BENNINGTON -- When the current crop of Mount Anthony Union High School senior dancers were freshmen, placing at the state competition was a far-off dream.
Three years later, the girls are going to New Englands.
After placing fourth in both the hip-hop and pom competitions at the state competition in Vergennes two weeks ago, the Patriots are traveling to Bellows Falls this weekend for their first taste of a regional competition, and the team is excited for the opportunity.
"[The invite] means we've accomplished more than we've ever set out to do," said senior Alex Dufresne. "Being invited to New Englands is a big deal for all of us, especially us seniors because it is our last year.
The team, consisting of Dufresne, fellow seniors Dayna Goodell, Katherine Langlois, Gabby Loomis, Keara Sternberg, Cheyanne Woodward, juniors Molly Center, Bridget Evans, Erica Frost, Isabelle Holden, MaKenzie Wicks and sophomore Weslyn Blair, will compete in both the hip-hop and pom disciplines at regionals. For Sternberg, the road to Bellows Falls started at the beginning of the year as the team took a new approach to learning their dances.
"This year, we had a different strategy approaching States," Sternberg said. "Instead of doing different routines throughout the season, we just picked one routine and gradually throughout the season we made it more complicated and more complex.
The hip-hop routine went in first, and fans of the MAU basketball teams saw the evolution of the dance throughout the year as the team provided half-time entertainment for the crowd. Being able to showcase their routines in events like the half-time performance help to ease the nerves the girls feel when they hit the floor to compete.
"It helps so much more than if we didn't have that at all," Dufresne said. "If we went from just our hallways straight to [a competition] without anyone watching us, we'd probably never do as well as we have. There is a lot of feedback from the audience."
For the seniors in particular, the nerves that go into a competition have started to become calmer, and the team correlates that directly to competing in front of others.
"Since freshman year, it's gotten easier and easier," said Woodward. "We know what to expect, we know how big the crowd is going to be. It gets easier and easier."
The new wrinkle of New Englands adds an element of nerves to the girls' preparations, but the team is also trying to make sure that they have fun on the trip.
"I just want to have as much fun as we can and see how far we can get," Dufresne said. "There are 18 teams going, and we haven't seen half of the teams that are going to be there. We have no idea what we are going up against."
"A lot of us, especially our seniors, have put this team together," Woodward said. "When we first joined there were nine people on the team. We have contributed [a lot]. A lot of us are leaving with that satisfaction. We contributed and put our part into it enough to think we are leaving on a good note."
Asked to describe the two routines and their differences, Woodward said that the moves differentiate the two the most.
"Our hip-hop routine ... you do a lot of different moves, stunts, stills, worms, they are just a bunch of different body movements," Woodward said. "In pom, you have a pom in your hands. It's more sassy."
"Pom is kind of like jazz, except you have pom-poms," Langlois added.
In a group interview, the seniors agreed that the hip-hop routine is their favorite, mainly because it allows the most expression.
"There is so much more space to express yourself [in hip-hop]," Sternberg said. "In pom, the main facial you make is a super-bright smile. But in hip-hop, you have so much more freedom to be who you are."
While the group would like to place at the event, the Patriots aren't making a place on the podium the end-all, be-all for the season. Rather, the group is just excited that they got to extend the season.
"We all went into States thinking it was going to be our last time together," Dufresne said. "When they said that [we were going to New Englands], we realized we had two more weeks together. This is the longest season we've had."