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Stewartville High School to add competitive dance team

March 11, 2017 GMT

STEWARTVILLE — The Tigers will dance into the spotlight and into competition starting next school year.

Sisters Grace and Abbie Kittelson, of Rochester, were ecstatic when they found out that the Stewartville School Board had approved adding a competitive dance team to the district’s sports options.

“We’re all a team,” Grace, 14, said. “We just go into things together. We’re always there for each other. The team looked out for me multiple times, and helped me on stuff. During competition, we’re insanely close.”

“I’m sure it’ll push us harder to try out for the dance team,” Abbie, 10, said. “There’s a lot more practice, and it’ll be a lot harder.

Grace and Abbie work on their stretches to enhance their high kicks and splits. They both dance to counts, and not to the music because it would “mess up” synchronization with their teammates. This summer will be all about refining techniques and nailing more advance choreography.

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Abbie, who’s in fifth grade, will be eligible to try out for the high school dance team when she reaches seventh grade. However, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Grace. She wanted to belong to a competitive dance team while starting her freshman year at Stewartville High School next fall. Now, she’s more determined than ever to practice every day before tryouts.

“A lot of people don’t think dance is a sport,” Grace said. “They’re usually people who haven’t tried it. They think of a school dance or maybe a lower level dance or maybe twirling around in the basement. They don’t think of stretching for this amount of time, or going to practice every single week and every single day for several hours. It really is a sport, if you look at it closely. You need to be insanely flexible and very athletic.”

Both Kittleson sisters are also part of the Just For Kix program in Stewartville, which practices in the Zion Lutheran Church basement. While they have danced during halftime shows and in contests run through the program, there has been no official high school competitive dance team.

The sisters’ mother, Penni Kittelson, teamed up with other dance families to ask the district about adding competitive dance. Penni Kittelson also held a presentation for the Stewartville School Board.

“The whole school board seemed very happy and had great, positive questions,” Penni said. “They were all in favor. It was really cool.”

The numbers were there

In the past six years, numbers in the Just For Kix program have tripled.

About 350 students dance in the program. Around 34 of them will be eligible to compete at the high school level.

“Dance really has become a thing to do in town, and it’s really fantastic,” said Morgan Rohr, director of Just For Kix in Stewartville. “There were many who really wanted dance to be their thing and as a sport to do at the high school at a more competitive level than I give them here.”

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Stewartville had a dance team once before.

“There was a team several years back, though not within the last 10 years,” said Stewartville Athletics Director Tim Malone. “We’re excited for the kids here right now and trying to offer what families and kids are asking for. Dance, hands down, has been the most heavily requested activity since I’ve been here.”

During the Feb. 13 school board meeting, Malone discussed the feasibility of sustaining a dance program at the high school and that there would be enough students interested in participating and forming a team.

“There’s a desire, and there’s a want out there in our community for this to happen,” Malone said. “There’s not many chances to add a high school sport, and it’s my first time adding a full fledged sport like this. We’ve listened to the community, and did the research so we can make a successful, sustainable team moving in the future, too.”

Dance will be a winter sport, with tryouts in the fall, Malone said. He hopes to hire a full-time head dance coach by the end of March.

While more established dance programs offer jazz and kick competition, the Stewartville program will begin with a kick team and likely add additional genres later.

When asked what may have played the biggest factor in bringing a competitive dance team to the high school athletics program, Malone said it may have something to do with school spirit.

“To be honest, the girls are getting the opportunity to dance in maroon and gold,” he said. “They get to represent their school in that way. That’s definitely something of a drive behind putting this into our school’s athletics program. The desire to be a tiger is part of the drive that got us here.”

Tiger pride

Grace and Abbie said that while the high school’s competitive team would be there for the winter, their Just for Kix family will be there for all seasons.

“We’ve been looking forward to this all year,” Grace said. “We’re all insanely excited, and we’re ready for it. We’re ready.”