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Scappoose High School dancers are hoping to have more chances to perform in the upcoming season

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Vision dancers walk in the parade at the Scappoose Centennial.The Scappoose High School Vision dance team is preparing for the upcoming season and hoping for a more normal year of performances.

Though the team did get a short season in the last school year like other sports, the lack of spectators was particularly tough and unusual for an activity so focused on performances.

"Dancing is a performance. It's about trying to get emotions out of an audience. And so to perform to an empty gym, and still trying to perform to a certain level, is really, really hard for our kids," Afina Arstill, one of the Vision coaches, said.

Vision dancers "are notorious for feeding off the energy of the audience," Arstill noted.PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - The Scappoose High School dance team performs at the opening ceremony of the Scappoose Centennial on Saturday, Aug. 14.

The lack of spectators "was something that was definitely a struggle for us, and something we hope to never have to repeat," Arstill said.

"Dancing is a lot easier when there's people encouraging you," senior Kloe Cook said. "For the first few competitions, we really only had our coaches cheering us on, because we couldn't have crowds. So, it was very awkward not hearing all the clapping and cheering when you did a trick. Overall, it was just tough."

Dancers were able to have a limited audience for some performances, but the football halftime shows and school pep assemblies that provide a crowd in normal years weren't present last year.

The team got to start this year with a performance at the Scappoose Centennial earlier this month.

Cook said the performance was a new experience for dancers who joined the team last year. For many, it marked their first time performing in front of a live community audience.

"There were a lot of people surrounding us and cheering and clapping, so they (the newer dancers) were probably in shock, but it went really well," Cook said.

For some competitions, teams gathered in their gyms and performed over video, miles away from their competitors. In other competitions, the judges traveled from school to school to view the routines.

The team had tryouts in the spring and is starting the season with a team of around 15 dancers. In a normal year, the team usually has between 18 and 30 members, Arstill said.PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Scappoose Vision dancers perform an energetic dance at the citys centennial celebration.

The details of the upcoming season are still largely up in the air.

"I'm hoping (this season) looks like joy, just to be doing what we love at some kind of normal capacity," Arstill said. "I have high hopes for our team. We have some amazing talent on our team this year, so anything could happen."

The dance season stretches over a longer part of the year than most other high school sports. Tryouts were back in May, practices officially start at the end of August, and competitions run from October through March, with a pause over winter break. 

In the fall, the team competes in a few different categories — usually hip-hop, contemporary and jazz. After winter break, the team focuses on one routine for the rest of the season.

Many of the team members have danced through elementary and middle school in programs led by Pam Didier, the high school head coach for more than 20 years, and other coaches.

In addition to being an assistant coach with the high school, Arstill is the head coach for the middle school Explosions team and the elementary Sparks team. PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Jax Ekstrom, right, is a senior on the Scappoose High Schools dance team.

Arstill was named the 5A assistant coach of the year for 2021 by the Dance Drill Coaches Association, and another Scappoose coach, Ally Britton, was the 2020 5A assistant coach of the year.

In her final season, Cook said she's looking forward to getting more leadership experience.

"My only normal season was my freshman year season, so I never really got too much of a leadership chance," Cook said.

For Cook and the three other seniors on the team, the sophomore season ended abruptly when school and sports were canceled at the beginning of the pandemic, and the junior season was in a short season without the hallmark performances. That leaves the Vision dancers one last season to jam full of dancing.

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