The Ketchikan High School KHighlites dance team felt defeated.
That kind of self-aware devastation that only continues to further sink in.
With just one week before stepping foot on the gymnasium floor at Juneau-Douglas High School for the Region V dance competition — the biggest stage in Southeast — the KHighlites needed to change up their routine. And fast.
Their performance in front of mock judges at Schoenbar Middle School wasn’t their best. And they were marked down — left and right — for it.
“We left there, like, ‘(Oh man), there are some things we need to work on,’” KHighlites head coach Alma Parker said. “‘We need to figure this out. ... We need to make some changes.’”
The KHighlites were able to pull it together.
When it was all said and done on March 14, Ketchikan left Juneau with their highest mark in program history — an average score of 96 out of a possible 100 points — including a pair of 97 scores at the Region V competition.
But that performance in early March at Schoenbar, which was a showcase for any family or friends who wouldn’t be able to attend the Region V competition in Juneau, was scored nearly 10 points lower.
The dance team tallied an average in the 80-point range during the mock adjudication, and it was knocked down partly on purpose.
“They were tough on us because we did not know what to expect when we go to Juneau,” Parker said. “We don’t know if they’re going to be nice and lenient, (or) are they going to look at every little thing. I wanted them to give us their true thoughts of it.”
And an average score in the 80-point range would’ve given the KHighlights a “excellent” rating. Not the “superior” score they have become accustomed to in the past decade.
To hit that mark, they needed to reach the 90-point plateau — one they would eventually hit a week later — like the KHighlites have done several years in a row.
Superior is the highest possible rating.
“There are categories, all (adding) up to 100 points,” Parker said. “Each category — like appearance is only 10 points. And they look at everything from your uniforms to your hair, and how it all gets put together. And the bigger points, two sections (execution and technique) are 30 points each. And the biggest is showmanship, and how we present ourselves to the audience; the crowd appeal.”
But after a full day of presenting one routine after another for family and friends at Schoenbar, their last one — which was their biggest one — fell flat.
Friends of Parker’s gave the KHighlites notes on their uniforms needing more color, making changes to the backdrop, and the choreography needing to be enhanced.
“We hustled (and) bustled,” Parker said. “We (were like), ‘OK, let’s change this. Let’s figure this out. ... We’ll flip this over. We’ll do this over here.’ Yeah, it was a lot of work that last week. And we were able to pull off 97s, so we’re very proud of (this) team.”
The theme of Ketchikan’s dance routine was “What does it take to be a KHighlites dancer?”
Fitting, for the what this group had to go through in the last week of their season — a complete revamp of their performance.
And this squad only used it as fuel.
“It is a ‘let’s prove them wrong’ mentality,” Parker said. “We fight stronger; we’re going to dance stronger.”
With a factory set backdrop, the KHighlites’ routine moved through the components of needing facial expressions, to rhythm and confidence, ultimately ending with the idea that it’s just better when you’re dancing.
“The beginning opens up with a couple of them wearing hardhats, and as if they’re looking at a mannequin trying to figure out how to make the perfect KHighlites dancer,” Parker said. “And then you just go through that story. ‘OK, what does it take?’”
The final song is Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancing.”
And the KHighlites made sure that this dance routine was better than before.
Of the three Region V teams — Juneau-Douglas, Thunder Mountain and Ketchikan high schools — the KHighlites were the last to perform, which meant they would be the last to receive their scores.
Juneau-Douglas also received a superior rating. Thunder Mountain was awarded “excellent.”
But inside of that packed gym at Juneau-Douglas High School, the KHighlites huddled together, held hands, and put their heads down in unison.
“In my head, I’m like, ‘Oh man, we better get this because I’m going to hear it if we don’t,’” Parker said.
The streak of “superior” was on the line, after all. But the KHighlites didn’t need to worry.
The announcement came through the PA system, “Ketchikan receives a rating of superior.”
And that huddled group of Kayhi dancers — along with the family and friends in the stands — erupted with joy.
Kayhi senior Leah Call and junior Nena Jones received All-Tourney dance team recognition.
After receiving their superior rating, with an average score of 96, Parker reached out to her former coach, Abby Kosmos.
Kosmos coached Parker during her time at Kayhi.
“She said, ‘I think that’s the highest we’ve gotten,’ ... an average score of 96,” Parker said of her conversation with Kosmos. “... So very exciting to hear that.”
The KHighlites sent a video of the ravamped routine back home to the mock judges, as well. And they loved the new changes to the routine, too.
“They could tell we worked our butts off,” Parker said. “Totally revamped (the) sections that they were maybe the hardest critiques on.”
The success felt good on the Ketchikan’s arch rival’s home floor.
Yes, the First City and Capital City’s rivalry extends beyond the basketball court.
And Ketchikan’s dance team came away with that final ribbon.
“It’s a totally different feeling when you perform a halftime routine verses a region routine,” Parker said. “Halftime, you are pure entertainment, and school spirit. Regions, you’re like, ‘We want that blue ribbon.’ You’re going for a prize. There’s something to attain after you perform a regions routine.”
Notes: The 13 KHighlite dancers vote on team awards every season. This year’s teams awards are:
Rookie of the Year: Jhasen Seludo; Most Inspirational: Nena Jones; 110% Award: Katelyn Trugon; Team MVP and Coach MVP: Avery Thomas
Senior: Leah Call (team captain); juniors: Nena Jones (co-captain), Olivia Berg (co-captain), Jhenna Day (team officer), Jhasen Seludo, Maegan Chua; sophomores Avery Thomas (team officer), Chloe Gosnell, Emma Bowers, Nicole West, Spring McCarthy: freshman Reilly McCue, Katelyn Trugon; team manager: Lyla Seludo.