Clackamas Cavalettes put 'Slumber' routine to bed earlier than expected
The Clackamas Cavalettes dance team had reached the final stretch with only eight days remaining before the start of the OSAA Dance and Drill state championships.
Everything was in place. Aside from a little fine-tuning, this year's awe-inspiring "Slumber" production was about as good as it was going to get.
All that was left was for the Cavalettes to take center stage during the March 20-21 championships at Portland's Veterans Memorial Coliseum and knock the socks off the judges.
They never got that chance.
On Thursday, March 12, the Oregon School Activities Association announced the cancelation of all remaining winter sports championships in the wake of the rapidly evolving coronavirus public health threat.
"I think that everyone is honestly still processing what has happened and grieving, which sounds dramatic, but it's kind of how I think a lot of the girls feel," Clackamas coach Alexsis Woolsey said. "Before school was closed, we were able to gather one last time, which was really good. We were able to discuss what was going on and we were able to get a little bit of closure.
"I'm sure it's hard for a teenager to accept and see that bigger picture, but our girls seemed to really understand that and know that by canceling our championships and not getting together, we are helping with the bigger issue and helping to keep people safe."
Clackamas has consistently ranked among the state's top dance programs, claiming trophies in the prestigious Show Division in 17 consecutive state finals, including four state championships in 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2013, six runner-up finishes, five third-place finishes, and two fourth-place finishes.
This season, the Cavalettes had one of the state's largest dance teams with 32 dancers, including five seniors — Raeleigh Burris, Lyanna Chin, Hailey Dickerson, Brinley Patton, and Elli Strauss.
"Slumber" featured the song "Retrograde" by James Blake, and the routine's storyline, according to Woolsey, "has to do with what happens when you can't sleep and you're getting exhausted and how that can drive you to start going a little bit crazy because you're restless and frustrated that you can't go to sleep."
The Cavalettes knew they had another championship-caliber routine when they placed first in their "Slumber" debut at the Feb. 1 dance competition at Philomath High School. They then placed second behind five-time reigning state champion Canby at the Feb. 22 competition at Parkrose, and again placed second behind Canby at the March 7 competition at Liberty.
"We never competed against all of the teams that we would have competed against at state, so it's hard to tell how that would have gone," Woolsey said. "Even when you look at scores from different competitions because different events have different judges, which can make for different experiences.
"We were really proud of this show that we put out this year. As a coaching staff, we spent countless hours pouring over it, figuring out how to make it better. We were really looking forward to seeing how we would do at state, and it's disappointing to think that we won't ever know what the outcome could have been."
In years past, the Cavalettes would sometimes arrange a special ending to their routines that they would wait to unveil at the state championships, putting an exclamation point on the season's final performance.
Then last season and again this season, they danced their entire "state performance" in the final competition before the state championships.
"We were like, 'Let's get all the choreography out,' and then if we wanted to go back and tweak it or change things, we still had time," Woolsey said. "That was our strategy this year, and looking back, I'm really thankful for that because at least we did get all the choreography in the show out at Liberty."
The Cavalettes also did an about-face on another team standard — not sharing any videos until after the state championships.
"A lot of people wait until state to come to watch us because they know that the production is a work in progress and they want to see the final product," Woolsey said. "I know that some of my team members' grandparents hadn't come to a competition yet because they were waiting until the end.
"Once we saw that school was going to be closed for another month, we decided, 'OK, it's time to share and put our Liberty video and put it out in the world where all those people who didn't get to see it can have a chance to watch it. Even though it was 'incomplete,' in a sense, we still wanted to share what we had been working on."
The video can be found online on the Cavalettes' Facebook page and the team's Instagram page.
"We're still holding out hope that maybe, eventually, we'll be able to do some sort of showcase event to show it off or that there could be some kind of final performance for people to come and watch in person," Woolsey said. "But, as this situation continues, it's not really clear if or when something like that could happen."
Regardless of how it plays out, there is nothing that can replace the experience of competing in the state championships at the Coliseum, whether it was Clackamas' "Slumber," or Milwaukie's "Who We Are," or Putnam's "Ascending," or Gladstone's "You Will Be Found," or La Salle Prep's "Lifeline," or … well, you get the picture.
"It's a big deal to these kids because it's the thing that we prepare for all season," Woolsey said. "It's what they look forward to and we have a lot of traditions surrounding it and a lot of other fun things that we do, so to have it pulled away at the last minute is really difficult for them, and especially the seniors."
At the same time, it's not the end of the world.
"I tell my girls all the time, 'This is not about the destination, it's about the journey,'" Woolsey said. "No matter what happens at the end of the night, it's not about the trophies and the awards that you may or may not get. It's about knowing that you did the very best that you possibly could. That's all that matters.
"All the dancers, they poured their hearts and souls into this show, and for it to not get to the Coliseum, it's disappointing not to have the full vision come true. But we understand what is happening is bigger than us, it's bigger than dance, it's bigger than any of these things, and we need to do our part to help make sure that we can get over it, all of us."
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