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By Andy Hutchison
It’s often said that “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” But striving to maintain a competitive edge against tough opponents, and also push themselves, Newtown High School’s dance team members significantly switched up their South-West Conference championship approach from years past.
It paid off as the girls retained their jazz division title in addition to capturing the hip hop division crown to earn a clean sweep and SWC bragging rights at the January 30 championships, held at New Milford High.
With the help of jazz choreographer Emily Brestovansky and hip hop choreographer Chris Lupis, the Newtown squad conveyed a story along with the lyrics of the song “Dirty Paws” from the band Of Monsters And Men for their jazz routine, and executed moves to a montage of songs that made up the hip hop entry.
“It’s not a typical dance song,” Newtown Coach Cheryl Stenz said of “Dirty Paws.”
“We wanted to push ourselves. We wanted to do everything we could to accomplish the SWC, and possibly state, title,” said captain Meera Gupta, whose Nighthawks will go for a state title in Hamden on February 27. “We took a big risk with jazz this year. It felt very fulfilling considering all the hard work this team put forth.”
“It was very different than what we’ve done in previous years so we were really nervous about it,” captain Charlotte Stenz added.
But the team members manage to hide their nerves and pull through to score big points with the judges.
“So thrilled — I was so happy,” said captain Kaitlyn Pierce, noting that the team members are not only competing against opposing school squads, but also, in effect, competing against themselves to do better than they have before.
“They worked so hard leading up to it. They really did their best — and it paid off,” Coach Stenz said.
Charlotte Stenz said the teammates stand together and hold hands while the winners are announced: First the third-place team, then the runner-up, and when Newtown’s team members hadn’t yet heard their school’s name, they anticipated being named champs.
“That buildup was nerve-wracking,” Charlotte Stenz said.
“It’s really rewarding. It was nice that our work paid off and [the judges] noticed it,” captain Michaela Hall added.
Newtown has won at least one of the two SWC championships in each of the last four years, meaning this senior class has had tremendous success from the get-go. Now, they want to finish things off with a state-level triumph.
The dancers were runner-up in the state jazz division last year, after winning the title the previous season.
“We’re hoping to do much better this year,” Charlotte Stenz said.
“It would be great to end it on a nice note with states,” Gupta added.
The rest of the team comprises Allie Indelicato, Caitlyn Argraves, Kamdynn Moroney, Riley Smith, Emma Short, Lauren Villamana, Grace Walter, Arline Almeter, Ellie Daigle, Annalise Saraceni, Francesca D’Aprile, Cailin Blessey, Katie Lurie, Julia Barnum, Caroline Reichmann, Danika Rasmussen, and Ashley Russo.