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When the Valley City High School Hi-Lites dance team readies a routine for state, the end result is usually a product of months of works.
Months of dancing in Valley City's Studio 29 and the Hi-Liner Activity Center. Months of watching tape, looking for the little details. Months of competition, where crucial feedback is given.
But when the Hi-Lites perform their hip hop routine Saturday at the second day of the North Dakota Association of Dance and Drill's State Championships, it will be the first time the routine is done for judging, the results of a late-season audible.
"This year, our hip hop routine we had wasn't getting the comments we wanted, so we actually changed our routine two weeks ago," Hi-Lite coach Megan Gilbertson said.
The team spent Thursday night putting the finishing touches on the routine, which it hopes will fare well at the annual state meet. The meet starts at 5 p.m. tonight at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
Teams from across the state will perform in the preliminaries for the pom and jazz routines tonight. Preliminaries for the high kick and hip hop take place Saturday morning, with finals for all events Saturday night.
The team enters the competition having placed third in hip hop last year and sixth in pom.
The Hi-Lites expect to do well in those same categories this year. In addition to the revamped hip hop dance, the team also expects to do well in its pom routine, which the team's been working on since the middle of summer.
The problem with the original hip hop routine was a matter of judges calling it "jazzy" at earlier competitions, said Autumn Meyer, one of two team captains.
"Getting that comment twice wasn't something that we wanted, so we decided to change up our music and change up everything," she said.
So two weeks ago, the team went back into the studio, spent two days learning a new routine to new music, and has been fine-tuning the details of it ever since.
The new routine will undergo its first judging at the state competition, but made its public debut last Saturday at halftime of the Valley City High School boys basketball game.
"It went really well because now we've gotten to see ourselves on a big floor and on camera," Meyer said.
Gilbertson was pleased with how efficiently her team picked up the new moves, especially given its youth.
"Our team this year is probably the youngest team we've had before," she said. "We have three eighth graders, one ninth grader and two tenth graders. They're all very young, but they've all done a great job working together."
Though young, the girls have quite a bit of experience.
Of the six girls on this year's team, four return from last year, including Autumn and Rachel Meyer, Eden Crump, and Shelby Brown. They're joined by newcomers Marielle Villarin and Emma Willey.
It's a level of youth that Gilbertson said has caught several other coaches off guard.
"Other coaches have commented that when they saw us, they were just thinking 'oh, they're really young' but when they actually danced, (those coaches) were really impressed because they had no idea they were so talented at such a young age," Gilbertson said.
Part of the skill is attributed to motivation from placing last year.
"I think that set the bar this year," Autumn Meyer said. "Emma and Marielle kind of have to work up to that and get to the standards that we need them at and they have been doing really well at that."
Villarin said the transition for the newcomers has been helped by an openness from the more experienced
"Whenever we've needed something, they've always had answers to our questions so it's been a bit easier for us," she said.
Though the hip hop and pom routines are expected to be the best for the team, Gilbertson said the high kick and jazz routines could also place, depending on how things play out.
Regardless of how the the team finishes, though, Gilbertson is proud of what the Hi-Lites have accomplished this season.
"These girls work extremely hard," she said. "I don't think people really understand how much time is put into it. They're up here three hours a day, and with changing the routine, they've been up here even on Saturdays trying to finish it.
"It's a lot of time dedication but I think they are like one big family now."