Aspen High School dance team heads to national competition in Orlando
The Skiers won the state championship back in December
The casual fan might only see these girls during halftime of a football game and call them nothing more than cheerleaders. But that’s not how the Aspen High School spirit and dance team wants to be seen, as it’s far from the truth.
They are highly competitive athletes coming off a state championship and put in as much work as any other AHS athlete this season. And after finally getting the attention of their peers, they now have the chance to show off to the entire country.
“In the past, we’ve definitely been made fun of and people never saw us as a real team, if that makes sense. They just didn’t think we were this good in this sport,” AHS senior co-captain Juliana Nickell said. “This year, especially winning state, we’ve shown people how hard it is and how determined we are. While we are not 100 percent there, I think we have gotten a lot more respect this year and it really feels great.”
With those good vibes in tow, the AHS dancers are headed to Orlando this week for the National Dance Alliance national championships, held just down the road from Disney World. It’s uncharted territory for the Skiers, who won their first state championship in December. AHS qualified for nationals through a regional meet held prior to the state competition.
Aspen has had successful competitive teams in recent years, but first-year coach Maddy Miller, an Aspen native and former Denver Nuggets dancer, has challenged the Skiers to push for more this winter and they’ve responded.
“She has changed our mindset,” AHS senior co-captain Louise Lipsey said of Miller. “How other people saw us is how we see ourselves, and they only see us from what we can build ourselves to be. So she made us, every time we do the dance, think of our goals, our tasks, anything that we wanted to improve upon.”
Aspen won the Class 3A poms title at the Denver Coliseum in December, and will take a modified routine from that to NDA nationals. New will be their jazz routine, the second and more demanding element to the national competition that the Skiers only learned within the past few weeks.
“It’s got to have a lot more technique, so it’s a harder execution of a dance,” Miller said of jazz. “Jazz can literally be anything from a contemporary kind of song, a little bit slower and more slow movements, or it can be a hard, sassy jazz, which my girls like to be sassy so I figured they would probably do great in a sassy jazz.”
At nationals, the divisions aren’t divided up by school size, like it was at the state level, but by how many dancers each team will have competing. There are small, medium and large varsity divisions, with AHS set to compete in small varsity jazz and medium varsity pom.
Unlike at state, which had the Skiers competing against only five other 3A teams, the national competition will have them facing off against dozens of the top teams from across the United States. Aspen’s competition includes schools from bigger cities, such as St. Louis and San Antonio, to smaller towns including Paducah, Kentucky. Although, based purely off a town’s population, Aspen might be the smallest of the bunch.
“It’s just amazing how far they’ve come, and as a coach it makes me feel so proud,” Miller said. “We have grown so much as a team, this program has grown so much, that they deserve to go out there and show them everything that we’ve done.”
AHS is sending 12 girls to nationals. Along with Nickell and Lipsey, the jazz lineup will include Jamison Delaney, Ariana Baumgartner, Avery Hirsch, Riley MacArthur, Abby Romero, Grace Romero and Caprice Seeman. Each of those dancers will join Olivia Zwieg, Eryn Brettmann and Bella Hoffman on the poms squad.
Prelims are Friday inside the Grand Sierra Ballroom at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando. AHS is scheduled to compete in jazz prelims at 12:43 p.m. locally in Orlando, and pom prelims at 4:26 p.m. They’ll be on the dance floor for less than two minutes each time, with hopes of making it into Saturday’s finals.
The team’s goal entering the season was to win state, and that’s been accomplished. Whatever happens at nationals is just icing on the cake, and they plan to spend Sunday at Disney World, win or lose.
The most important part of it all for the AHS dancers was to earn that respect and become the best team they could.
“I’ve seen how much this team has progressed over the past four years, and I know our determination and drive and strength and especially our endurance is so much stronger,” Lipsey said. “Everything we’ve done these past seven months has been building us to this moment and every time we do the dance we make it stronger than the last. I think nationals is our time to show the city, the state, who we are, what we’re made of and how we keep pushing ourselves to the furthest possible point.”