NUHS dance team brings the heat

Members reflect on past seasons and discuss upcoming goals
The NUHS dance team kicks to new heights during a competition at Glencoe-Silver Lake High School.
The NUHS dance team kicks to new heights during a competition at Glencoe-Silver Lake High School.
Leanna Brown

It’s Friday afternoon. School has just been dismissed, and students flood the halls. For many, this marks the end of their busy week and an opportunity to return home. However, not everyone is able to relax just yet. For junior Madilyn Portner, the hard work is just beginning.

As a member of the New Ulm High School dance team, Portner makes the trek down to Washington Elementary School most days of the week. There, the team engages in warm-up exercises and stretching before working on their competition routines. 

Even though this is only her second year on the team, dance has been a part of Portner’s life for nearly eight years. Her favorite thing about dance is “the dance itself and learning new skills.”

Junior Madilyn Partner demonstrates her flexibility during a competition at Fairmont High School. (Leanna Brown)

However, being on the team does not come without challenges. Three seasons ago, nearly half the team graduated, and some other members left. The following year, the team consisted almost entirely of a new crop of eighth graders, and they have maintained the majority grade-wise ever since. 

“I was really concerned about the season, having such a young team after having quite seasoned dancers that I thought the season might be tumultuous,” head coach and high school English teacher Mrs. Marlow said.

Marlow was a three-sport athlete in high school: she participated in tennis, gymnastics, and dance. She believes that these activities have “shaped [her] as a person.” When she started teaching, she knew she wanted to have an extracurricular impact because she wanted to help students grow just as she had through her high school activities. She coached gymnastics for five years before transitioning to dance.

“My favorite part [about dance] is definitely the feeling right after a performance I get of . . . being so proud of all the work that was put in, and just seeing the benefits pay off,” Marlow said. She also enjoys engaging with dancers outside the structured environment of the classroom and getting to know them as young men and women instead of just students. 

Although she had some reservations about having a very young team, Marlow found that the season didn’t turn out as turbulently as she had previously thought. She decided that the team should compete at the junior varsity level as they continued to gain experience.

“Instead, it was . . . an incredible growing opportunity for us to excel and build at the JV level and build a very nice foundation that we’ve tried to keep to this day,” she said.

The dance team was successful at the junior varsity level, but they struggled to place when they started competing at the varsity level last year. Portner said that school dance has differed from other teams she’s been a part of due to a higher level of difficulty. Like other members, she was disappointed by the team’s result. 

“It was very discouraging because I was used to Just For Kix where we get first at almost every competition,” she said. “School dance is more competitive because in Just For Kix, the divisions are split a lot more, so . . . the level of difficulty or skill for each team is more similar.”

Marlow was also saddened by the team’s finishes last year.

“We saw such improvement in our dancers that . . . when we went to meets for that not to be shown and to not have that pat on the back on and not feel that sense of accomplishment was incredibly frustrating,” she said. “Because as a coach, you can tell that your team is growing and evolving, but if they can’t see it in those situations, they start to lose faith and they start to waver, and you don’t want that to happen either.”

However, she looks forward to upcoming seasons, as the team has received several second-and-third place finishes this year.

“I think this is really getting us . . . in our stride to kind of keep going and want those finishes, because now we’re starting to see them, you know, on a more regular basis,’’ she said.

Madilyn Partner and head coach Mrs. Marlow celebrate a third-place finish.

Her goals for the rest of the season are to keep momentum up throughout the team’s last three competitions and to improve some inconsistent skills such as turn sets in their jazz routine. The team has made several changes to their kick dance, an area that Marlow is excited to see the team further progress in. She hopes to build on the success the team has found this year.

“My goal is to really find success at some of these smaller meets and get into those first-place finishes,” she said.

As the only junior on the team, Portner is excited to maintain her influence on the team as the oldest member next season. She feels like the team’s recent placements have motivated the team and is excited for the future.

“I hope to follow this trend of placements and progressively get higher. Be consistent second place, and then throw a first or two in there,’’ she said.

Come support the dance team at NUHS on January 18 and at Cathedral High School on January 25.


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