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Championship dancers enjoy winning, but fun comes first

The Baltimore Sun

The 11 members of the Fallston High School Dance Team have the same mindset when they compete.

They practice hard before the competition, and then it's all about team spirit, said AnnaMarie Neunabor, one of the team's three captains.

"When we compete, we go to have fun," Neunabor said. "If we win, we win, and if we don't, then we don't. We never know how we'll do in a competition, we just know we're going to do our best."

The odds seemed to be against the team this year because they lost six of their senior members last year.

But they competed in the Maryland state championships at the 1st Mariner Arena against nine other teams earlier this month, and won first place for the second year in a row in both the jazz and pom categories.

Then they went on to the D.C. Classics, where they competed against eight teams from Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware. The Fallston team won first place in the jazz category and second place in poms.

The other schools, such as Bel Air High and C. Milton Wright, whom Fallston competed against at the state competition, underestimated the team, said Carrie Cummings, who has been the Fallston dance team's coach since the club started nine years ago.

"Last year, we lost six [veteran dancers], and they thought since we lost so many of our veteran dancers that it would take more time to rebuild the team," Cummings said.

The dance team is restructured in the spring every year, prior to the competitions, said Cummings, who is also a teacher at Fallston. Tryouts are held in May and are open to all students with a C average or better. The entire team, even the veteran dancers, must try out every year, and none of the dancers automatically make the team. The competition gets tougher each year, she said.

"Dance teams are growing in popularity," Cummings said. "There are more competitions, and people realize that it is not just cheering, but dancing, too. And a lot more girls want to be a part of it."

Neunabor tried out for the team her freshman year. Her older sister, Laura, had danced on the team when it first started, and she knew she wanted to do it, too, she said.

The team was important to her adjustment as a freshman, Neunabor said.

"It was nice to be a part of something the first day of my freshman year," she said. "The team is more than girls who dance together, we're a sisterhood. We start out not knowing each other, and within days we are all the best of friends."

Sarah Mathews, a freshman on the team, agreed.

"Going into high school and knowing seniors, juniors and sophomores, made all the difference," said Sarah, 14. "It gave me familiar faces on the first day of school."

Once the team is selected, the members practice two to three hours every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday after school, Cummings said.

The team dances and raises money during the summer, she said. Because the dance team is a club, not a sanctioned sport, the team members must raise money for their own equipment and gear, Cummings said.

The members hold car washes and community clinics for young dancers to raise money. The cost of costumes, warm-up clothes, shoes, make-up and equipment is about $1,000 for each dancer in the first year, and about $300 each additional year, she said.

Despite the cost, Cummings said she is not pushing to make the dance team a school-sanctioned sport.

"We get to choose which ones, and how many competitions we will compete in each year," she said. "It's a lot of work raising the money, but the girls do it."

Although the dance team is considered an after-school club, it receives a lot of support from the teachers and students, Neunabor said. The teachers help them with the fundraisers, and the students take pride in the team, she said.

"When we walk into the gym to dance at a basketball game, they always give us a standing ovation," Neunabor said. "After we won the championships, everyone was yelling and screaming when we came in. It's nice to get a standing ovation because we wear the dance team jacket. That is the best feeling in the world ... it gets me out of bed every day."

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