Following their high-energy, nonstop, 2-minute and 10-second routine, the 13 members of the STEPS All-Stars Diamonds team were exhausted — in a good way.
The Dance Super Nationals on Feb. 19 in Covington, Kentucky, near Cincinnati was their last chance to earn a bid to the biggest competition of the season, The Dance Worlds at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
After finding out they placed 10th out of 11 teams in the senior hip-hop small division, they made their way home.
But their coach, Sarah Arnold, decided to stay around, and that’s a good thing.
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Ten minutes before a ceremony announcing who earned a bid to The Dance Worlds, she received a message that said she may want to be there.
Only one team out of the seven eligible divisions could earn a bid based on score and/or judges’ discretion.
That team was the Diamonds.
“I think that the judges see their determination as well as their growth from season to season not only for this team, but our program as a whole,” said Arnold, who also is owner/program director for STEPS Dance Center.
“Last season, we were given a compliment from the dance director of these particular events that this program has come a long way and everyone can tell how hard they are working,” she said. “That made me so proud.”
Arnold said a lot of teams they went up against make it a primary goal to be at The Dance Worlds every season, and they try to get their bids early in the season so they can be a top team at that competition.
For STEPS, it was a stepping stone for the program to aim higher and work harder.
“To be among these teams in the bid process and have this opportunity is an absolute honor,” Arnold said. “I do know for certain that many of these other teams we compete with practice much more than 3½ hours per week. For our girls putting in only that much practice time and still be able to be competitive and hang with these other teams is super impressive. Their hard work and growth as dancers is paying off. I’m so pumped for them.”
Since the girls weren’t there to hear the announcement, Arnold took a video of it and paired it with a photo of the glass award they received for the bid and a photo of The Dance Worlds packet. She then posted that on the team’s Facebook group page.
Kaydee Sandefur, a senior at Jennings County High School, said it was around 1 a.m. when she saw that post.
“I messaged her back, and I said, ‘OMG, I’m screaming,'” said Sandefur, who is in her 13th year of dance and fourth year on the Diamonds. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to go to Disney World. This is so exciting.'”
For Sandefur and classmates Ally Howser, Allison Green and Tiara Cheesebrew, they knew it was their final chance to earn a bid to The Dance Worlds.
Sandefur said the team performed its best routine at a competition earlier in the season and matched that in February.
“I felt like all of us used our corrections and we worked together instead of being like, ‘I’m only going to worry about myself.’ We worried about our team as a whole, and we were like, ‘Let’s nail this together,'” Sandefur said.
Cheesebrew, who has been with STEPS for 10 years, said the team has come a long way in recent years.
“For us to grow as much as we have, I think that’s really awesome,” she said. “We’ve grown to the standards of a Worlds team, which is really cool because none of us thought we would actually be able to say that we’re a Worlds team, and we’re technically a Worlds team.”
Green and Howser both have only danced for two years, so they are excited to go out on a high note.
Green said she will never forget how everyone was so exhausted after the routine at the national competition because they put their all into it.
“We don’t give up. We keep on fighting. We keep up our energy and will not let go. We will fight for what we want,” she said. “Looking back to the moment where we were all on the floor breathing heavy, trying to catch our breath, it was worth it. I think the moments on the stage are the ones that we will never forget.”
Howser said the bid was a big accomplishment.
“Whenever I figured it out, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness! This is such a big opportunity for us seniors because we will never get a chance like this to do this ever again with this team,'” she said. “It’s just an amazing experience, and I am so blessed, and I am so excited.”
The Diamonds will have U.S. Finals on April 9 in Indianapolis before going to The Dance Worlds, which is set for April 29 through May 1 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and Convention Center.
Advancement from the preliminaries to semifinals and finals will depend on their performance, score and other teams there.
Arnold said she expects it to cost at least $1,000 per dancer, so they are doing various fundraisers. They recently finished up selling Yankee Candles, now are selling peelers and soon will be selling T-shirts.
The last fundraiser will be a hip-hop dance clinic for ages 4 to 18 on April 21 at the Seymour and Vernon STEPS locations. Groups will be split and learn age-appropriate dances. They also will learn about the Diamonds dancers and ask them questions.
Online and in-person registration opens Monday at both locations. Preregistered participants will receive a shirt.
“We hope our clinic is a great turnout,” Arnold said. “We always love the opportunity to introduce new young dancers into dance and what we do here. In addition, it will be a great sendoff for the girls, who will leave the following Thursday for the event.”
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 at 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.
Diamonds is the senior team. In the past, its primary division at competitions was variety with hip-hop being secondary. But Arnold reversed that this year since the girls love hip-hop the most.
Dancing to a Missy Elliott theme, Arnold said the team made necessary adjustments over the course of the season to earn the Worlds bid.
Along with competing and practicing, they also participated in a variety of local events.
“Their standard and expectations are always very high,” Arnold said. “With them being the oldest team, they understand that young eyes are always watching. One of my biggest things with this team is them being the example for the younger dancers — behavior, attitude, skill and performance.”
The girls are constantly moving, learning and working, and Arnold said she is proud of their hard work.
“The younger ones really do have some fantastic examples to take from,” she said. “Our program is so much more than just dance teams. It’s teamwork, sisterhood, poise, leadership, performance, self-responsibility, self-accountability, determination, fun and success, all stemming from one important thing we all have in common at the end of the day — dance.”
Marissa Barger, a sophomore at Seymour High School, is in her 13th year of dance. She attended Tammy’s Dance Studio in Seymour until it closed, and she is in her second season at STEPS.
“Being a part of this team, it’s something that has made me into the person I am,” she said. “I was such a completely different person before I even came to STEPS. Even the year before I joined the team, I was doing rec in Seymour, and that made me such a better dancer. My coach is great. She’ll push me so hard. I’ll watch videos from my younger years, and I’ve come such a long way.”
Cheesebrew said the team is working on cleaning up its routine and skills to perform its best at The Dance Worlds.
“We’re ready to give it our all,” she said. “We may be from a small town in Indiana, but we’re ready to go out there and show the world what we’re made of.”
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STEPS Dance Center’s Diamonds senior team has earned a bid to The Dance Worlds April 29 through May 1 in Orlando, Florida.
To raise money for the trip, the team is doing the following:
Selling Subway peelers and Columbus peelers
Conducting a hip-hop dance clinic for ages 4 to 18 on April 21 at the Seymour (114 W. Second St.) and Vernon (29 Washington St.) locations. Groups will be split and learn age-appropriate dances and also learn about the Diamonds dancers and ask questions. Online and in-person registration starts Monday. Preregistered participants will receive a shirt.
For information, visit danceatsteps.com or send a message via facebook.com/stepsseymour.
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Meet the STEPS All-Stars Diamonds team
Dancers: Marissa Barger, Megan Cheesebrew, Tiara Cheesebrew, Allison Green, Ally Howser, Kaylee Ivey, Summer Jones, Jaylyn Nelson, Emy Ralston, Emilie Robinette, Kaydee Sandefur, Hailey Sorrells and Catlian Webster
Coach: Sarah Arnold