JEWELL - South Hamilton's dance team has been a bit busy lately. The Jewell Gems have competed in state competitions, performed for the Girls State Basketball Tournament and will be heading off to Fort Worth, Texas in a couple weeks to show off their skills at the national level.
Steph Vierkandt, the team's coach, couldn't be happier.
"They are such an awesome team," she said. "Their work ethic is admirable."
South Hamilton Dance Team members perform at the South Hamilton vs. North Polk home game on Feb. 7.
Vierkandt started the high school dance team six years ago, after open-enrolling her children in the district. She had coached at a previous school and was asked if she was interested in starting a program.
She now has a team of 22 girls, with 12 of those performers competing on the state competition squad.
"Most of the girls on my dance team don't have any previous dancing experience," Vierkandt said. "So we have to start from square one - from learning a pirouette to knowing how to hold your arms and hands."
Tryouts are held in April, and before school is out in May, dancers start learning a summer camp routine. The girls meet every other week in the summer and then go to the July camp in Des Moines for three days. Vierkandt said that teammates learn routines that they bring back home to use at half-time performances at basketball games.
At the beginning of December, South Hamilton's state dance team participated in the M.A. state competition. The squad received first place in pom, second place in military and third place in kick.
It wasn't easy work. "We try to put in 100 to 125 hours of practice in before state competition," she said. "It's pretty crazy. I have to work around volleyball schedules. And after the season is done, we practice every day after school for three hours. They are extremely dedicated."
"We then went to regionals, which was held at Southeast Polk High School," she said. Unlike the state competition, where teams compete against schools of likewise size, the regional competition is separated by team size.
"My state team of 12 dancers competed against other teams with 12 to 15 members," Vierkandt said. This included Norwalk, West Des Moines, Waukee and Pella.
"We were against some pretty big schools," she added. South Hamilton took top honors at the competition - receiving 870 out of 900 points. Second place went to Southeast Polk, which received 865.
"We were shocked. It was pretty neat," Vierkandt said. The team will now head to Fort Worth, Texas for the M.A. National Competition on March 22.
The team has been busy fundraising for their travel expenses. On March 27 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., there will be an all-you-can-eat barbecue dinner at the high school cafeteria. The cost per person is $10, and proceeds will go to the team's travel expenses.
While they have been gearing up for their big performance - they keep performing.
"The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union invited us to be a half-time performer for the Girls State Basketball Tournament," she said. "They asked us to perform two routines, which is rare. Teams usually perform just one."
It was well received - the team received a standing ovation from the crowd.
On Friday, "A Night of Dance" will be held at South Hamilton. A supper will be served in the high school cafeteria from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. At 7 p.m., dancing will commence with Pat Powers as the emcee. Admission for the event is $5 per person.
Vierkandt said that both the 22-member and 12-member squads will perform. There will also be other performances: Father-daughter, all-male, co-ed and routines from elementary, middle school and high school participants.
The coach is proud of her team.
"This has been a rebuilding year," she said. "Five state team members returned from last year. The seven new girls are all freshmen."
The team is also has some of the top students in academics at South Hamilton.
"As I see them progress, I realize that I am constantly blessed," Vierkandt said. "I've got such a wonderful team of girls - I can't ask for more than that."