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Dance team advances to state

<i>Bob Burrows photo</i> The River Falls Dance Team often performs during halftime of home basketball games, as in this picture. Kneeling in front, left to right: Claire Peichel, Captain Riva Macbeth, Captain Katie Thompson and Jenna Lammer. Standing in back, left to right: Carley Ruemmele, Tessa Balsiger, Alyssa Dunn, Dagny McClelland and Trisha Steiner. Not pictured: Hayley Howe and Megan Bjork.1 / 2
Pictured left to right in the front row: Hayley Howe, Katie Thompson (captain), Riva Macbeth (captain) and Dagny McClelland. Left to right in the back row are: Alyssa Dunn, Jenna Lammer, Tessa Balsiger, Megan Bjork, Claire Peichel, Trisha Steiner and Carley Ruemmele.2 / 2

"We perform at the halftime shows of the (home) basketball games, both boys' and girls'," said dance-team coach Melissa Moser, who also teaches science and literature at Meyer Middle School, as well as coaching the girls' golf team.

Moser started as coach of the River Falls Dance Team this school year. The team was revived in 2007 after budget cuts forced its demise seven or eight years before that.

Moser said the 11-member team includes freshmen- through senior-aged students. Though currently an all-girl team, the coach says it welcomes boys.

"Some of the best dance teams have male members," she said.

The coach said everyone is excited to have dance uniforms this year for both its jazz and pom-pom routines. In years past, the team wore color-guard uniforms.

The school district provides the dancers with a room in which to practice and the use of a district vehicle to travel to competitions, but the team receives no other financial aid.

Moser said the girls sold as a fundraiser T-shirts that say "Dance Team Super Fan." The coach also said each member paid a $200 fee -- required for most school-sanctioned sports -- so that the team could have operating money and buy uniforms.

She said dance-team tryouts happen in the fall, a few weeks before the team's October-January performance season.

A member must try out in fall and join the team then. Dancers cannot join halfway through the schedule.

Moser said a person doesn't need dance experience to qualify for the team. She looks at a dancer's ability to do double turns/spins, leaps, and splits with both legs as well as their level of enthusiasm.

"We really want to encourage anybody who has a love of dancing to come try out," she said.

Dancers practice during the season 3-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday then usually perform on Friday. Moser said people often underestimate the amount of physical endurance required to go "full force" on a three- or four-minute routine.

"It demands a lot of outside practice to master the dances," said Moser.

She holds the dancers to the same standards as the athletes in "real" sports. They must keep up grades, avoid disciplinary problems and pay fines.

The coach says the two dance-team captains are unbelievably organized and on top of things.

Moser suspects they might be tougher on the team than she is. She calls them all a very dedicated group of athletes.

Sometimes before a performance, the dancers will each do a mini tryout to demonstrate how well they know the routine. She confirms that the team itself is not associated with any area dance studio.

Moser laid her dance foundation when she attended Eau Claire North High School, where she performed on the freshman, junior varsity and varsity dance teams.

She knows her steps and says she enjoys coaching a group that is so dedicated and has real love and passion for what it's doing.

So what are team's goals and plans for the future?

Moser said, "Our ultimate goal is to get it recognized as a sport (in River Falls). "Right now our main focus is state."

Learn more about the Feb. 5 competition at the Web site