The Minooka Community High School's dance team season has been one for the memory books. Led by their talented coach, Melissa Wallace, the team worked hard all year to perfect their routines and improve their technique. Their dedication and hard work paid off. One of the highlights of the team's season was their performance at the Universal Dance Association National Competition, where they placed 15th in the nation!
We talked with Coach Wallace to learn more about her background and her experience with her team this season.
What is your background and how long have you been coaching?
I started dancing at age 3 at Mrs. Minuth's in New Lenox. I continued dancing and eventually also was a part of the local youth pom team. I have been coaching for 15 years total. A few of those years were at my previous district. When I started at Minooka I was the JV coach, then moved up to Varsity Assistant under the fabulous Cathy Gliwa and eventually took over as head coach when Cathy left. During my time here we have moved from competing through Team Dance Illinois to the IHSA which took over competitive dance as a sport in 2012-2013. In total since IHSA has sanctioned dance, (10 years) 8 Conference Championship titles and 8 Sectional Championship titles. We have made the state finals (day two) 9 years in a row (we did not make it to state in 2013, first year of IHSA). During COVID year, I hosted the first ever virtual competition for the state of Illinois. After that, the head of dance at IHSA reached out to me and asked me to host and run the state series virtually, which I did while pregnant. I was bed rested the day after virtual state. (lol) This past year I won NFHS Coach of the Year for Illinois Dance Coaches, and then won the Region 4 NFHS Coach of the Year (Illinois Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan).
How many girls are on the team?
This competitive season we had 14 varsity athletes, and 14 JV athletes. We have had up to 23 roster on the varsity and up to 18 roster on the JV.
How long is your season?
HAH! We have tryouts in the spring and begin practicing over the summer. We perform at all home football games, a variety of community events, and run a youth fall clinic - kiddos who attend then get to perform at a game. We then run a competitive season tryout in October where our current rosters re-audition to solidify spots and kids who got cut previously, didn't try out previously or transferred in have the opportunity to try out. We then head into competition season and perform at basketball games. Competition season ends in January for JV and Early February (nationals) for Varsity. We then continue to perform at basketball games through their post-season (March). After that, we start planning for the next year, we get tryout choreography done and run middle school prep clinic and open gyms.
What does your practice schedule look like?
Since we are nearly year-round, we practice Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. We have some Sundays on the schedule primarily to get gym space. I firmly believe less is more with our year-long sport. If we practice them every day, they are drained, bored, injured, and don't feel motivated. With how our schedule is, they know we don't have tomorrow. We must accomplish the day's goals THAT DAY. We do also lift as a team during the fall season, then for winter season our athletes enroll in Athletic Fitness for PE.
How long does it take you to come up with the choreography?
We begin our choreographic process over the summer, which is allowed per IHSA. We sometimes have the ahtletes come in with movement, sometimes they work in groups and we give specific needs - "I need your group to work on a high level for 2 8 counts then do floor work" - "We need your group to do difficult turns" etc. We start working in June, then pause for football season, and continue work again after competition tryouts. It usually takes us up until the first competition (mid november) to have the piece "ready". After that, we make changes to the routine. We watch as a group, and as individuals and present change ideas to the team. The athletes have a lot of say in the choreography. Coaches focus primarily on staging, who is where in the forms, and cleaning. This has been the most rewarding process, because each year the routine is specifically THAT teams. Only that group could have come up with it. Even if the roster was different by 1 athlete, it would be a different routine. They really take ownership and perform with pride.
Tell us about your experience at state this season?
State was a blood bath! the 3A field is so fierce. We are thrilled to have made day 2 again.
How has the success you had at state impacted the teams confidence for the remainder of the season?
The biggest impact on our program this year was attending UDA Nationals in Orlando. The talent of the teams we faced was unreal and inspiring. We were in complete shock to have advanced all of the way to the final round (day 3). We left Nationals feeling refueled and inspired to be even better next season.
The success of this season's dance team is a testament to the power of hard work, dedication, and teamwork. Their accomplishments have brought a lot of pride to the MCHS community. Great job on such a successful season!