In a showcase of some of the top high school dancing talent in the state, several squads flocked to Philomath Saturday for the fifth annual "Dancing with the Stars" competition.

The local contingent put together a theme that revolves around love and kindness called, "The Ripple Effect." The goal is to get better each time out culminating with an appearance at the state competition.

For the dancers, it's a significant commitment to put in the time trying to perfect the routine. In fact, it's something that most probably think about in their sleep.

"Our homework is to think about it before we go to bed, listen to our music and at least do the hand movements and just think about us perfecting it and performing it the best we can to show it to the audience," said co-captain Anita Acevedo, a senior in her second year in the program.

The Philomath competition represented the fourth of the season for the local squad, although it was the first since a mid-November appearance at West Albany. Coming up in February, the Warriors will make a trip to Portland for the Parkrose competition. And in March, there will be two more before state, which runs March 15-17 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

It's a year-round activity for all involved.

"We had camp in July, we learned fall routines in late summer and we just keep on going," co-captain Evie Blythe said.

Each year before classes begin in the fall, the team comes up with a theme for its show dance. Acevedo said "The Ripple Effect" theme originated with an idea from Blythe.

"A bunch of parents and a few of the seniors gave their input and a few months before we actually started practicing, our coach secretly gave us this little party that showed us what it was," Acevedo said, referring to coach Lori Haslam. "She had a bunch of nature-themed treats and stuff."

When asked about how the theme was decided upon, Blythe didn't give herself any credit and said the group as a whole "decided that Ripple would be one of the best things we could come up with."

Blythe added, "We came up with many themes and ideas, but this was the one we decided on because it was very inspirational and we wanted to spread kindness throughout the community."

The theme plays off the inspirational quote, "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."

Blythe, a senior who has been in the dance program since her freshman year, couldn't pick a favorite routine from her four years, but said this year's theme sends an important message.

"I would say I love them all (themes) in so many different ways ... but this year, we're very happy and we're looking for the joy and appreciation in life and in nature," Blythe said. "I think that's beautiful and I think we need to do that more often."

And there's one part of the routine that stands out a little in her mind.

"I really like the ripple part where we all get into two circles and then do a ripple back and there's like this big plop in the music like water droplets," Blythe said. "And that's really where the creation of the kindness ripple goes."

An important part of the show that the dancers put on involves the visuals. Schools come up with their own props to accompany the routine.

"The Philomath art class really helped out with that," Blythe said. "I have to put a big word out there for all the prop parents who do so much for our team. They spend countless hours helping to allow us to have the show that will astound the audience."

The art students worked primarily on the dance floor.

"The art class helped sketch out the pond and painted it as well," Acevedo said. "I think they took at least a whole class period during school time to help us out with that and a few of them volunteered to help out with the leaves and stuff."

Philomath didn't finish among the top three in the competition's show division Saturday. Stayton, a perennial power statewide, took first place followed by Parkrose and Clackamas. Haslam said 16 teams participated in the event, five of them having been state champions in their various divisions over the past five years.

"Sadly, our scores were in the 60s for the most part," Acevedo said. "We just found out that four out of the six judges scored us lower in the second round than they did in the first round, so that is a little disappointing."

Acevedo believes the team will only get better if it can maintain its work ethic.

"I honestly feel like for me and as a whole team, we performed our guts out and really gave it our all, especially in the second round" she said. "It's really going to come along, especially with the time we have."

Stayton is coming off its latest state title in 1A-4A while Parkrose and Clackamas both advanced to finals last season in the show division and finished among the top five.

Philomath competes in that same show division at state, which features larger schools. In fact, Philomath is the only 4A school among them. Last year, the Warriors were seventh in Portland, just one place out of advancing to the next day's finals.



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