Onstage at Beickman Performing Arts Center, students stretch into splits and breakdance to hip-hop blasting from someone’s phone. A few talk to their friends while they practice freestyle moves.
There are a couple of girls doing splits. One boy jumps into a hand stand and spins around. Another girl pirouettes in the corner.
When the director calls out to them, the students stop what they’re doing immediately and huddle around her.
They’re warming up for the parent preview, Concord High School dance team’s final performance at home before they compete on a national stage.
For the first time since director Stephanie Pairitz came to Concord High School five years ago, the whole team has qualified for national competition.
It’s what they’ve worked for all year, said Pairitz, their goal as a team.
“Their heart is so devoted to dance, and they do amazing things because of it,” she said.
Recent Concord graduate Bria Pugh and junior Annika Pairitz said nationals can be intimidating. They’ll compete against dancers who have trained at studios for 16 years, compared to Concord dancers’ four years on the high school team.
“Regionals isn’t that hard,” said Annika Pairitz. “Nationals is scary.”
The kids do fundraisers to pay for the trip and Pairitz applies for scholarships for them. No one gets left behind because they can’t pay, Pairitz said — this is a team experience.
Nationals is what they’ve worked for all year, said Pairitz, their goal as a team.
“It’s more than just the dance program,” she said. “It’s life experience and bonding as a team.”
Together, the Concord dancers raised over $20,000 — about $1,000 per dancer. The students raised the rest of their fees on their own.
Eugenio Lara, who graduated in the spring, said working to pay for nationals reminded him why he wants to be creative more than he wants the relative security of a desk job, he said. Dance helps him express himself.
“I don’t want to get a real job, that’s boring,” he joked. “I worked at McDonald’s already, it sucks.”
Lara also made jackets for the entire team. He free-handed each dancer’s name on a denim jacket, graffiti-styled, with colors to match their personality.
He and teammate Diamond Burdine will go on tour this summer with pop artist Spencer Kane. They were both accepted into the Lou Conte Dance Studio in Chicago. They’ll audition in August for a national dance tour.
But first, they have to get through the national competition in Orlando, Florida. The team leaves Sunday and competes July 9.
The competition in Orlando is part of a weeklong dance convention organized by Tremaine Dance, a master class program founded by dance educators Joe Tremaine and Julie Adler.
“The program is designed to provide the students with extremely difficult goals,” director Pairitz said. “And my experience is that humans actually like that. If you give them a huge challenge, they will tend to rise up and meet the challenge.”
Students will learn jazz, ballet, hip-hop and lyrical dance from nationally-recognized teachers and choreographers like So You Think You Can Dance all-star tWitch.
Concord’s dance team qualified by placing first in the Tremaine regional competition in Illinois, competing against top dance studios from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Junior Shimmy Sar won the regional freestyle competition and will compete for the national title.
“I like dance because it helps me be free, express what I want, creativity, everything I like about myself,” Sar said.
The boys say Concord has a rivalry with Future Dance Center, a New York dance studio.
“We rattle back and forth about who’s the better team,” Burdine said.
Last time the two teams competed, he said, Concord challenged Future to a dance battle. They’ll have a rematch this year in Orlando.
“We’ll feel very accomplished as long as we compete and get a close score to them,” Burdine said.
Pugh shrugged off the rivalry, not as invested in challenging Future Dance Studio as Burdine, Lara and Sar are.
“We’re just gonna let it be and put it on the floor,” she said. “We’ll show them what we have.”
Director Stephanie Pairitz said she wants the dancers to learn techniques and how to choreograph at nationals, instead of just memorizing a series of steps for the competition.
They’re getting exposed to top-level dancers at the Tremaine convention, she said, and she believes it will show the students their own potential.
“I want them to see dancers that are better than them,” she said. “And I want them to be inspired.”