MFL MarMac dance team receives fourth-place honors at state

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Members of the MFL MarMac High School dance team include (front, left to right) Jayde Schubert, Megan Lang, Lexy Johnson, Kaylee Bachman, Brookelyn Radloff; (back) Destiny Berns, Taylor Berns, Chloe Diehl, Kaitlyn Berns, Lizzie Herzmann and coach Kelli Saxe. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

When Kelli Saxe took over as coach of the MFL MarMac High School dance team this year, she knew her group had a lot of potential. She’s friends with former coaches Angie Killian and Michelle Hontz and had helped judge team tryouts. 

When the girls gathered in August for team camp, to work on their skills, all the good things she’d seen and heard were only reinforced.

“They catch on really well. And they work really well as a team,” she found. “They take each other under their wings. They’re kind and thoughtful.”

But even then, there was no intention of taking the dancers’ abilities beyond performances on the football field or basketball court.

“Normally, new coaches don’t want to rock the boat,” said senior dancer Lizzie Herzmann with a smile.

“She rocked the boat,” replied junior Megan Lang, laughing.

“Things just started coming together really quickly,” Saxe admitted, “so we decided to take the challenge.”

That challenge was the Iowa State Dance/Drill Team Contest, held Nov. 29 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. It would be MFL MarMac’s first trip to the competition in seven years.

The team began preparing for the event in October. By that time, football season was drawing to a close, so Saxe said the dancers could focus most of their attention on the single program—a pom routine set to the fun, upbeat song “Wings” by Little Mix.

Poms, said Saxe, played into both her team’s strengths, as well as her strengths as a choreographer.

“It’s how we’d always performed,” Lang noted.

Previously a coach in Wisconsin, Saxe was new to the contest expectations in Iowa. She said the generic scorecard left her little to prepare with, so she developed the program a bit blindly.

“I took what worked, the tricks they have that showcase their strength,” she said. “I wanted to make really visually appealing effects.”

The routine incorporated quite a few jumps and kicks, said Herzmann—moves the team felt more comfortable executing this year.

“Our choreography has been harder and more put together,” she shared, “not just for entertainment.”

“We’ve learned sharper movements,” added senior Chloe Diehl.

“And that’s made us better,” reflected Jayde Schubert, also a senior.

However, because of the dancers’ busy schedules, there was little time to prepare. Practice was relegated to a few hours every Sunday night.

“But you have to put in time throughout the week,” on an individual basis, said junior Destiny Berns.

Considering that challenge, Saxe said it was amazing what the team was able to put together: a fourth-place finish in the 12-team class five pom category.

 “I thought we would just go for the experience,” she remarked. “I didn’t know if we would bring home a trophy.”

Heading into contest, Destiny Berns said the team hoped to finish in the top half. Trophies are awarded to those who place fifth and higher.

Junior Taylor Berns admitted the experience—walking out onto the court for the first time—was initially scary.

“But it was over once the music started,” she said. “It was like performing at any other game.”

That nearly three-minute-long program, said Lang, was the best they’d ever performed.

Diehl stated waiting for the results was the hardest part. It wasn’t until eight hours later that the dancers learned just how well they had performed. 

The judges noted that what set MFL MarMac apart was the team’s toe touches and visual choreography.

“They had good stage presence,” Saxe said. 

“They liked our routine,” Herzmann noted, “and they loved our outfits,” Schubert added.

The dancers said they enjoyed watching other teams perform throughout the day, viewing a variety of costumes and makeup, as well as dance styles and routines.

“It’s cool to see how other teams put together songs,” Herzmann said. “It gives you ideas.”

But, most of all, said Saxe, it instilled confidence.

“They set a goal and accomplished it,” she stated. “They’re feeling more confident, and people are taking the team more seriously.”

“For next year,” said Taylor Berns, “it gives you a better idea of what to expect. We could go with more than one routine.”

Herzmann hopes the dance team’s state success will inspire underclassmen to give the activity a try.

It’s a fun way to get to know people, shared Lang. 

“It’s more of a relaxing sport,” said Schubert, “and it’s a way to express yourself.”

She said the team is able to work around a lot of people’s schedules, too. Also a basketball player, Schubert was already back in Monona playing a game when the state competition results were announced. She felt lucky to be able to do both that day.

“It’s my senior year, and this is the first time getting the offer to go to state,” she said. “I’m glad it worked out.”

To learn more about the  team and see a video of the state routine, visit the “MFL MarMac Bulldog Dance Team” Facebook page. The dancers will also perform at basketball games and wrestling meets this winter.

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