Dancing to Disney: Team earns bid to compete in Florida

It has been a magical season for the STEPS Dance Center Opal mini variety team.

Donning black jackets and top hats, waving a couple of colorful flags and shaking pompoms, the eight girls, ages 6 to 10, have performed a magic-themed routine during competitions this season.

The results from the JustDance! Indy competition on Jan. 21 at the Indiana Convention Center made them the happiest.

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A live online video revealed the Opal team was one of five out of 93 performances at the competition earning a bid to The Dance Summit, set for May 6 and 7 at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Since STEPS was established in 2011, this is the first team to receive that opportunity.

“I was just screaming, and I was happy,” said Trinity Burke, 10, of North Vernon.

Teammate Gabriela Cabrales, 9, of North Vernon had the same reaction.

“I was just very excited,” she said. “I felt like we did a very good job, and we put our most effort into it. Even if we didn’t win (the bid), we’re still sisters either way.”

Macy Bullard, 9, of North Vernon said it was great to see all of the hard work in practices and competitions pay off.

“It was amazing,” she said. “I felt really excited because I was thinking we put a lot of effort and teamwork into it to get that.”

Jamie Zeser, the team’s coach, and Sarah Arnold, owner/program director for STEPS, were excited to hear the news, too.

“It means a lot to me and to these girls,” Zeser said. “I look at them as my girls, not just my team, and I am definitely a proud mother here. They are so young but are filled with such passion for dance, and what better way to celebrate that than at Disney? Their faces were so lit up with joy and amazement, and to know we took part in making that happen was amazing.”

Arnold said they watched the live video as a full program.

“As program owner, it was amazing that one of our teams, no matter which, was receiving a Summit bid for the very first time ever. It was very exciting,” she said. “I think it’s an amazing testament for the program’s continuous progress moving forward. With every season, all of our teams continue to grow in skill and talent.”

To make the trip to Florida possible, the team is doing fundraising, community outreach and business sponsorships.

A Cookies and Canvas party, featuring “a great time of art, cookies and fun,” is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at the studio at 114 W. Second St. in downtown Seymour. The cost is $30 per person.

The team also is seeking sponsorships from local businesses. Sponsors will be acknowledged in the year-end showcase program, on the team Disney event T-shirt and in a social media shoutout video. Sponsorship forms are due in hand or postmarked by Sunday.

The fundraising goal is $8,000. The first $3,000 will go toward registration and fees for the eight dancers and two coaches, and $5,000 will go toward team lodging, food and travel expenses. Any other money raised will help immediate family members in making the trip with their dancer.

“This is an amazing opportunity to really allow these young dancers the chance to shine,” Zeser said. “Any contribution would be greatly appreciated.”

STEPS All-Stars is a competitive dance program formed six years ago with dancers ranging in age from 6 to 18. Along with traveling the tri-state area for competitive events, teams perform at Indiana Pacers and local high school basketball games and participate in parades, performances and community service activities.

Arnold said between the Seymour and Vernon studios, there are between 200 and 250 dancers, including the All-Star teams and prep teams. There are three teams — mini (9U), juniors (15U) and seniors (18U) — totaling 34 girls.

The Opal team started in the 2014-15 season with three girls before growing to five last year and now eight.

“We have placed first in every event we have participated in until just (recently), we placed second for the first time in three years,” said Zeser, who has coached the team all three seasons.

The team was named national champion the first two years and U.S. Finals champion last year. It also won the Champions Challenge last year and received champion rings. That is an overall ranking per category from all five locations of U.S. Finals — Indianapolis; Pensacola, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; Providence, Rhode Island; and Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“This meant they were the top-scoring mini variety team in the U.S. Finals across the country last year,” Zeser said. “We are still working our way to those U.S. Finals titles this year.”

The Opal team practices from 6 to 7 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday at the Vernon studio. September, May, July and August practices are a little longer because there aren’t recreation classes in the studio at those times.

Trinity, Macy and Cadence Zeser, 9, of North Vernon, have been on the team all three years.

Gabriela is in her second year with the Opals, while the first-year members are Grace Mullins, 8, of Seymour; Hallee Fish, 9, and Raelyn Castor, 8, both of North Vernon; and Peyton Collett, 6, of Hayden.

Macy said it has been good to see the number of girls increase.

“It’s pretty amazing because we get to have other people from around the county come in and join and dance with us and just love to dance and dance their heart out,” she said. “I feel like we’re all a piece of the puzzle as a team, and we put our team effort to get to that.”

Cadence and Grace both said they have enjoyed their time on the team.

“I like that I get to have fun with my friends and my dance friends,” Cadence said.

“I like that you can spend time with your dance sisters and spend time with each other,” Grace said.

Peyton said her nerves have lessened since her first competition.

“I was nervous at first, but then once I got onstage, I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t that bad,’” she said. “Now, all of the other competitions, I was like, ‘OK, I’m ready.’”

Hallee said the team was successful at JustDance! Indy because everyone stuck together, and Raelyn said earning a Summit bid was exciting.

“I like that we get to put teamwork into winning,” Raelyn said.

The team continues to work on its routine to be prepared for The Dance Summit.

“I’m just excited that we got picked,” Peyton said. “It doesn’t matter if you win first place. It just matters that you’re having fun and you’re spending time with your friends.”

Zeser said bids are still being awarded, so she’s not sure how many teams will be there or how many teams they will be competing. The Opals are guaranteed to perform once on the first day, and their placement will determine if they advance to the second day.

In practices, they are working on “cleaning.”

“It really means being sure our formations are dead-on and evenly spaced, hitting all of our motions with strength and precision and showing our joy of dance through our facials and energy throughout our routine,” Zeser said.

The team has impressed Zeser throughout the season.

“The Opals really give their all and push themselves harder every day,” she said. “At the competition in January, the girls were really focused and cheerful. I believe that can be seen in their dance. If you are enjoying what you are doing, they judges will see that and enjoy it, as well.”

Zeser said the team has a lot of drive.

“They are constantly trying to learn and do new tricks, often teaching themselves things, such as aerials (one-handed cartwheels), back handsprings, back tucks, etc.,” she said. “On occasion, they even challenge the older All-Star team members for fun.”

For being so young, Zeser said the girls work hard.

“They could be playing outside, playing with their toys at home or watching TV, but they choose to dance,” she said. “And it is hard work, but they love it. To see their love culminate in such an accomplishment makes me extremely proud. To see how much they have grown, whether just over this year or over the past two or three years, it amazes me.”

Arnold said she also is proud of the team’s growth and accomplishments.

“They are tiny, yet fierce,” she said. “It’s always exciting for me to watch our minis at work. They are fearless, confident and very talented. I look forward to seeing them give their all and absolute best while having an amazing and fun experience in the process.”

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The STEPS Dance Center Opal mini variety team has earned a bid to The Dance Summit on May 6 and 7 at Walt Disney World in Florida.

To raise money for the trip, the team is doing the following:

A Cookies and Canvas party is at 1 p.m. Saturday at the studio at 114 W. Second St. in downtown Seymour. The cost is $30 per person.

Sponsorships from local businesses — $100 and up — are being sought. Sponsors will be acknowledged in the year-end showcase program, on the team Disney event T-shirt and in a social media shoutout video. Sponsorship forms are due in hand or postmarked by Sunday. Make checks payable to STEPS All-Stars with “Donation-Opals team” in the memo line and mail to STEPS All-Stars, P.O. Box 486, Vernon, IN 47282.

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Meet the STEPS Dance Center Opal mini variety team

Dancers: Grace Mullins of Seymour; Cadence Zeser, Hallee Fish, Trinity Burke, Gabriela Cabrales, Raelyn Castor and Macy Bullard, all of North Vernon; and Peyton Collett of Hayden

Coach: Jamie Zeser

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For information about STEPS Dance Center, visit danceatsteps.com.