Canby High School is once again at the pinnacle of the dancing world, after capturing first place in both the show and 5A traditional categories at the Oregon State Dance/Drill Championships at the Salem Pavilion Friday night.
The team won the state show championship for five straight years, from 2015 to 2019. But their run for a sixth consecutive title was derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic — and was ultimately lost in 2022 when the Cougs finished third in the state finals due to a penalty.
But the Canby Cougar dance team was on a mission this year, and they would not be denied.
“What an incredible night for this team, these dancers and their families!” head coach Jenn Chaffee told the Current afterward. “Every team puts in so much work and effort behind the scenes to get to this day, and to see our hard work come together in such a beautiful way is so exhilarating!
Chaffee admits the team “felt the pressure” to return to glory in 2023 after last year’s disappointing result, which she feels helped motivate and challenge them throughout the season.
“We focused on this team and these routines and stayed the course,” she said.
That they certainly did, storming through the winter season with an emotionally charged, dazzling show-stopper of a routine dubbed “Madness.” The routine featured a full light show, intricate choreography and daring lifts and jumps — and scored a 92.06 — one of the highest in state history.
“We asked the seniors in the spring what they wanted to do for state, and they wanted something scary, memorable, and that no one has seen before,” Chaffee recalled. “[Choreographer] James [Healey] found some unique music pieces that had a ‘thriller movie’ quality to them and started creating!
Composer Michael Wall created an original score for the performance, and the team added a stilted version of “You Are My Sunshine” as the perfect, haunting ending song.
“Combined, it created an intense and provocative soundtrack for the dance,” Chaffee said. “James had an idea for structures on the floor with light effects that complimented the music. The dancers embraced the idea of taking the audience on a journey through chaos and art. They delivered perfectly!”
After 18 years of competing in the show division alone, the OSAA this year pivoted to a category state championship, allowing teams to participate in multiple events.
“The thinking was if you could do two, why not try?” Chaffee said. “It ended up being a lot of extra work to put two state championship-quality routines together. We had to figure out a lot of new things along the way. It was twice the work and now, it’s twice the reward, and that feels amazing.
“The traditional category is a modern or contemporary style — and this is an area of strength for our team. We are the 10-time reigning modern champions, and we have won contemporary a few years. It just made sense that we would enter a category that we felt confident in.”
And their confidence was fully validated as they, with perhaps a tiny sprinkling of the luck of the Irish, brought home the gold with not one, but two state titles on Saint Patrick’s Day. The team’s tight, joy-fueled traditional routine was to the tune of the John Denver classic “Annie’s Song.”
“It’s a beautiful song,” Chaffee said. “John Denver feels like childhood, and James has played the song during warm-ups at practice for years. One day, he was playing it, and I said ‘I wouldn’t be upset if we danced to this at state,’ and the coaches agreed.”
Now, the Canby dance team is once again the undisputed No. 1 team in the state, and Chaffee said she couldn’t be prouder of her team, fellow coaches, including Healey and assistant coach Jenna Jernstrom, and dance parents and volunteers.
The Cougs also took home some individual hardware, with seniors Marissa VanHoose, Claire Baker, Ainsley Lemuz, and Noreth Palangan earning 5A All-State honors. Lemuz also nabbed a dance scholarship from the Dance Drill Coaches Association of Oregon.
“It has been an incredible journey this season,” she said. “Sometimes, it felt like madness, and sometimes, it felt like a night in a forest. This team loves each other, and we would do it all again tomorrow! But a little break also sounds nice.”
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