It was a weekend they’re likely never going to forget, and they have some hardware to show for it.
A group of 17 local dancers from both sides of the border attended the Celebration Talent National Competition in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. from July 11-15.
The dancers were all members of the Dancin’ with Darcie school in International Falls, run by longtime teacher Darcie Schulz.
Schulz explained that the group was selected to go to the national competition after doing well at the regional competition earlier this spring.
“We did attend the regionals in Duluth,” she said.
“From that we were given an honour basically for high score, which allowed us to compete at either the Wisconsin Dells nationals or the Orlando, Florida nationals. As a team and group of parents we chose to go to Wisconsin Dells.”
The group received those honours for their “300 Violin Orchestra” routine which earned them a Platinum award on the regional stage and the trip to the school’s first national competition.
Schulz said that the group didn’t compete until the Sunday of the competition, leaving time for the girls to take their time in getting to the tourist destination.
“There’s probably five or six students out of 17 that went from the first day to the last day,” she said.
“They attended some convention classes the first two days, so Wednesday and Thursday, and then Friday the majority of the rest of the team showed up.”
Two members of the team were Kenzie Begin and Rhyan McLean, both from Fort Frances, who said that the excitement of attending nationals tended to push the nerves aside.
“I was a little nervous,” Begin said.
“But I was just excited to get there and to see all the other teams.”
“I was also nervous,” McLean agreed.
“But for a lot of us it didn’t really hit us because it was just such like a different experience that we’ve never been to before. We just found it like really cool.”
Even those who made it to Wisconsin later in the week had the time to relax and celebrate their accomplishments thus far by engaging in some shopping and other activities in addition to watching their peers from across the United States compete.
“We did the mall and like go-karting and arcades and stuff while we weren’t watching dances,” Begin said.
“So it was pretty cool.”
At the competition on Sunday, the group was awarded another Platinum for their efforts, but a surprise was still in store.
“The following day, on the Monday at 11:45, we found out that we had also been chosen to go into the showdown,” Schulz said.
“So the showdown takes the top five performers from each category and then you perform again.”
Schulz explained that the announcement left the group only a few hours before they were required to be back on stage, which things a little hectic.
“We just had to go super quick and then just get all our hair and makeup done and just run back and start dancing,” McLean said.
“I was surprised because I didn’t feel like we would make it,” Begin recalled.
“Then at the same time I was more nervous than I was [the first time] because then I remembered, ‘Okay, now we have to do it again. I have to get back up on that stage and I just have to remember all the things that the judges critiqued us on,’ which was kind of stressful but exciting.”
Schulz explained that following the showdown, the winners were revealed for each category in a dramatic fashion.
“How they did it is they actually put the actual performance up on these big screen and let the kids listen, like for fifth place, fourth, third, second and so on,” Schulz said.
“So they had to listen for their songs to know what position or place they took.”
“You’d just hear the music and then you’d know.” McLean said.
“They went from fifth place up and you’d wonder if it was going to be you every single time and then it just wasn’t.”
The group waited longer to hear their song than any of them expected. After all was said and done, Dancin’ with Darcie’s Stars group placed second overall at the national competition for their category.
“We like all started screaming,” Begin said.”We were so excited.”
“It felt really good,” McLean agreed.
“I think we were sort of in shock and awe,” Schulz said.
“There was a lot of tears and excitement, because to perform at this level, with this type of competition, it’s a really special moment, especially since we’re losing a lot of seniors out of this group. It was a pretty amazing way to go out.”
It should be noted that one of the conditions of the division the group danced in, called the Rising Stars, is that dancers can only dance up to a maximum of five hours a week. Begin and McLean estimated they spent roughly a half hour a week on “300 Violin Orchestra” while also learning four other routines, making this high level win all the more rewarding.
“I knew in the beginning it was a pretty good and strong group,” Schulz said of her “Stars” dancers.
“We had some newbies coming in but we had some veterans on our team that have been dancing for quite some time, some as long as 15 years.”
With a win under their belts Begin and McLean agreed that it’s taught them a valuable lesson moving forward for next year.
“There’s going to be a lot more pressure,” McLean said.
“I think it teaches us to focus a lot more on our technique and stuff because we know now like how good the other levels are, so we know how much to step it up, like what to fix and stuff.”
“It feels like good knowing that we did it and achieved it but like also kind of stressful for next year, if we want to do it again,” Begin agreed.
For her part, Schulz said the experience has taught her students that their hard work can pay off beyond what they might have expected.
“Obviously as a coach or a director of a dance studio, you’re always pushing to be your best no matter what you’re doing,” Schulz said.
“I will continue to teach as I have been, but I think I’ll try to maybe raise it up a level, knowing that we do have potential, even though we’re coming from a smaller community.”
Also of note during the competition was Callahan Armstrong, who performed a solo routine to “I Just Wanna Be A Star” and was recognized with a Most Photogenic award.
Schulz extended her thanks to the community on both sides of the border for their support leading up to and during the competition, and added that it made a big difference for the group.
“Fort Frances, along with International Falls, their outpour of support, knowing that they were watching the livestream when it was taking place and hearing their feedback was a really wonderful thing to see and hear on Facebook,” she said.
“So I just want to say kudos to everybody that supported us. It was very helpful to some of the students and parents to be able to get there and go.”
Begin and McLean also had someone else to thank.
“Just like a huge thank you to Darcie and [Darcie’s mom] Shirley because they did lots for us and really helped us,” McLean said.
The “Stars” are Begin, McLean, Armstrong, Emma Bone, Aurora McRitchie, Alacea Yerxa, Kennedi Gosselin, Avery Sivonen, Ameilia Stewart, Trynatie Porter, Sara Coffield, Kaitlyn Kalstad, Gina Boyum, Anna Cowman, Dylann Kacik, Sydney Stevens, and Keirra Aasen.