School of the Arts Dancers to Perform at College Bowl Game

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26 dancers from Bruton's School of the Arts will perform at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Florida. (Courtesy YCSD)
26 dancers from Bruton’s School of the Arts will perform at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Florida. (Courtesy YCSD)

A group of local dance students will spend one of the final days of 2015 performing for a crowd of nearly 70,000 people in Orlando, Florida.

Bruton High School’s School of the Arts (SOA) is sending 26 students to perform at the Russell Athletic Bowl Game on Dec. 29, an experience that dance teacher Kathryn Sheehan-Smith believes will be a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for her dancers.

Bruton’s dance program includes students from all York County high schools as well as a smaller number of Williamsburg-James City County high school students who are bused to Bruton daily to take part in the magnet school’s offerings.

The program first attracted the attention of World Strides – the organization that helps facilitate performances for many college football bowl game’s halftime performances – three years ago because of a significant spike in participation numbers following Sheehan-Smith’s arrival at the school.

“We’ve tripled in size in the last seven years,” Sheehan-Smith said. “I guess they heard about the growth of the program and extended the invitation.”

SOA dancers were invited to participate once again this year, and Sheehan-Smith jumped at the chance once she learned what the itinerary would include for this year’s trip.

In addition to performing both a pre-game and halftime show at the bowl game, the students will also be marching in the Christmas parade at Universal Studios and taking master classes with renowned choreographers Chuck Maldanado, CiCi Kelley, Derek Mitchell and Rosero McCoy.

“This is really a dance opportunity like they wouldn’t get anywhere else,” Sheehan-Smith said.

The chance to take part in the parade and master classes certainly sweetened the deal, but the bowl game performances represent an incredibly unique and challenging experience in and of themselves, Sheehan-Smith said.

The SOA dancers will join with about 300 other dancers from around the country to perform two routines choreographed by Mandy Moore of So You Think You Can Dance fame.

Niko & Vinz, best known for their 2014 hit “Am I Wrong,” will play the pre-game show, for which Moore has choreographed a classically jazzy routine for the dancers.

Want to Follow?

The SOA dancers will be using #SOABOWL15 to chronicle their journey in Florida through social media. They are inviting friends, family and fans home in Virginia to follow along.

For the halftime show, the dancers will accompany a marching band performing a medley of halftime staples – “Shout It Out,” “Mustang Sally” and “Killer Joe.” All together the ensemble is responsible for learning about 12 minutes worth of choreography to be performed with live musicians.

Moore sent out videos of her choreography to all the dancers nationwide over Thanksgiving weekend, and the SOA students have been hard at work trying to learn the routine since that time.

Because only 26 of the approximately 70 SOA dancers are participating in the trip, little class time has been devoted to learning the routine.

The burden of learning the choreography has fallen on the individual students. Though they have had a number of after-school and weekend rehearsals, it was necessary for them to come to those with a basic knowledge of the routine already in place due to time constraints.

“I’m really, really proud of them,” Sheehan-Smith said. “They are already involved in so many extracurricular activities and they’ve had to take this on as just one more thing.”

The dancers are expected to have the routines down nearly perfectly by the time they arrive in Florida, because the only rehearsal time they will have there will be devoted to staging and minor tweaks.

Sheehan-Smith believes this kind of challenge will inspire her students to rise to a new level of maturity, as well as bring them together as a group.

“Any time you go through an experience like this together, it definitely bonds you,” she said.

The students are also hopeful their friends and families back in Virginia will follow them on their journey by checking out the social media hashtag they have created for the experience “#SOABOWL15,” which they will be using to chronicle their adventure.

“They’re going to be performing on a college level with 300 other dancers, in a football stadium, in front of 70,000 people,” Sheehan-Smith said. “For a student in high school to have that experience is pretty amazing.”