After coming from a large, informal group of dancers, the Ironwood Ridge High School Dance Team regrouped this year and became competitive where they qualified and traveled to Florida to compete in Nationals.

The group of seven girls, and its coach of two years, Taylor Shultz, took jazz and hip-hop routines to a competition, the likes of which none of them had seen before.

About 400 teams from around the country did what the Ironwood Ridge girls did, which was raise enough money for the team to travel by putting on car washes, bake sales and other fundraising activities. This was after the girls qualified for the competition at a camp during the summer where each dancer received a rating of Superior. Though the end goal for the girls’ fundraising was to travel and compete at Nationals, the team bonded during the preparation.

“I think the small numbers really help with bonding and staying close,” said Shultz, who is an IRHS alumnus. “It’s more important to have fun with all of the things you are doing, like fundraising. It is great to train and great to have that winning attitude of ‘We’re going to go and we are going to succeed’ but it is one day. It is one competition.”

Ironwood Ridge senior Madison Halliday said the girls put in a lot of long hours practicing and overcame a lot of obstacles from having girls quit or be kicked off the team to being required to change routines at the last minute, but the remaining girls have truly bonded.

“We just managed to pull through every single time,” Halliday said. “There was nothing that held us girls back. Our bond throughout the team is so strong – we are all like sisters.”

During competition, groups with 15 or less girls compete in the small-team division. Shultz said teams typically have at least 15 dancers, and groups can get as large as 40 dancers.

The IRHS dancers competed in preliminary competition for both jazz and hip-hop. Of the 400 teams, half make it beyond the initial phase to semifinals. The team qualified and advanced to semifinals for its jazz dance routine.

Not really knowing what to expect from the competition an from her team comprised of five seniors, Shultz was fine with seeing the girls’ quest for the top end in semifinals with placing 29th at Nationals. 

“It was really different,” Shultz recalled. “It was very intimidating because you want your girls to succeed.

“Now that we have this experience under out belt, it is something for the next team to live up to.”

For Nighthawk senior Ashley Yewell, this was her first year on the team. She felt a great sense of accomplishment alongside her teammates for competing on the national level.

“This year has been our best year,” Yewell said. “I am really glad I could be on it my senior year. Just being able to go to Nationals was amazing for us and making semifinals with jazz.”

But Nationals was not the end of the road for the Nighthawk dance team. They competed at State in Phoenix this past weekend. The girls placed second in jazz, fifth in hip-hop, and second overall with Yewell’s solo dance. In regionals, the team placed second for its jazz performance and fourth for its hip-hop performance. 

The team also has its end of the year spring show along with a few local showcases.

The other girls on the team are seniors Allie Sharp, Kiana Riera, Dusty Reed, sophomore Justyne Park, and freshman Jaime Mitchell.

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