Earth Intruders.

“We’re still looking for a version of the song that doesn’t sound like there’s a dogfight happening in the background, but that’s where we’re headed,” Willett said.

Regardless of how the big number turns out, the team already hit a major milestone earlier this year. They achieved their highest judges’ assessment in four years with a 64.74 standard qualifying score despite dancing with almost half the roster absent.

“Most people don’t realize the dedication you have to have to be part of the dance team, but its paid off for us this year,” Tellez said.

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