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The City Journals

Alta ballroom team wins four categories at coach’s final competition

Jul 20, 2021 10:33AM ● By Julie Slama

Despite the pandemic, Alta High ballroom team was able to perform at its end-of-year show in April. (Sam Mazuran/Alta High yearbook photographer)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was like no other year that Alta High ballroom dance teacher Diana Hunt had ever seen as her dancers danced in and out of COVID-19 quarantines all year, allowing little time for practices before the competition season.

She shouldn’t have worried. At the Utah Ballroom Education Association competition, Alta High’s ballroom team, known as ABT, got first places in every category they entered.

However, the momentum of the team will have to carry on without their coach, who after seven years at Alta as well as many years coaching drill and dance company at Brighton and Pleasant Grove high schools, retired at the end of the school year.

Hunt began at Alta at a time there was little interest in ballroom from the boys, so the ballroom dance team didn’t compete.

“It took a while to build up; the numbers in the social dance classes were kind of low,” she said. “The last four years, we’ve been competing a bit more.”

That was until this year, during the pandemic, when competitions were few and they looked different.

“Normally, you would go to a competition and there are individual couples competing as well as teams competing. Because of COVID, at one competition, we went and just competed as couples and the other competition, was really where we competed as a team,” Hunt said. 

At the High School Syllabus competition, where couples danced to the music that was played and judges determine if they advance to the next round, two Alta couples made it through the semifinal round, which “is pretty good,” she said.

COVID-19 limited their practices, even though the team followed safety and health guidelines and also were tested every two weeks, Hunt said.

“We really only had practice maybe three weeks before the competition,” she said, adding that normally some couples practice many hours on their own beginning the summer before school starts. “We just focused more on our team routine.”

They also had the opportunity to dance at the Utah DanceSport Challenge on Feb. 6.

“It was great. For some of our kids who have never really danced before, especially ballroom, it was a whole new kind of fun,” Hunt said.

At the UBEA team competition, ABT competed in all the show divisions. 

“We took four different routines (rhythm/Latin, smooth/standard, swing, novelty) and we placed first in all four categories,” she said. 

The competition team consisted of eight Alta High couples in the first three categories, which the competition limited the numbers, and then, Hunt was able to have 10 couples compete in novelty. 

“It’s hard when you have to limit your dancers, but everybody’s on the team and we all support each other. Most of the time, when there’s injuries, vacations, absences or sickness, especially this year with COVID-19 quarantining, I had people going in and out of the routines all year long,” she said.

One of those times was right before homecoming when Hunt expected all 12 couples to dance their three-mile performance that “one of the boys got the call that said you sat next to somebody, so you have to quarantine.” The next day, another boy was told to quarantine, so two girls went out and performed without their partners.

“They were amazing. They hit every count, they hit every body angle, they did everything. There were a couple lifts we had to re-choreograph for those two in one day, but I was really impressed with these two girls,” Hunt said.

In addition to competitions and homecoming, ABT also performs for the school’s Hello Day assembly (this year prerecorded) and Veterans Day assembly.

“We’re more into supporting the school and participating and having that school spirit than competing,” she said. “For me (Veterans Day) is my favorite performance because those veterans are so sweet and so appreciative. We always do like a Lindy 1940s Big Band style routine and the cute veterans love it.”

This year, without an in-person Veterans Day assembly, Hunt still taught the routine; it was one that they performed for competition as well as in their concert.

Also canceled this year was “Dancing with the Hawks,” which was scheduled when former Gov. Gary Herbert shut down most extracurricular activities for two weeks in November. 

The fundraiser usually has students from different clubs or sports perform a routine, similar to the television show, “Dancing with the Stars.” Afterward the student body votes and judges provide comments.

“The kids really love it. We have so much fun doing it. It’s not a ton of performing for all of my team; it’s a lot of work for my officers and for kids who have never danced before. It kind of brings the community together,” she said.

While students were disappointed by yet another activity that was canceled, Hunt said that they spent the time preparing for their own spring concert, and two routines for the dance company concert, which her friend and colleague, Traci Raymond, has coordinated. 

“We were able to have our own concert this year, after not getting to have it last spring,” Hunt said. 

Included in the 16-routine concert were two solo dances by seniors, an all-girl dance, an all-boy dance and two former sisters who graduated came back to fill in two girls’ spots so 12 couples could dance together. 

“A lot of my kids have gone on to dance at BYU and UVU and compete individually,” she said. “I feel like the last four years have been really quite successful. It kind of tanked because of COVID, so I’m hoping it comes back.”

Taking the reins from Hunt is first-year teacher Dana Lambert, a recent BYU graduate in dance, with a minor in ballroom. Hunt’s assistant, Maddie Cavaness, will stay on as the assistant coach.

“I’m going to miss my team and also some of my students, whether they were in yoga class, or health class. Some kids that just pop in and say, ‘hey, what’s going on?’ I’m not going to miss getting up in the morning and trying to do stuff on Canvas (online learning platform),” Hunt said, then realized she sounded like a high school student herself. “Yep, I’ll miss the social aspect, but not the homework.”