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Despite reign of dominance, Canby dancers took nothing for granted in state competition

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: BRIAN MONIHAN - The Canby dance team won its fourth consecutive state championship in the show division. Success with Canby's dance team is still the norm. After winning its sixth consecutive modern dance championship in the fall, the team picked up its fourth consecutive show division championship on Saturday, Mar. 17 with an overall score of 96.37.

The Cougars were well ahead of second place Stayton, who notched a score of 91.65. It is something of a norm over these past four years to associate the Canby dance team with success. After all, there are members of the team who have only known state championships victory. Three seniors, Kyra Renner, Josie Shevland, and Taylor Smith have been on the team for four years, and graduate with a string of victories under their belts.

However, if you ask the dancers about the competition they faced this year, they say they never grew comfortable in their spots as defending champions. Heck, they were never comfortable in their spots any year, even when the scores are being announced.

"I think we're good at what we do, but (the competition are) really good at what they do," senior Josie Shevland. "They're two completely different worlds, so comparing them sometimes can be hard. I don't think there's ever a time when we're sitting there thinking we have it for sure. We're nervous."

The feeling that victory can be snatched away at any second is something the coaches keep in the athletes mind to guard against complacency. It is one of the reasons Canby has been able to stay at the top of the sport for the past four years.

"We talk every year about the bubble bursting at any time," Canby dance coach Jennifer Chaffee said. "It's nice in this bubble, and we work really hard to stay in the bubble, but we're very open and honest with the kids every year that the bubble could burst any time. Someone is going to have a better idea one year, someone is going to have a more technically talented team than we do one year, and someone is going to work harder than us one year.

Chaffee added, "You start from scratch every year, and competition to competition it's different. And now at our state championships, we perform on Thursday night and yes, we were over eight points ahead of our second place team that night, but those scores get washed away. We have a new judging panel on Saturday, and we have to earn them all back again."

Another part of the success Canby's dance team has experience has been the style of performance. The Cougars' choreographer, James Healey, has continued to put together solid pieces for the team to perform. Healey has a background in modern dance, and over the last nine years he and Chaffee have been growing Canby's reputation as a modern dance school.

This years performance was called Paradigm. The concept of the performance was more abstract, but centered around the idea of change. A pendulum signified the march into the future, and the dancers moved from melancholy into something else entirely. The performance climaxed with the pendulum opening up and spilling paint, symbolizing the change that was occurring. Dancers cavorted and rolled about in the paint, and the change was finished.

"A little more abstract in thinking, but I would say over the last nine years, specifically that James has been here, Canby has been working really hard to change what the show division looks like," Chaffee said. "We're changing what dance team in the state of Oregon looks like. There's been sort of a shift in what they're expecting and what they're looking for."

The performance was a precarious one even though it was visually jaw dropping. The paint spilling about made for a slippery surface, and in practices the team learned to improvise its movements to avoid slipping.

"We had a few practices before because we weren't really sure what it was going to be like, and the first one was a little rough because everybody was slipping all over the place," senior Amanda Stephens said. "We had to figure some things out. But towards the end we figured out that we had to take it slow and drag out the movement."

"If we would start to slip, we would transfer into movement that would look like, 'Oh, nothing happened there,'" senior Taylor Smith said. "Yes, it did happen to all of us at one point possibly, especially during practices. If we did it in the performances, we started doing something else that would take it away, and make it look like nothing was going wrong. It was a little hard to improvise on the spot, but we've done so much throughout our year improvising that we had a little bit in mind of what we could do."

After the performance, the team received its scores and commentary from the judges who were watching on. One of the more rewarding experiences is hearing how moved the judges and audience were when watching the dance. Some were moved to tears, some were moved to metaphor.

"We all know that we're going to get the comments back, and we always want to hear what they have to say," Shevland said. "One judge said we were like, 'A well marinated steak.' I think that we moved them in that way, and we feel like we did what we were supposed to."

The team was 29 strong, but a large portion of the performers were underclassmen. This forced the upperclassmen to move into the leadership roles that were vacated by the seniors from last year. It was something that the team had prepared themselves for.

"We had a very young team this year," senior Lauren Gerig said. "Just working to make sure that they were understanding the rules and why those rules were in place was a little more difficult than normal because usually they catch on quickly by looking at the upperclassmen. But this year because there were so many underclassmen it was a little more difficult to catch on. Overall, I think falling into leadership was pretty simple."

Yet another reason the team performed so strongly this year was the strength of its bond. The dancers performed for the crowds and the judges, but also did their best to give each other the best chance for success.

"I think we reflected more of the love we have for each other more than the dancing part," Renner said. "We obviously had the movement in our head but it was more that we loved everyone on this team and we were going to dance for who we loved. So we went out there and did it."

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