Poway Dance Project thrives at Poway High
By Rachelle Sparks
Poway High School’s (PHS) award-winning dance team, called the Poway Dance Project, has a lot to celebrate in its 10th year under the direction of coach Raul Sanchez – an upstanding reputation in the local dance community and 15 national titles.
“As much as we love winning, I always remind [the dancers] that the art comes first,” Sanchez said. “My main goal for the team is that we continue to evolve as artists from year to year. Without honoring our craft, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are.”
The Poway Dance Project team is comprised of talented, dedicated dancers who spend at least six hours per week dancing at school, and additional hours training at studios outside of school – and the commitment pays off when they compete throughout the year.
Jen Gladheim, president of the Poway Dance Booster Club and mom to junior Kate (who is a junior captain on the team), said the dancers compete between 10 and 15 times per year.
“I’ve never gone to a competition where we didn’t place in multiple categories,” Gladheim said. “This is a year-round process compared to other sports, which have their individual seasons. These dancers are very dedicated.”
Other local high school teams often place in small group and solo categories at competitions; but when it comes to winning frequently as a team, “That’s unique to Poway. Some schools do better individually, but historically, Poway has done better as a team,” Gladheim explained.
Before becoming director of the Poway Dance Project, coach Sanchez spent many years judging and choreographing for teams all over the country. When it comes to the audition and selection process that dancers go through every year to be on the PHS team, Sanchez knows what to look for.
“My experience really allows me to know what looks great on the floor and what doesn’t,” he said.
Gladheim added that the audition process begins with judgment from professional
dancers and ends with a brilliant team of seasoned dancers.
“The turnout is the best of the best. Several of our dancers have gone on to dance on their college teams. Some go on to dance professionally, and some are happy to have danced in high school and retire at that point,” she said.
In addition to participating in competitions, the team – which specializes in jazz, lyrical and contemporary dance – also performs at football games and pep rallies throughout the school year, and puts on two dance shows during the year – spring and winter. These showcases not only allow the talent of the dancers to shine, but student choreographers as well.
“There’s just such a wide range of talent,” Gladheim said.
While dancers learn the artistic and competitive aspect of the sport when they’re on the team, Gladheim said the girls also learn important, irreplaceable life lessons along the way.
“They spend a lot of time together, so they have a bond that’s unique,” she said, adding that the team went to New York last year for the national competition and this year it will be heading to Florida. “By the time they get to their senior year, their bond is pretty amazing. Inevitably, they’re sobbing and crying during the end of the year, senior dance. They get through it, but the emotions are true and real.”
The girls also learn about sportsmanship, teamwork, commitment, time management and keeping up with responsibilities at home and at school.
“They take criticism and feedback without taking it personally,” Gladheim said. “They’re learning a lot of important lessons that they’ll take with them into adulthood so they can become successful adults.”
Gladheim said the Poway Dance Project obtains funds solely from the public, local businesses, family and friends of the dancers, and fundraisers – including a clinic every year that invites children to participate in dance.
“Kate went to the clinic in second grade and left saying, ‘I want to be on the Poway dance team,’” Gladheim said.
The clinic let’s children dream of becoming successful dancers, and the Poway Dance Project helps make that dream a reality.