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Eisenhower wins national dance championship

Eagles shine in the Sunshine State

The Eisenhower varsity dance team won a national championship in Orlando. (Submitted photo)

It was never her first intention to be a dance team coach, but now she can’t imagine her life without it.

Rachelle Anthony, an eighth grade English teacher at Eppler Junior High School, grew up dreaming of being a school teacher.

Anthony, who has also been the coach of the Eisenhower varsity dance team for the last seven years, recently completed a dream season with her squad. The Eagles brought home a national championship.

“It’s actually kind of funny,” she said. “I went into the Eastern Michigan Job Fair looking for a teaching job and I came out with a coaching one.”

The man who interviewed Anthony for the job in the Utica school district happened to be the assistant principal at Eisenhower High School. After getting to know Anthony and her background in dance, he offered her the position as a dance team coach. She coached the junior varsity team her first year and took over varsity in 2007.

Anthony’s team endures a rigorous schedule with not much more than a month off in the spring between tryouts and the start of a new season. Her girls practice every Sunday through Thursday, while also performing at football and basketball games on Fridays and Tuesdays. With a schedule like that, it doesn’t seem like there is much time for anything else.

But what the dance team looks forward to most every year is the National Dance Team Championship (NDTC) that takes place every February at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility in Orlando, Florida. The competition is the high school dance team nationals where over 300 teams meet to compete.

In six previous years at the nationals, Eisenhower’s varsity team has received one fifth, four thirds, and one second-place trophy.

However, last month, Eisenhower captured the championship.

“If someone was to ask my team what kind of coach I am, I would want them to say that I truly care about them in an out of dance,” said Anthony. “I would want them to say that I am a good role model, that I am fair, and I will always do the right thing for them.”

And that is exactly what captain and senior, Lilly Smiscik, had to say about the woman who has coached her for the last four years.

“Rachelle is not only a fantastic coach, but she is also a fantastic friend,” Smiscik said. “She was very honest and helpful when she needed to be. Yes, she was a tough coach, but that is what made us better.

“She cares so much about every one of us and our growth as dancers and people. She pushes us but at the same time compliments us, and that helps give us confidence. She is a very dedicated coach with the goal of making us all the best that we can be.”

Lauren Sabatowski, a current member of the Michigan State University dance team, acknowledged how Anthony impacted her life when she was at Eisenhower.

“From Rachelle, I learned the true meaning of hard work and dedication to a sport that I love,” said Sabatowski. “She puts so much time and effort into perfecting her team's routines that it motivates you to push yourself and practice as hard as you can.

“She has taught me to leave everything out on the floor when competing and that performing to your best ability can be a greater reward than a first place trophy.”

Throughout her seven-year journey, Anthony has also recognized that the impact you leave on the audience after your performance is much more rewarding than what place you end up in.

“I have learned so much over the last seven years,” said Anthony. “One thing I will definitely take away from UDA now that I didn’t realize before was that, no matter what place you get, it is not always the first place teams that you remember.

“One of my favorite dances was “Wild Horses” by Westmoore High School and they got second place to Eden Prairie that year. I couldn’t even tell you what Eden did to win, but I will never forget Westmoore’s routine.”

The NDTC is administered by the Universal Dance Association (UDA), a division of Varsity Brands, Inc. As a dance instructor and staff member for UDA, Jenn Kennedy, has seen the hard work Anthony’s team has done all year, and the love and passion her dancers exuded while they performed at nationals.

“While her team was performing, I looked over and Rachelle was crying tears of pride,” said the UDA staff instructor. “Watching her cry and the passion that she had, gave me the goose bumps …in fact, it gave everyone around me goose bumps. You could just tell how proud she is of her team and how grateful she is to be their coach.”

For the first time, Rachelle is experiencing the feeling and pride that one has as a national champion.

“Being national champions in the large varsity jazz division means everything to me,” the Eisenhower coach. “I just knew it was the right team and the right year. No matter how many championships this school goes on to win in the future, I will never forget this team and this first title. It’s hard to explain. I still have no words.”

Championships take time to win and many people come in and out of a program in order to pave a successful road for the future. The alumni of the Eisenhower dance team are also basking in pride with this national title.

“This championship has been years in the making and it has truly felt like a win for anyone who has ever been on Eisenhower’s dance team,” said Sabatowski. “I know the girls on her team now are so proud of themselves, and I wouldn't be surprised if they wear their champions jackets everywhere they go for the rest of the year.

“With all of the practice, time, effort, exhaustion, and trials that go along with winning a national championship, this team never lost sight of who they are and who they always want to be.

“We never talked about winning,” Anthony said. We just talked about doing the best we could and dancing from our hearts.”

“I used to study other teams like crazy, but this year, no. I finally realized that everyone is different and we can only be Eisenhower, and we only want to be Eisenhower. That is exactly what we did, and it worked.”

Last Updated: 3/14/2014 5:46:25 PM EST

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