Fairmont dance team kicking it into high gear

KICKIN’ IT — Members of the Fairmont Dance Team opening the competitive varsity season at Hutchinson on Saturday, Dec. 7, include, front row (l-r): Gwen Kallemeyn, Cadence Breitbarth, Kinze Stradtman, Olivia Haugen and Briana Joseph. Middle row: McKenzie Johnston, Paige Hainy, Anika Haugen, Grace Klunder and Libby Totzke. Back row: Victoria Meier and Jasmine Hansen. (Photo courtesy of Seifried Portrait Design)

FAIRMONT — A dozen prep athletes take their positions in a straight-line formation, listening to their coach’s verbal instructions.

Cue the music.

When they hear the beat and feel the rhythm, what once was a singular file uses precision footwork to transition into smaller pairs or trios. The execution is perfectly timed.

“You have to make it from here to that spot in 1 … 2 … 3 … 4.”

Sounds similar to a football team’s offensive line perfecting the synchronization of its run-blocking on the gridiron during fall practice, but it’s not.

It is the sport of competitive dance being perfected inside a small side gym at Fairmont High School.

“Just the other day I read where a 2 1/2- to 3-minute routine consisting of 45 to 60 high kicks above the waist — by the team in unison — is the equivalent to running full speed for 7 minutes on a treadmill,” said Fairmont Cardinals head dance coach Courtney Steuber. “The sport is a lot tougher than some people think.”

“Dance is comparable to the flexibility and agility (aspects) of gymnastics, and some of the endurance required by cross country or soccer,” said Fairmont assistant coach Lisa Carlson, who coordinated with daughter and former Fairmont standout Lauren Carlson to found the school’s competitive program that made its official debut in 2016-17.

Senior Victoria Meier, who’s the last remaining original member of the four-year sport, and sophomore Jasmine Hansen — who’s in her third year of dance — are serving as the Cardinals’ co-captains this season.

“Our coaches know how to make it fun in the gym, but they also let us know when it’s time to work,” said Hansen.

While Steuber and Carlson continue to implement cardiovascular workouts to build stamina, in addition to incorporating the necessary drills to execute their routines, the Fairmont mentors added workouts in the weight room to their training regiment this year.

“We started going to the weight room during the summer to tone (their muscles), and now in-season, we incorporate it two days a week with (weight room supervisor) John Kesselring,” said Steuber.

“You can tell during our practices that we’re definitely in better condition and stronger due to the weight training,” said Meier.

The Cardinal dancers will look to capitalize on their increased strength when they compete in the aforementioned ‘high kick’ segment and the ‘jazz’ portion that requires the entire team to execute a series of leaps and pirouettes for 2- to 2 1/2-minute spans.

“The scoring in dance is similar to gymnastics in that it’s subjective. A team starts with an average score of five, with each skill after that being judged the same or higher or lower, with a top score being 100,” said Steuber.

Competitive dance also is similar to gymnastics in the fact that both coaches and athletes share in developing the overall routines.

“We collaborate on the choreography,” Steuber said in reference to Carlson, Meier and Hansen.

So where does the inspiration behind the routine come from?

“Just listening to the music, you can see it in your head,” said Hansen. “You hear a back beat, you feel it and then just know that’s where to put in a turn or a leap.”

Fairmont’s dance team will perform its first of 14 showcases — exhibitions not in direct competition against other schools’ programs — at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, between the Cardinals’ B-squad and varsity basketball games in Fairmont.

The Cardinal dance lineup then hits the road to Hutchinson on Saturday, Dec. 7, for the first of its five head-to-head scored competitions on the season.

“After Hutchinson, we go to Albert Lea, then compete in our conference meet at Marshall in early January, travel to Totino Grace and compete at the section meet at Delano in early February,” said Carlson.

Junior McKenzie Johnston; sophomores Cadence Breitbarth, Olivia Haugen, Briana Joseph, Gwen Kallemeyn, Grace Klunder, Kinze Stradtman and Libby Totzke, along with freshman Anika Haugen and freshman alternate Paige Hainy complete the Cardinals’ varsity roster this winter.

“We’ve got 12 on the varsity and 21 on the junior varsity, so our program’s in good shape this season,” said Steuber.


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