In her first competition, sophomore Kaelan Swinmurn hit a bull’s-eye when her dance team placed first of over 500 teams at the Starbound National Talent Competition with a jazz performance of “The Little Things” by Big Gigantic.
This was Starbound’s regional competition – which doesn’t require an audition to enter – in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, on June 9-10, and mostly teams from California and Nevada participated. Altogether, Starbound is the largest dance competition in America, according to its website.
Swinmurn’s team, El Dorado Dance Academy’s Illumination, earned a “high gold,” the second highest award based on score, for its composite score of 282 of 300.
Swinmurn joined the team this year after moving to El Dorado Hills, and her teammates either joined Illumination this year or chose to not compete last year, so this was their first competition.
Of her 12 teammates, six competed because they felt more skilled.
Since it was her first competition, Swinmurn said she didn’t know what to expect for the judging and logistics and on the stage.
“(Starbound officials) give you what they think the order of the show will be, but sometimes, right before you’re going on, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, dance number 16, you’re going fourth,’” Swinmurn said. “So you always have to be ready.”
Although Swinmurn said she’s prone to performance anxiety, the number of competitors contributed to her heightened backstage anxiety.
“I’m watching all the other teams practice backstage, and then I’m (suddenly) waiting in the wings, seeing the dance before me,” Swinmurn said.
“It’s really hard not to get super freaked out because of the tons of amazing dances and studios there, and I kind of start to panic before I go on.
“You just have to remember to stay calm. That’s definitely the hardest part.”
However, Swinmurn’s energy helped impress the judges, who evaluate choreography, technique and costume, as well as performance aspects like smiling and dancing energetically, according to Swinmurn.
Illumination has especially strong technique and foundation compared to other studios because instead of focusing on only competitions and its dances, it also works on technique, she said.
“We all (had) to take a class called ‘Turns and Taps,’ which is focused on technique, turns and leaps,” Swinmurn said.
In preparation for Starbound, Illumination had additional competition rehearsals for reviewing entrances and exits and reblocking the dance to accommodate for the dancers not competing. Additionally, at the end of Illumination’s weekly rehearsals, dancers competing in Starbound rehearsed the dance for a few minutes.
Swinmurn added that the team also had strong choreography compared to its competitors.
“We looked like we were having fun, which the judges definitely want to see.”
Although Illumination’s high gold ranking allows it to advance to Starbound’s national finals, El Dorado Dance Academy’s teams participate in only one competition per year because the director wants the studio to focus on dancing for fun, not competitions, according to Swinmurn.
Although she said that she loves competing, Swinmurn said she thinks it is better that the team is not attending nationals.
“When we go to competition, we just look at it as an opportunity to learn and have fun,” Swinmurn said.
“We have a crazy month between our huge end-of-the-year showcase, company auditions for next year and the company tour (to Hawaii), so I think adding nationals on to that would be super stressful.”
—By Larkin Barnard-Bahn