The Garcia sisters — Seanna and Lilly — tried out for their high school dance team last week via video conference from their house.
Prohibited from gathering with classmates in their school or at their usual studio, the two students, who attend Papillion-La Vista South High School, performed the tryout routine in the one place that can handle the beating their feet deliver: the dining room floor.
Dad raised the hanging ceiling light so the girls won’t leap and bonk their heads.
Similar scenes are taking place across Nebraska as dance and cheer teams, show choirs and bands fill their rosters virtually because school buildings are closed and activities are suspended due to the coronavirus.
Coaches in some schools are moving ahead with tryouts, even though it’s only a guess right now what school will look like in the fall, while others are waiting.
“We want to at least have a team, so the kids have something to look forward to,” said Papillion-La Vista South coach Megan Schnepel.
Under normal circumstances, Schnepel would teach the candidates their tryout routine in person. After practicing together and refining it for several days, the students would perform the routine in the same room with the judges.
Instead, last week, Schnepel and her assistant coach, Josie Doxzon, demonstrated the dance via a Zoom conference from their No Limits studio in Omaha.
The girls all conferenced in from their dining rooms, basements and garages, appearing in little boxes on a laptop screen.
“Thumbs up if you can hear music,” Doxzon asked them.
The girls answered affirmatively — though there was about a two-second delay between what the coaches were hearing and the students were hearing.
Doxzon kept watch on the girls on the screen, while Schnepel demonstrated the routine, calling out steps and instructions.
After a few run-throughs, it was the girls’ turn to try it.
The coaches peered at the screen while the music thumped and the girls danced. Schnepel broke out in a grin and clapped.
“Great job,” she said. “Oh my gosh, that makes me so happy.”
Schnepel provided the girls a video of the routine, too, to help them learn the moves.
The coaches then explained how the week would go, encouraging the kids to eat healthy and get their rest. The judging, they said, would take place via video conference.
Doxson asked if the girls had enough room in the houses to perform the routine without crashing into something.
One girl said she lived in an apartment, and it wasn’t ideal.
Another girl who will be a senior next year, Jaisa Thomas, has been practicing on a portable dance floor in her basement.
Her stepdad, Steve Wiebers, built it from two large slabs of wood.
“We put varnish on it to make it smooth enough so I can turn,” Jaisa said.
The dance floor is hinged in the middle, so it can fold up.
“We actually took down our pool table to make space for it,” Jaisa’s mom, Amy Wiebers, said.
Jaisa said that learning dances via a video has its drawbacks, but it can be done.
“Obviously you don’t have the person right in front of you, to visually see it and see every part of their body, what they’re doing. But our coaches are doing a really good job of getting videos out to us so we can go through and look at it and make sure we’re doing it right.”
And the coaches are being patient with the girls’ questions, to make sure they’re prepared, she said.
Jaisa said she’s thankful to have the opportunity to try out now, rather than wait till the fall.
“It makes us that much more ahead of the game, so when things do start to get back to normal we’re already ahead, and we can start planning uniforms and team bondings and getting ready for camp we usually attend in July.”
Schools that are holding virtual tryouts are breaking new ground. For college tryouts, sending in audition recordings is more common, not for high school.
Around the metro area, several districts are holding virtual tryouts.
For instance, the Westside Community Schools show choir program is holding auditions online this year, something it’s never done. Cheer and dance teams and show choir in the Gretna Public Schools did their auditions virtually, and students wanting to be section leaders in the marching band had to turn in a video of them performing music and marching.
In Ralston, the dance and cheer squads are already holding virtual practices after the team members were chosen from videos they submitted.
Jordan Engel, Ralston spirit squad sponsor, said the coaches talked about the pros and cons of holding online tryouts but decided it was important to hold them because the kids needed something to look forward to.
One of the biggest challenges for the coaches was not being there in person to critique the students as they learned the routines, Engel said.
The team members are now doing conditioning based on recorded exercises, and they’re holding practices via computer conference, she said.
The team is looking forward to the debut of its new uniforms that Engel described as “very traditional” and “spunky.”
Normally, the team’s first big exposure would come during the Ralston Fourth of July parade.
“We’re crossing our fingers,” she said.
At the Garcia house, Lilly and Seanna were a little nervous about tryouts.
“If I didn’t have dance, I don’t know what I would do,” Lilly said. “I love to dance. It’s my passion, so I’m really excited to get this opportunity to try out for the dance team.”
Seanna said she’s danced since she was 5. She loves the competitions, representing the school, the friendships. Her fellow dancers on the team are like family, she said.
With the fall situation uncertain and out of her control, Seanna said she was focused on the tryouts.
“Just take it one step at a time,” she said.
On Friday night, the coach posted the roster. Good news.
Jaisa, Lilly and Seanna made the team.
Omaha-area high schools ranked by 2019 ACT scores
Elkhorn South High School: 25.7
Elkhorn High School: 24.4
Millard North High School: 23.5
Millard West High School: 22.6
Gretna High School: 22.5
Papillion-La Vista South High School: 21.6
Westside High School: 21.6
Papillion-La Vista High School: 21
Millard South High School: 20.7
Bellevue West High School: 20.2
Bellevue East High School: 19.5
Omaha Burke High School: 18.8
Omaha Central High School: 18.6
Omaha North High School: 17.4
Omaha Northwest High School: 15.9
Omaha South High School: 15.6
Omaha Bryan High School: 15.1
Benson High School: 14.7
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