DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
The Mini Kix show their kicks in competition at Apple Valley. They will be headed to Decorah this weekend. In front, from left, are Emily Mlinar, Kensie Heusinkveld, Alexis Klomps, MaRea Reichstadt, Kadence Aarsvold, Kaylin Mensink, Morgan Phillips and Katelyn Hauser. In back are Olivea Heusinkveld, Olivia Kappers, Sophia Schleusner,  Greta Kunene,  Kayla Arndorfer, Payton Comstock and Emily Stephans.
DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE The Mini Kix show their kicks in competition at Apple Valley. They will be headed to Decorah this weekend. In front, from left, are Emily Mlinar, Kensie Heusinkveld, Alexis Klomps, MaRea Reichstadt, Kadence Aarsvold, Kaylin Mensink, Morgan Phillips and Katelyn Hauser. In back are Olivea Heusinkveld, Olivia Kappers, Sophia Schleusner, Greta Kunene, Kayla Arndorfer, Payton Comstock and Emily Stephans.
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The Spring Valley Just for Kix dancers of head coach Laura Perez and assistant coach and head instructor Leah McQueen had strong performances in their first dance tournament of the program’s contest season Sunday, Feb. 26, at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minn.

The Mini Kix team, made up of dancers in grades four to six, took first place by a unanimous ranking out of all five judges, said Perez. The Junior Kix team, grades seven to 12, took second place after falling two points shy – out of 250 – on the second tie-breaker.

Hundreds of teams from the tri-state area competed in the two-day competition. The accomplishments of the local dancers are the result of hard work that started month ago, dedication to their art and teamwork.

“They would not be where they are without the drive and perseverance they have. They are given proper technique training and conditioning training…but above all, we are a team. The coaching staff included,” said Perez. “I hold all my competition teams to a very high standard, and they rise up to it. I am extremely proud of them.”

The 2016-2017 Mini Kix team includes Kadence Aarsvold, Kayla Arndorfer, Payton Comstock, Katelyn Hauser, Olivea Heusinkveld, captain Kensie Heusinkveld, Olivia Kappers, Alexis Klomps, Greta Kunene, captain Kaylin Mensink, captain Emily Mlinar, Morgan Phillips, MaRea Reichstadt, Sophia Schleusner and Emily Stephans.

The Junior Kix seventh through 12th grade team includes Ellie Archer, Kylie Blattner, Morgan Erickson, captain Audrey Farlinger, Merredith Farlinger, Nicole Freerksen, Lexie Hamersma, Grace Himlie, Grace House, captain Renee Lechner and Elise O’Connor.

Program for all ages

Spring Valley’s Just for Kix program also has classes for younger dancers prior to reaching competition age. Core Kick classes teach dance basics and the traditional technique in the style of high kick. These classes are Tiny Kix, or preschool age, Wee Petites, for kindergarten through first grade and Wee Kix, second through third grade.

The teams are made up of students from different schools that feed into the program, noted Perez. In addition, the program offers ballet, jazz and lyrical classes.

Prior to competition season, the program offered a strength, conditioning and technique class for competition dancers. This was offered to Just for Kix competition dancers and high school dance teams across southeastern Minnesota, said Perez.

This coming spring, the local Just for Kix program will be offering a Dance with Me class for parents to bring their young children 18 months to 3 years old.

“This class will allow parents to interact with their children and help teach them the basics of dance and creative movement,” said Perez.

Also on the schedule are an annual hip-hop class, father-daughter class and a second session of adult fitness dance class.

“At Spring Valley Just for Kix, dancers receive professional dance education. I have over 20 years of dance experience that includes performing, instructing, coaching, choreography, dance team consulting and competition judging,” said Perez. “All staff is required to have a dance background and to complete annual continuing education taught by approved professional dance educators.”

The Just for Kix season follows the school year calendar, beginning in September and ending in mid-May. Competition classes get one hour a week of practices, with the occasional extra practice to make up for snow days. Those extra practices are usually one-and-a-half to two hours long. General classes run 30 minutes to an hour, depending on age and type of class.

Many factors in competitions

Our competition teams travel to large dance competitions in which hundreds of other teams attend,” said Perez. “Teams are placed into sections based on the average age of the team. This ensures our fourth graders are not competing against juniors in high school who have years more experience.”

Perez explained that judging is based on difficulty of kick form and height, technique and style, timing and force of moves, execution, difficulty and presentation. Each of the four to six judges per section scores each team out of 50 points. Each judge then gives a final rank for each team based upon the total points given and their overall decision of the section. To determine the winner in each division, the total rank for each team is added up. The lowest rank points determine the placement.

“Competition is so exciting because it is different every time,” said Perez. “I am constantly reminding my dancers that your last performance doesn’t matter – what you put on the floor in that moment is the only thing that counts.”

The coach feels very strongly about the concept of teamwork.

“When it comes to dance team, it’s a team. There is no star player, there is not one dancer that carries the team. A dance team cannot do well unless they learn to actually be a team and work together as a team. They have to learn to balance each other and understand that they are only as strong as their weakest dancer,” she said. “When you are on a dance team, you have two minutes to give it all you’ve got…every single movement counts, every single mistake counts. You don’t get another quarter to bring it back, you don’t get halftime to rest up and reenergize. You spend all season pushing, sweating, training, all for two minutes, and they are the most intense, athletic two minutes a dancer will ever experience.”

Perez does her best to help her dancers put their best feet forward and in the air.

“The most challenging part about preparing for a competition,” noted Perez, “from a coaching standpoint, is taking dancers of all levels and blending them together. It takes a lot of work to build an actual team. You want to make sure the more skilled dancers are still being challenged and the newer dancers are not pushed to a point they are not ready. You have to know what your dancers are capable of, push them to that level because most don’t realize what they are capable of, and then challenge them to go a step further.”

The results of pushing the teams to work harder and strive to give their best performances are evident in the confidence the dancers exhibit.

“My dancers tend to learn that they are capable of much more than what they thought they were. They develop a sense of self-confidence that they can’t always portray in their day-to-day lives,” said Perez. “I push them to learn the true meaning of teamwork, sportsmanship and respect, not only for themselves, but for their teammates, their coaches and the sport in general. My competition teams are forced to learn proper dance technique — not just basic movements — before they go to competition.”

The public also benefits from the work that the dancers and their coaches invest in preparing for competition. For example, all the teams performed at a halftime performance of a varsity girls’ basketball game on Feb. 10.

Watching dancers grow

Even though it takes Perez many hours each week to teach her dancers the right moves, she loves being their coach.

“It is an amazing feeling to be part of this growing process for them. I have watched many of these girls grow from little girls to young women. I look back at pictures of when some of them started with me in kindergarten, with no dance experience, no technique, and now they are in seventh grade and on competition teams, taking home ribbons and medals. Watching them not only grow up into beautiful young women, but actually develop into actual dancers,” she said. “Being a dancer is more than moving on a dance floor. Being a dancer is defined by the beauty you can express with your body, your heart and your soul. Seeing these ladies come full circle and knowing I have had a part in that is what makes me feel like I have done my part as a coach.”

The coach credited parents of her students with making the practices, performances and competitions possible. Parents — including her own — are the program’s biggest supporters, she noted. They understand the importance of the practices, she added, and they realize when one dancer is missing, it really can affect things.

“Having to go back to re-teach because of dancers missing a practice can really set us back,” said Perez. “The fact that the parents are willing to drive to competitions and be there to support us as our fan club really helps to encourage our dancers to keep pushing for the top.”

Perez invited the community to support their competitions. The next one is at Luther College on Saturday, March 25, and times will be posted. She also noted that the program will be accepting new dancers to the competition teams – no experience necessary. Perez can be reached at springvalley_mn@justforkix.com or 919-971-9255 for more information.