Dance Team: The dynasty and the emerging

The last time Trisha Abear celebrated winning a state dance team trophy she was a member of the team. Fast forward 17 years and the Crosby-Ironton alumnus enjoyed the feeling again Feb. 14 at Target Center in Minneapolis with her daughter, Maddie...

The Aitkin dance team captured the Class 1A state high kick title Feb. 14 at Target Center in Minneapolis. Aitkin also placed second in the Feb. 13 state jazz competition.
The Aitkin dance team captured the Class 1A state high kick title Feb. 14 at Target Center in Minneapolis. Aitkin also placed second in the Feb. 13 state jazz competition.

The last time Trisha Abear celebrated winning a state dance team trophy she was a member of the team.

Fast forward 17 years and the Crosby-Ironton alumnus enjoyed the feeling again Feb. 14 at Target Center in Minneapolis with her daughter, Maddie Midthun.

Midthun, an eighth-grader, helped C-I win a Class 1A third-place trophy in high kick. C-I also placed fifth in the Feb. 13 jazz finals.

That was the first state dance team trophy C-I has won since Abear helped claim one in 1998. It's a time gap C-I head coach Amy Turk hopes doesn't happen again. Turk was head coach of the '98 team, but left coaching to develop C-I's Just For Kix program, which trains preschool through sixth-grade dancers.

Turk returned to coaching last season. It was supposed to be a one-year commitment, but she enjoyed it too much to leave.


"Yes, it is a lot of work time-wise, but I have a great assistant coach in Alyssa Vignieri," said Turk. "She fills in very well if I can't be there."

Turk was head coach from 1994-98 and in that time C-I placed third twice, second twice and won state in 1996. It's that type of consistent program Turk hopes to create again.

"It takes a lot of hard work and determination," said the C-I alum, who as a student-athlete helped bring home four state dance team trophies herself. "You need to get the athletes and parents involved and informed right from the beginning.

"We practice six days a week. We have morning practice. We ask the girls to go to camps. Last summer they all went to summer camp. We hired someone to do a winter clinic to help the girls with their skills. We've put a lot of time and invested a lot in the team. We told them from the beginning this was going to be work."

Last year C-I finished fourth in Section 4A - one spot from advancing to state. It motivated the 20 dancers to set their goals high. If C-I needed any inspiration, it only had to look east.

During the time Turk was growing Just for Kix, Aitkin was developing a dynasty.

Lisa Roth started coaching in C-I 21 years ago. She's been at Aitkin for the last 20 and in that time Aitkin has claimed seven state kick championships, including its most recent Feb. 14. Aitkin pulled off the double, winning kick and jazz in 2012.

Since the Minnesota State High School League took over sanctioning the state dance competition, Aitkin has always advanced to the state meet. It was that success in the early 2000s that helped turn an 11-dancer squad when Roth first got there into a 65-member program that features a varsity and two junior varsity teams.


"It started in the 2000s after we started winning," said Roth. "We medaled in both jazz and kick and in 2001 we won our first state championship in kick. That's when we started gaining more girls. That's when I added the third team and it really skyrocketed."

Roth said to combat complacency and continue to motivate the girls, she runs a "tight ship."

"I have a lot of rules," Roth said. "They can't miss practice. There are a lot of expectations outside of the season. Our girls attend summer camp and our jazz girls take classes at Music General Dance Studio in Brainerd. I can't thank Sue (Kuhn) enough for all she has taught us. As far as practices, they don't sit around going over the same routine over and over. We do strength training and conditioning just like other athletes.

"Every year is a different year. You don't win because of what you did last year. Every team is a different team. If they want to win, they have to work hard."

Everyone must dress the same on competition day right down to the shoes. Roth said her rules are to remind her dancers that they represent the team, the school and the community.

Along with the rules comes an overwhelming level of support from the team. Team tryouts are not competitive, but inclusive. Roth places dancers on a team where she believes the athlete will be able to compete, improve and strive. In the end, it's about being a member of the team.

"I think they just love dance," said Roth, who also runs a junior dance program called Lisa's Dance Academy. "But kids love structure and they love to work hard as much as they say they don't. We have a close bond among all the team members. That's the biggest thing. They feel a sense of responsibility to work hard and play their part because it's every one of them performing on the floor. You can't win a state dance title with one kid."

Feb. 14, Aitkin won kick and finished second in jazz. Duluth Marshall won the jazz with C-I in fifth. Those three teams are all from Section 4-1A. Throw in state contenders like Pelican Rapids and Frazee and Section 4 is a battleground of state savvy programs. It's a battle Roth enjoys.


"The more competition the better your game is going to be," said Roth. "I love nothing more than to have our whole section in the finals. It just sets the example of how tough our section is and how good we are. There are teams in our section that could have been at state, but they only take the top three."

And Aitkin has been one of those three every year. C-I would like to join them.

"Our girls are very motivated," said Turk. "They see what Aitkin has done and the dynasty they have become over the years and with their numbers. They have brought home a lot of state trophies. Our girls want to succeed like that. We want numbers like Aitkin has. We don't right now. We're about half of what they have, but Alyssa and I are very passionate about this sport. We go to continuing education classes, camps and clinics. We work on trying to motivate the girls to work hard in the offseason.

"This sport isn't just from October to February. They need to be working on their strength and cardio and core. We really push them in the offseason. Many of them are in other sports, which is great."

Roth said the Aitkin coaching starff is already working on uniforms, music and anything that's allowed under MSHSL rules for next season. Coaches and captains can't work together on choreography until next school year. That's when things get serious. But the original dance routine is rarely what fans see at the state tournament.

"I usually start on next year right away," said Roth. "Coaches can work on choreography over the summer, but you can't work with your kids. I have captains and choreographers and they are all responsible for parts in the dance. We meet at my house as soon as we can and spend all day working on it.

"It changes quite a bit. You have an original idea, but once you work with the kids you realize you need an extra count or you need to take counts out. It's constantly changing all year long in order to get it right."

Both teams seemed to have it right often this year. In nine competitions, C-I placed first or second in all but the 17-team Alexandria competition, which it took third. Aitkin won all six invites it competed in and placed second once in a jazz competition. It's that consistency and Roth's longevity as a coach that have many bending her ear.


"After 20 years of coaching I'm one of the older ones," said Roth. "I'm always getting asked, 'How do you get so many kids in your program? How are you successful year after year?' Basically it's people wanting to know how do you get where we are at."

Roth said good assistants help. Andrea Schoonover has been Roth's assistant for five seasons. Her junior varsity coaches have been with her ranging from six years to one year.

"Andra and I are a team," said Roth. "We can look at each other and without saying a word we know exactly what each other is thinking. She is my best friend outside of dance and to be able to coach together is a dream coming true."

They key concept Roth and Turk agreed on is to build a family instead of a program.

"The reason I'm still coaching is because of the kids," said Roth. "It's a pretty close group. There was a lot of dance alum coming to our competitions, but you really see them coming at sections and state. I still have parents of girls I coached 10 years ago coming to state every year."

And Turk hopes her future teams gives her alumni reason to go to state every year, too.

"Now that we have placed at state, I hope that motivates the girls to work hard and get there again," she said. "Hopefully we can place in jazz next year, too. I don't want to change that. We like where we are at. We worked hard and had success. The girls have seen first hand that hard work pays off. To have 20 girls, who get along, and work hard together, this year was really good."

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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