“Batter Up” routine highlights academy’s across-the-board success this summer

By Vince Vieceli
Huntley Patch – Click here to read online

For the Center Stage Dance Academy, the Fourth of July fireworks were just the beginning, as in the weeks after the national holiday the Huntley-based team captured 15 first-place awards in both regular and dance-off competitions as well as several Judges’ Choice Awards at separate national contests.

“This was definitely our most successful year,” said Center Stage owner and artistic director Debbie Nowotnik. “We started (in 2008) with a really small group, and we’ve just grown and improved by leaps and bounds, so I’m really, really proud of the kids, because they’ve come along way in a short period of time.”

Nowotnik said that included in the “leaps and bounds” is the switch in competition levels, as just last year Center Stage dancers began competing in competitive division contests that are designed for dancers with more competition experience and studio practice time. Previously, Center Stage dancers competed in recreational divisions.

“They’ve far surpassed my expectations for this year,” she said.

Highlighting Center Stage’s successful run was its first appearance at the Celebration Talent Competition’s 2011 National Finals held July 13-17 at the Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

“What’s really cool about that is there were 212 entries, but they take only 20 dances for their Dance Off at the end and 5 of our dances made to it in,” said Nowotnik, who also pointed out the academy’s 21 dance entries were “pretty small” compared to what other studios entered.

Among the five Center Stage dances advancing to the Dance Off was the academy’s “Batter Up” hip-hop routine that won first place in Large Group category before taking first prize in the Dance Off.

“Batter Up,” which also received a Judges’ Choice Award for Intensity, was performed by: Sophia Arvanites, Jordan Buchanan, Jessica Buchanan, Alejandra Favila, Hannah Hyslop, Alexis Hirsch, Jesica Hirsch, Emily Kamvitsis, Megan Nowotnik, Ethan Rizner, Danielle Sundling and Carly Vitellaro.

“I think it was our overall package,” said Nowotnik of the routine’s attractiveness. “Our youngest dancer in the group is 6 and our oldest is 11, so we have a variety of ages. But I think it was just the whole package, the whole concept of it from start to finish. We went with the traditional baseball uniforms as far as costume and then made it a little dancy as far as adding our center stage. We also gave (the dancers) nicknames on the back of their jerseys, which were super cute.”

Finishing second in the Dance Off was a Center Stage team that had won first place in the Large Group, Teen category before advancing to the finale.

Other Dance Center teams that won first-place honors in the respective categories include:

  • Minis (ages 5-6), Tap
  • Petits (age 8 and younger) Small Group overall
  • Petits. Duet, Contemporary
  • Small Group (ages 9-12) Jazz
  • Small Group, Tap
  • Small Group, Overall
  • Teen (13 or older) Duet

Individual first-place winners in the regular competition include Tyler Nowotnik, Solo, Contemporary; and Kelsey Brown, Solo, Jazz.

In addition to a Judge’s Choice Award for Intensity, Celebration judges also presented the Dance Center with a Judge’s Choice Awards for Entertainers (Teen, Duet), Choreography (Petit Duet, China Doll routine; Tyler Nowotnik’s solo) and the coveted “Life of the Party” Award.

The Life of the Party “Award goes to the studio that they feel had the best sportsmanship,” Nowotnik said. “What they consider is the kids’ behavior on and off stage and how they interact with other dancers, so I was really proud of that.”

Center Stage’s “Batter Up” routine also scored big at the Hall of Fame National Dance Challenge held at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles a week earlier.

After winning the Large Group category, “Batter Up” then advanced to the event’s World Series finale where it also took first place. The victory was Center Stage’s first World Series win at the Hall of Fame since it began competing there three years ago. Overall, there were 873 entries at the Hall of Fame contest.

“We just took a couple of groups to the Hall of Fame, and we wanted to take ‘Batter Up,’ because we were pretty confident that we would make the World Series with that one,” Nowotnik said. The dancers “had done really well with that one all year so they wanted to give it a try. And since it was baseball-themed, we figured it would be perfect for the World Series.”

The “Batter Up” routine also got a boost for several dancers’ dads who constructed the set and were responsible for taking it on and off the stage.

“We have great dads who are amazingly creative at putting props together,” Nowotnik said. “We had fences, we had bases, and we had benches, so the whole set was incredible.”

Also advancing to the Hall of Fame’s World Series were the duo of Tyler Nowotnik and Anissa Mosquera who finished second and were one of three entries in the teen category to advance to the finals.

“Last year, (they) missed (advancing to the showdown) by .03 so they were determined to go back this year and make it in, which they did,” Nowotnik said.

Additionally the duo of Megan Nowotnik and McKayla Greaney beat 11 other entries and won first place in the petit category.

Just as they had done at the Wisconsin Dells contest, Tyler Nowotnik won first place for Solo, Contemporary while Kelsey Brown took the top spot for Solo, Jazz.

Depending on the dance competition, three to five judges judged dancers in four to five categories including technique, stage presence, routine, precision, and costumes. Nowotnik said each competition is a little different, but usually final tallies are based on a score of 100 points per judge with the lowest score then dropped and the remaining scores averaged out.