At the United Spirit Assn. nationals held in late March in Anaheim, director Kelly Palmer’s varsity dance and drill teams won first place in five categories: large dance/drill, large all-male hip-hop, coed dance, championship large military and championship small military.
The junior varsity team also came in first place in the open small military event.
For Palmer, the likelihood of this year’s team meeting more success than last year’s group at first seemed uncertain, given that last year’s team brought home four first-place wins.
At the start of the season, Palmer recalled how the team adopted the mindset that would allow them to reinvent themselves altogether.
“Last year, we had such a good year. My kids were afraid they couldn’t repeat it,” Palmer said. “[It] got to the point where I needed to tell them to not try to be last year’s team, but be this year’s team.”
Palmer began coaching the dance and drill team at Glendale High in 1996 somewhat reluctantly, she recalled this week.
Glendale High’s former dance director was leaving. With her degree in Shakespeare psychology, Palmer was more intent on teaching English. But she also had years of dancing experience and educators coaxed her into leading the dance program.
At the time, there were no boys involved and the program appeared to be sinking.
“I said I would do it for six months,” she said.
But the relationships she formed with the dancers convinced her to stay much longer. Since the late 1990s, the team has earned more than 50 titles.
Today’s program includes about 80 members, 20 of them are boys. Together, they are the largest team in Glendale High’s league, Palmer said.
Entering this season, Palmer described the team as “kind” — a trait that worried her at first.
“They’re really nice kids and they liked each other,” she said. “I often found myself telling them, ‘You have to fight stronger, you need to be more competitive. You guys are too nice.’”
But when the pressure was on at nationals, the team delivered, and they changed Palmer’s outlook.
“I really didn’t think kindness would win in the end, but it really does,” she said.
While she said, “there’s never really an answer” as to how the team was able to succeed, Palmer said this year’s team was willing to put in the work practicing their routines until they were tight and precise.
She likened their process to the students in her advanced English classes revising written essays.
“We weren’t willing to rest,” she said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.
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