Happy feet dance their way to fame

The Spirit Express team performs “Alice” at the Avalon Theatre.

The girls on the Spirit Express dance team reacted like anyone would after hearing the announcement they had won the national championship: They jumped up and down. Only they were really coordinated about it.

“Actually I was falling,” Jessie Hill, 18, said with a laugh as she recalled the recent event at the National Dance Alliance All-Star National Championship competition in Dallas.

Hill and her teammates grabbed each and celebrated.

“We were just so surprised, and we were jumping all over,” Hill said.

The NDA All-Star National Championship is one of the biggest dance competitions in the country. More than 17,000 members of 750 dance teams from 33 states and three countries come together annually to compete for a spot in the world championships.

The senior Spirit Express team from Grand Junction won in hip-hop-style dance and were awarded a bid to perform their jazz and pom routine in the world competition April 29 to May 2 at Epcot Center in Florida.

Only 20 teams are selected to represent the U.S., and not all of those will get to perform all of their dances. Spirit Express is the only team to win from Colorado.

“I don’t know if people realize that this is as far as you can go,” said Tena Preuss, director of the Express All-Stars and coach of the Spirit Express team. “It’s like the Olympics of all-star dance.”

Performing at such a high level is scary and exciting for the team members and their coach.

“I always have known that we should be there, but now it’s time to up our game,” Preuss said. “I say if you don’t have a shot of winning, then why do it?”

The team members share her attitude.

“There are going to be a lot of teams there that are all amazing,” Hill said. “But we won nationals, and now I know we can hold our ground.”

Their hip-hop ninja routine is unique in its theme, which makes them a standout among other dancers dressed in high-top shoes and baggy pants.

“I really like the routine because it’s fun, and our outfits are really cool,” said Heidi Colton, 17.

Their other dances have unique themes, too, including a pom routine set to the theme song from the movie “Grease,” and a jazz dance portraying “Alice in Wonderland.”

All three dances were awarded best in choreography awards at nationals.

The team members know, however, they have a lot of work to do if they want a shot at winning a world competition.

“It’s really intense, and it takes a lot of commitment,” Colton said.

Her teammates never miss practice, which takes place for three hours, five days a week, she said, adding dance is just as hard as any other sport.

“It’s very hard work, and you should try it before you say it isn’t,” she said.

“The secret to being in this competition is heart, drive and a commitment to the sport,” Preuss said.

She plans to work her team hard in the next eight weeks, and they don’t seem to mind.

“She gives us opportunities, then she pushes us as far as we can go,” Hill said. “We just love her so much.”

“I’m tough. I expect more from these girls than others do, and not just performing, but in grades and attitude. This is just a vehicle to make these girls better people,” Preuss said.

In addition to extra dance time, the team must raise more than $8,000 to cover the expenses of the trip. Part of its travel was paid as part of winning nationals.

When not practicing, the team will be washing cars, hosting dance parties, and conducting sponsorship drives to raise enough money.

“We’re kind of in a remote area, so it’s a bigger expense for us to get to these competitions,” Preuss said.

The team members know they won’t get anywhere without the support of their community and the love of their families.

“We just want to say a huge thank you to the community, especially our parents, for supporting us,” Hill said.

Preuss got teary-eyed when she added, “I just feel so blessed. This means so much, and I just want to show everyone that the good girls do finish first.”

Watch Spirit Express’ nationals winning performance below:



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