Too sweet to defeat!

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 25, 2005

What’s sweeter than the taste of sugar? How about a couple of Olympic medals?

That’s what a group of young dancers from around the area found last month at the Junior Olympics in New Orleans. Members of the Southern Sweethearts dance team, based out of Windsor – and moving to Franklin next week – won gold, silver and bronze awards.

After qualifying for the Olympics at the national competition in Maggie Valley, N.C. last October (to compete, a team must finish in the top three in a tournament during the year), the girls practiced in tournaments in Virginia, North and South Carolina and Tenn-essee. Then they headed to the Land of Mardi Gras to battle the nation’s greatest. On July 29-30, the two teams hit the floors.

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The elementary (ages 9-15) girls went out to compete in moving and standing line dances. In moving events, the girls dance into formations such as Vs, columns, pyramids and other figures with hip-hop, country and other tunes wafting through the air; in standing, they stay in a straight line all the way through the roughly 90-second event.

&uot;Standing is my favorite,&uot; said Alexis Clary, 11. &uot;You don’t have to remember formations and where you have to go.&uot;

Crystal Mitchell has her own methods for doing so in motion dancing.

&uot;Basically, you just find something to look at and just go,&uot; said the Lady Suffolkian. &uot;I looked straight ahead at my mom for the entire time.&uot;

After the teams got through, Alexis went back to watch the rest of the standing

squads, which were from as far away as California, Utah, Georgia and Florida.

&uot;There were about 10,&uot; she said. &uot;Some were good, some weren’t.&uot;

That night, the teams gathered to hear the winners. The top three teams – though the exact order hadn’t been given – were brought on stage.

The third place team was announced. It wasn’t the Sweethearts.

The second place team was announced. It wasn’t the Sweethearts. Therefore, the local squad was the competition’s top standing line elementary squad.

Later, they got a bronze in the moving competition, and a combination of elementary and junior (age 13-17) dancers brought home a gold in open hoedown. Much like square dancing, hoedown is a set of dance moves helped along by a caller, a girl out in the midst of the action, shouting out instructions between dance moves.

But the teams didn’t slow down. In mid-August, they went down to Lenoir, N.C. for another – albeit less prestigious – competition. Once again, the elementary squad got first in standing, with the juniors coming in second in their respective competition. The elementary kids got second in moving line, and the two teams again combined for a hoedown title, with Renee Drewry making the calls.

&uot;That’s really hard,&uot; she said of calling. &uot;You’re out of breathe from dancing, and you have to shout above the music for them to hear you.&uot;

After the team events, Drewry and teammate Deanna Cutchins took part in the solo age 16-18 event. They and the nearly 30 other competitors did quick routines one at a time.

&uot;With 18-year-olds in there,&uot; Drewry said, &uot;I thought I had no chance to win. (After I danced) I didn’t think I did that great. I thought third place was in mind.&uot;

Both she and Deanna had done a bit better than that; Deanna was second in the solo event, Drewry first.

&uot;I jumped on my sister,&uot; Drewry said. &uot;I was slightly excited.&uot;

Her sister Amanda, the coach of the team and a former All-American in clogging, won third place in the 19-25 solo event. The team now prepares to head back to Maggie Valley and take their next step back toward the Junior Olympics.

Again, the squad will be moving to a new location in Franklin in early September. For more information, call Amanda at 647-9002.