Team Feature Story: Joliet Catholic
An afternoon with the Joliet Catholic Academy Dance Team
by Norm Ramil / 8ca.music.person and dance.fan
Coach Shelley Poropat and Assistant Coach Lyndsey Rohlfs oversee 13 JCA dancers in matching gray tanks and black pants. The girls represent 6 nearby dance studios. While the school nickname is the Hilltoppers, the girls’ teams are known as the Angels!
Their beautiful studio used to be a downstairs storage room! The team parents got together and designed and built the room, including a high-grade marley floor. The school made sure the team has a full mirror up front. A team member’s brother painted the dancer’s silhouette and school logo on the side wall.
What they’re working on, and how they do it:
The team is working on cleaning and upgrading their competition jazz routine. One group works on a change to a challenging section. While they figure that out, the rest of the team comes off the marley floor to the side, and Coach Shelley has one of the captains teach a new part to them.
The center group composes as they go, experimenting with cool ways to end this combo. All ideas are considered, and even a freshman’s idea gets tested out to see if it works.
Later the whole team comes back together to make sure both groups’ new parts mesh well together. The run-through looks impressive with something highly skilled going on seemingly on every single count. They’re totally aware of this and Coach mentions it at the end of practice when they talk about stamina. “You know this choreo doesn’t stop and that there’s always something for the audience and judges to watch at every count,” she reminds them.
Each new idea shows that they’re skilled at musicality. In fact, Coach Shelley has the girls sing certain counts as they run through it. A careful listen to the beats and percussion of the music in one spot convinces them that one of the new changes is going to work.
They make sure that each movement is visible and clear. To me, it comes across like every movement has intention behind it.
How they got here:
The team’s story started at UDA camp last summer where they picked up material for the upcoming football season. They also hosted a Lil’ Angels Dance Camp for ages 3 up to 8th grade.
You haven’t seen the JCA Dance Team at IHSA competitions before this season because they’ve been laser-focused on UDA competition for the past several years. The program’s been to the semi-finals and finals, including a 12th in Large Varsity Jazz.
“Let’s listen to the music and see what works.” — Coach Shelley to her team as they debate whether a new idea is viable
“Is sectionals floor or marley?” — one girl to Coach Shelley. They all take note that the state floor will be difficult and turns will be easier on the Geneva sectional’s normal basketball floor
Reminders by Coach Shelley before full-out runs:
- “We changed a ton of stuff [the last practice], but don’t quit and give up. If you mess up get back into it.”
- “Think and breathe and be together.”
- “Every angle needs to be exact. Remember why you practice holding passé every pracrice–to build your core strength.”
Coach Shelley says that they’ll have to start practicing what the whole process at competition feels like–warming up, running it, and then waiting a long time before all of a sudden having to be ready. She’s going to try and snag some gym space for their next practice in two days.
Joliet Catholic at state:
IDTA 1995: AA Pom Dance (5th)
IDTA 2003: AA Funk (hip hop) (5th)
IDTA 2006: AA Hip Hop (3rd)
IDTA 2007: AA Hip Hop (7th), AA Dance (4th)
TDI 2008: AA Hip Hop (4th), AA Open Dance (5th)
TDI 2009: AA Hip Hop (3rd), AA Open Dance (5th)
TDI 2010: AA Hip Hop (6th), AA Open Dance (3rd)
TDI 2011: A Hip Hop (6th), A Open Dance (2nd)
TDI 2012: 2A Open Dance (3rd)
TDI 2013: 2A Lyrical (3rd), 2A Open Dance (8th)
TDI 2014: 2A Lyrical (2nd)
Captains Nicole and Alyssa and their coaches stuck around for a quick sesh on their team’s skills and what it’s like to be new to IHSA dance.
When and where did you get your start as dancers?
Nicole: I’ve been dancing since I was 3…at Beth’s Dance Academy. We actually grew up together dancing.
Alyssa: Same, been dancing since 3, used to compete.
What’s your favorite style to watch and perform?
Nicole: I like contemporary and jazz. I really like to watch jazz dances that capture your attention. And I love a good contemporary or lyrical that’s really emotional.
Alyssa: Contemporary is what’s in my heart but I love performing and watching hip hop.
Is there a skill that your team is really good at?
Nicole: We’re collectively good at turning. And they’re pretty open to doing anything you ask. Like if they’re not a lefty, they’ll try left. They’re really good at problem solving, just to work together and try to figure it out fast.
Alyssa: We’re always trying new tricks, trying to get new things, just to have everybody be at the same level. Some of our girls really really stand out. We all have personal strengths. We’re always working to improve ourselves.
What about something that you weren’t so good at over the summer, but that you’ve gotten better at?
Alyssa: Our stamina! We do so much conditioning with Lyndsey (ass’t coach). She’s so good with getting us stronger. We’ve gained so much stamina from doing her cardio workouts every day and feel we can get through this dance and actually look presentable doing it.
Nicole: In the beginning of the year we would run it twice in a row and we’d be dying, but now we have more energy so it’s easier to get through.
What’s it like competing in IHSA for the first time?
Alyssa: It started out good!
Nicole: It was a very big change. We didn’t know what to expect so we just went into it very hard, full force ahead.
Alyssa: We know how much we were up against. Especially since it’s a different dynamic just performing against schools you know. When you go to a UDA competition, there’s schools from everywhere, like you’ve got schools from Ohio, like all these different places.
Norm: And you know who they are, they’ve got big reputations. But your school might not know.
Alyssa: Exactly. And this is cool because it also establishes a sense of school spirit. I feel like with UDA, people didn’t really know as much about what we were involved in. But this, they’re like, “Oh! You’re competing against that school, oh yeah, we know them.”
Are there other teams that you’re fans of?
Nicole: Minooka’s really good, they’re 3A. We know them, so…
Coach Shelley: University of Minnesota.
Alyssa: [Joliet] West–they’re good.
Nicole: We have friends over there, too.
Alyssa: We have a lot of girls there that we dance with.
What’s something you’d like the rest of the dance community to know about your team?
Coach Shelley: We’re determined and hard working, which a lot of the dance teams do, obviously. But I think these guys had a goal and never strayed from that goal. We’re focused.
Coach Lyndsey: …on the mission statement and everything…
Coach Shelley: We have a mission statement and a prayer before practice starts that was developed by the girls, kind of what they believed in, and kind of hold that throughout the season.
Alyssa: We have a song that’s like our mantra this year; Nicole found it. It’s called “Angels” by Khalid, and we are the Angels. And they say, “Angels give me strength and I’m not giving up.” So that’s kind of what we build off of.