Redefined, revitalized and really cool to watch.
The Juneau-Douglas High School Dance Team has been entertaining crowds at varsity basketball games since late December with old favorites and new routines that offer little evidence that the team is in a rebuilding mode.
"We've had a really strong season, and a lot of improvement," said Holly Rhoden, who captains the team with fellow senior Rachel Scandling. "It's been a rebuilding year, but everybody's been awesome."
Last season got off to a rough start as the team struggled with coaching changes and dwindling ranks. But eventually the team came together under first-year coach and former team member Mandy Bixby - and this year things have taken off as former longtime coach Leslie Dahl returned for a season to mentor Bixby.
"I was so happy to hear that Leslie was willing to come back," said Bixby, who is also assisted by former team member Christa Cadiente. "It was a dream to have her experience with me for a year."
This season also has seen the return of several seniors, including Rhoden and Scandling, who were on the team for two years but took a break last season. They've brought a wealth of experience that is benefiting the whole team.
"With some of those experienced girls mentoring, we've been able to make big strides," Dahl said.
In recent years, the team has shifted away from strictly drill performances in favor of a broader dance focus. This season's halftime routines have included the military march and light march - both perennial favorites - and a new, high-energy hip-hop routine featuring folding chairs as props.
"It's more freestyle," Rhoden said. "You get to be more expressive than straight drill."
The team debuted a second hip-hop routine this weekend. Both were taught to the team at workshops with Durante Lambert, a Portland hip-hop choreographer who will bring his dance group to perform with the JDHS team at its annual community show at 7 p.m. April 10.
Every team member makes a big time commitment. Rhoden and Scandling said their weekly schedule is two hours of practice a night Monday through Thursday, a performance Friday night, a four-hour practice Saturday morning, a performance Saturday night and three hours of practice Sunday afternoon.
Dahl said the dancers' dedication is paying dividends, even with the greater-than-usual learning curve.
"There is no team to be more impressed with than this one," she said, looking back on her 14 years of experience with the program. "They've had to come such a long way and learn so many different things at the same time."
While the legendary, world-traveled teams of the mid-'90s could add new touches to an existing strong base, Dahl said this year's squad "had to get it all at once."
Scandling said team members are thrilled with their progress and with the support of their fans.
"Half of the fulfillment comes from yourself working hard, and the other half is from the appreciation you get," she said.
The team will perform at halftime of this Friday's home boys varsity basketball games against Ketchikan. It will debut a "top-secret," extra-special routine in Ketchikan at the region basketball tourney March 12 to 15 and will travel to the state basketball tournament in Anchorage on March 19 to 22. The season concludes with the community show April 10.
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