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Canby wins the Dance and Drill show division Oregon state championship after memorable performance

SUBMITTED PHOTO: BRIAN MONIHAN - The Canby dance team utilized a modern style of dance to take home the show division crown.

While Brielle Winklebleck glided on top of a rolling table during one of the biggest performances of her life, a teammate accidentally placed his foot under the mobile object, causing it to wobble back and forth.

Her body shook with it and her heart beat like a belted drum.

The Canby senior captain knew her balance would keep Canby in the running for a show division state title and even a graceful slip could send the team’s final score spiraling.

Winklebleck never imagined the season would come down to her sturdiness.

Establishing a routine

Heading into the year, Winklebleck thought her high school competitive last hurrah would mostly be stress free as Canby featured a crop of mostly inexperienced dancers.

“Going into the year I was feeling like maybe there would be less pressure on me because there was less pressure on us to place as high,” she said. “We considered it a building year for next year.”

That isn’t to say Winklebleck and the group of captains didn’t take their role seriously. Instead, they formed a detailed list of rules to maximize every second of practice.

“We wanted to look like a winning team during practice,” Winklebleck said.

The group agreed to remain silent, keep their phones in a box for only the coach to access in case of an emergency, remain standing unless instructed otherwise by choreographer James Healey, to work on moves on their own when forced to miss practice and to extend practice when a single member shows up late.

“Pressure was lessened because we jumped on the issue of being focused right away. We all agreed to the plan and did a super good job of sticking to it,” Winklebleck said.

After spending months together working 7.5 hours a week, Winklebleck said the younger girls progressed at such a high rate, by the end of the year, they looked like they had been practicing all their lives.

Uncertainty despite success

The girls won many local events including the modern Category Championships in December and competitions at Parkrose and Liberty in the winter.

Still, Winklebleck wasn’t sure how judges would react to their performance from the Memorial Coliseum high risers.

“You would think that because we did really well at local competitions, we would do well at state but you just never know,” Winklebleck said. “A judge’s view of a gym vs. a coliseum is way different.”

The uncertainty left Winklebleck feeling so anxious she developed a stomach ulcer a few weeks before the competition.

However, she says she normally uses nerves to her benefit.

“I’m always nervous but that nervous feeling is usually a positive anxiety for me. I do okay under pressure,” she said.

A gripping performance

The Cougars performance, based on stories a home will tell, featured universal flashes from the past such as a grandma’s death, a fire, a baby and desperation.

“These are not stories our audience would necessarily know, but the dancers accessed these little moments throughout the routine,” Canby head coach Jennifer Chaffee said.

And the dramatic theme was accompanied by piercing piano notes that dictated that dancers’ tempo and slowly evoked a stronger sense of doom as memories evaporated over time.

“James is a great choreographer and storyteller. His shows always have a build up feeling to them. And the music this year was so perfect,” Chaffee said.

Stylistically, the dance’s modern style steered off course from most teams, which performed mostly classical routines.

“Modern movement is meant to be unconventional, not dance-team-y and not precise,” Chaffee said.

“Nobody else in the dance team world is doing the style we’re doing,” Winklebleck said. “People know us for our style.”

Avoiding near disaster

Winklebleck didn’t fall off the table, but the moment stalled her next movement and forced her a tad behind rhythm. However, she caught up.

“I had to jump in at an awkward place that I normally don’t jump in at,” she said.

As she rushed off the stage, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of panic, fearful the judges noticed the mistake and docked the team just enough to keep them out of state title contention.

However, Chaffee’s words of encouragement made her feel a little better.

“Coach was like, “‘It’s totally okay. Nobody saw it. Your recovery will gain you more points than any mistake lost you,’” Winklebleck said.

While Chaffee thought the team had the title in the bag once the announcers hadn’t named Canby yet before announcing first place, Winklebleck remained skeptical.

“What if we got a 10 point penalty and fell out of the top 10,” she wondered.

Pride and relief

But after Canby was awarded first place, she finally could let go.

“I felt a wave of relief and a huge sense of pride,” she said.

Under Chaffee, the team achieved second or third place in the show division from 2011 to 2014.

“It was a year of things being just a little different and it worked. I couldn't be more proud of them all,” Chaffee said. “And I have shared with our alumni dancers, this win is for each and every one of them as well. They each contributed to building this program, leading this team, teaching me how to be a better coach, being willing to take chances with us. We wouldn't be the team or program that we are today without each of them.”

Along with Chaffee and Healey, assistant coaches Karalee Kyllo and Zack Rood as well as a group of avid parents contributed to the remarkable season.

In addition, first year dancer and sophomore Emma Evenhus won the state Drill Down Competition - where competitors perform military calls on command.

“That takes so much concentration and focus. And to do that with a couple thousand people watching you is very stressful. She amazed us all and made us proud,” Chaffee said.

Afterward, the team enjoyed well-deserved slices of pizza at Sparky’s while coaches read off the team’s scores in each category.

They told the youthful Cougars one of their highest marks came in the technique category.

“Most dancers start learning technique when they are really young and most of our team hadn’t done ballet before,” Winklebleck said. “We owe that to James making us do 15 minutes of technique practice before practice started. That really helped us improve.”

After spending nine months a year with the Canby dance team since she was a freshman, Winklebleck misses her teammates but will cherish memories that will hopefully remain intact for a life time.

“Leaving such a close family is hard,” she said.

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