For 16-year-old Korryn Hart, "Dance is a way for me to express who I am as a person."
"It's like speaking in another language. Different dance moves convey different emotions. I can't even express in words what dancing means to me."
Korryn, of Westminster, along with 11 members of the Westminster High School dance team, will speak that language for thousands when they perform in a pregame show and a halftime show at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday, Dec. 28. They will follow that by performing in the Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Studios on Thursday, Dec. 29.
Westminster dance team coach Caitlin Milhimes nailed the gig for her students. She said she has been contacted each of the four years she has coached the team by a travel agency that organizes halftime shows.
"I never really felt like I was ready or that I had the right team," Milhimes said, "But when they called this time last year and I surveyed who I had in the group I thought we should do it.
"I knew I had amazing kids. Not only that, but I had amazing parents. You really cannot take a trip of this magnitude and not have the incredible support of parents and an administration at school that has been so supportive all along the way. I knew that we could pull this off."
Milhimes believes this is the first Carroll County dance team to perform for a college bowl game. She said the students have worked hard, fundraising all year to defray trip expenses.
"When I was a student I did this, but it was the Sugar Bowl and I had the most amazing trip," Milhimes said. "I thought if I could give my students the same experience it would be priceless. It makes me emotional to think about how they will have these incredible memories to share."
According to Milhimes, renowned choreographer Rosera McCoy sent a tape of the 4-minute dance they had to learn. McCoy has choreographed the movies "Alvin and the Chipmunks," "Garfield – The Movie" and others, and has choreographed numbers for Usher, Celine Dion, N'Sync, Beyonce, and many other stars.
"The [participating] schools have to do the dance in front of the choreographers and head choreographer Rosera [in Florida], and they will be judged. If they are deemed to not know it well enough they could potentially be told they can't perform. But that is not going to happen," Milhimes said with a laugh.
A dozen other schools will be dancing behind them at halftime, Milhimes said. There will be marching bands on the field and a group of school color guards performing near the goal post.
Milhimes said trip expenses total about $1,500 per student but that has been buffered by their fundraising. Complicated fundraising spreadsheets helped her track which students worked at each fundraiser. They were then credited the appropriate amount of money for the time put in.
"No two kids will pay the same amount. It was truly the amount of effort put into it that reflected the amount they ended up paying," she said. "They have done car washes. They have sold hundreds and hundreds of candy bars. They have worked so long, and it's been a true labor of love. They did a flapjack fundraiser at the Applebee's in Westminster in July and restaurant nights at Texas Roadhouse and the Greene Turtle."
Sophomore Ainsley Cline said fundraising was a lot of hard work but team members reminded one another of the end result, which kept them going.
"I mainly just remembered what the fundraising was for, and that helped me stay focused and try to do as much as possible," the 15-year-old said. "And we had fun doing it together."
"When I'm onstage it's a feeling of pure adrenaline and I feel like I could keep dancing forever," she said. "And it's fun when you get to perform routines with your best friends."
She said the dance routine they had to learn for the show was a tough one, with many "trick steps," but after drilling over and over, it now comes naturally to each team member.
"We'll be dancing to a mash up of 'Shut up and Dance' by Walk the Moon, and 'Can't Stop the Feeling' by Justin Timberlake," Ainsley said.
Senior Connor Levesque, the team's lone male dancer, joined the team in his freshman year. He said that back then he was nervous about performing as the only guy on the team, but soon people started talking about "that guy who dances" and he realized that he enjoyed the role.
"Really good dancers have a passion for it and really feel what they are dancing," Connor said. "It is in the soul, not just the body."
According to Connor, the Westminster High School Dance Team has a captain for hip-hop, one for jazz and one for modern dance. He has been the hip-hop captain all four years. He's been dancing hip-hop for 13 years.
"When I first came here it was my teacher's first year, too. I've seen this dance team be built up to what it is and it is cool to know that I helped build the team," Connor said. "This will be like nothing we have experienced before. We are already so close but I think our team will be even closer after this experience and then remembering it all together. It will have a huge impact on us."
This year's Russell Athletic Bowl is a matchup between West Virginia University and the University of Miami, and Milhimes expects it will be a good game. Her dancers will have dress rehearsal Wednesday morning and the game in the afternoon — kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. — but she said her students will also have time to play during the four-day trip.
"They have two-day park passes to Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. They will have time to work and show off, and then time to play on Tuesday afternoon and all day Thursday," she said.
Milhimes, Ainsley, Korryn and Connor all said the team is a tightknit one.
"This is an incredible opportunity. They are so excited to represent their school and their community and they are ready for the trip of a lifetime," Milhimes said. "This is my way of giving back to them because these students are so good and they do so much for others and work so hard. They deserve this."
But Korryn and Connor said it is their coach who deserves the credit.
"Miss Milhimes has made us into the dancers we are today by allowing us to blossom and bloom and just progress," Korryn said." She's pushed me to not only be a better dancer but also to be a better person, just because of who she is."
Connor agreed, noting how much their teacher means to them.
"She has worked her butt off for us," he said.
Korryn stressed that this trip of a lifetime is about more than dance.
"Of all the years I have been on dance teams I feel like this team has something really special about it," Korryn said. "There are so many levels of talent here and we all come together to create something that is magical and different. They are truly a second family."