By Chris Mellides
Walt Whitman High School hosted the National Dance Alliance’s Whitman Winter Spirit regional championship on Sunday, drawing dancers from across the Tri-State area, including Walt Whitman and Huntington high schools, who competed for a shot in the upcoming national competition.
Along with Whitman and Huntington, dancers from Half Hollow Hills High School West competed. A total of around 200 dancers squared off in both team and solo performances that spanned genres like jazz and hip-hop
With first place performances, both Whitman and Hills West will send dancers to the NDA’s upcoming national high school competition, which is scheduled for Feb. 26-Feb. 28 at the Orlando Studios’ Hard Rock Café in Florida.
On Sunday, Huntington Station resident Linda Taylor sat in the front bleachers during the regional competition to make it easier to see and cheer for her daughter, Amaya, a senior at Whitman.
Taylor said that, while it was her daughter’s first year competing, she was confident that Amaya would do her school proud because of her passion for dance, and all of the practice she’s put in to prepare.
“She’s been practicing three times a week after school, and she does it because she just really enjoys dancing,” Taylor said.
All of that practicing seemed to pay off for Amaya and Whitman’s other dancers. The school secured first place titles in the categories of small varsity jazz and small varsity team performance, and took second place in small varsity kick and large varsity hip-hop.
Whitman varsity dance coach Kiva Boozer said she was “very proud” of the hard work her teams put in to prepare for the regional competition.
“When the school year started we had a core group of girls who were already conditioned and ready to go, and then we had a group of new girls who had no idea what they were getting themselves into,” Boozer said.
She added, “They had to work together. The more seasoned girls had to help get the newer girls in gear so that we can all be on the same page, and I’m very happy for how great today ran.”
Dancers from Huntington High School competed in two categories. The school placed sixth in small varsity jazz and did not place in the senior solo category, which featured senior Jose Salmeron.
Salmeron said he took a break from dance to pursue other interests when he turned 10, but was drawn to the regional at Whitman. Even though he didn’t place, Salmeron said that he was happy to be afforded the opportunity to compete, and enjoyed the overall experience.
“Getting out there and performing my heart out on that floor was just amazing,” Salmeron said. “It was a great learning experience and it was a little discouraging, but overall it was a great practice for auditions.
He added, “It kind of prepares you for life.”
Half Hollow Hills High School West took second place in the medium varsity pom category, and walked away with first place in both medium varsity jazz and large varsity hip-hop.
Hills West’s first-year head coach, Jackie Nikosei, said she’s proud of her team’s accomplishment, but added that there’s still “a lot of work to do” before the national competition.
“It’s been a great experience,” Nikosei said. “I’m just really proud of them.”
Sunday’s regional competition was the first-ever hosted by the NDA on Long Island, according to Kayla Gibson, an NDA spokeswoman.
Gibson said that the NDA hosts regional events “mainly to get our schools in the area prepared for NDA High School Nationals.”
“We give them this opportunity to supply them with NDA judges that they will be seeing at that event as an extra practice and an extra eye, so that they feel more prepared to go down there,” Gibson said. “It also brings something bigger to this area with more professional judges.”