Local girls contribute to national title-winning dance squad

February 19, 2014

By Neil Pierson

After months of intensive training sessions, the Bellevue Performance Dance Academy’s senior squad was handsomely rewarded.

The team of 11 high-school girls – including four Sammamish residents – put forth an exceptional performance at the National Dance Team Championships, held Feb. 1-2 in Orlando, Fla.

Members of the Bellevue Performance Dance Academy’s senior squad hold their braids aloft at the national championships.  Contributed

Members of the Bellevue Performance Dance Academy’s senior squad hold their braids aloft at the national championships. Contributed

After showcasing routines in hip-hop and jazz dancing, the team had the second-highest combined point total in the senior small division, and won the hip-hop competition to earn a return trip to Orlando for the April 26-28 world championships.

The four local participants – Demi Peterson, Gabbi Beahm and Tory Thomas of Eastlake High, and Morgan Drouillard of Eastside Catholic School – said the experience was something they’ll always remember.

“It was pretty stressful, but I think, working as a team, we all calmed each other down,” said Peterson, a senior. “We relaxed, had fun, but we still were very serious about everything.”

“We put just as much work into it as some other teams would put into their sports, and it’s just as competitive as any other kind of sport,” said Beahm, a freshman.

Most of the dancers have trained for years under coach Kristen Couch, although Couch didn’t establish Bellevue Performance Dance until the past year.

Most local dance studios have to share time with competitive cheerleading, but the Bellevue studio is one of three in the state to compete in a sort of “all-star circuit,” Couch said.

Bellevue’s senior team has already qualified for the world championships in the hip-hop division, and has another chance to qualify in jazz when they travel to Portland, Ore., next month.

The studio earned $5,000 for its first-place finish at nationals, although that only partially covers the $1,500-per-person cost to return to Florida.

Nationals took place at the 5,000-seat HP Field House at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando. The event was packed, and many more viewers were watching on live television.

“That’s a stage that none of them have ever seen before,” Couch said. “So I expected some of the younger ones to crack under pressure, but they didn’t. They handled it like champs.”

Most of the dancers have deep backgrounds in cheerleading. Beahm, Drouillard, Peterson and Thomas have all served, or currently serve, as cheerleaders for their respective high schools. But dancing has become their true passion.

“I started dancing at the age of 3, and I’ve been competitive dancing since 8,” said Drouillard, who joined within the past year because Thomas, a good friend, was enjoying it.

“It’s new to me, but I absolutely love it. And practices are hard, but it’s definitely worth it.”

Along with maintaining good grades, each of the girls have aspirations of dancing in college. Couch said some of the top collegiate programs in the country have been recruiting her six seniors.

Community service is also a focus. The studio performed at this year’s Snowflake Lane holiday celebration in downtown Bellevue, and recently partnered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help a young girl.

“She has cerebral palsy, and she just loved to see us dance,” Thomas said. “She loves princesses, so they put on a big production for her of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’”

Peterson was involved with Connect Cheer Northwest – Bellevue Performance Dance’s sister organization – for nine years. She joined the dance program four years ago, and said she enjoys it even more.

“It’s more of a way to express yourself, and it’s kind of like an escape from everything at school,” Peterson said.

As they prepare for the world championships, it might be a tough task for Couch to get her girls to take a breather. She wanted to give them a week off from training, but they refused.

“They want to be champions, and even more so now that they’ve won nationals and they’ve got a paid bid to worlds,” Couch said. “They’re not satisfied with that at all.”

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