MFL MarMac Dance Team makes school history

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The MFL MarMac Dance Team placed first in the Class 1 Hoopla Division and second in Class 1 Military at the ISDTA State Dance Championships in Des Moines on Nov. 30. This marks the first state championship in program history. (Submitted photo)

This was the third straight year the Bulldogs competed in hoopla, a division unique to Iowa where dancers perform with sets of colored hoops. The team had a Latin theme and excelled with fast-paced choreography and stunning visuals. (Submitted photo)

The Bulldogs had a fire truck escort back to school the afternoon of Dec. 1, followed by a surprise from the student body and a chance to ring the victory bell. Pictured (front, left to right) are dancers Kadence Pape, Hailee Corlett, Savannah Schaller, Jerica Wille; (middle) Lauryn Johnson, Ava Goltz, Makayla Morrissey, Mackenzie Bachman, Mallory Lang, coach Kelli Saxe, Morgan Jacobson, Mariah Moser, Ava Lindner; (back) Kaylee Nuehring, Devon Meyer and Madison O’Connell. Read the full story on page 2. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


The MFL MarMac Dance Team placed first of 11 teams in the Class 1 Hoopla Division and second of three in Class 1 Military at the ISDTA State Dance Championships in Des Moines on Nov. 30. This marks the first state championship in program history.


“When they said we won first place, the emotions were crazy. Jaws dropped. There was crying and screaming. I was immediately a mess. It was so cool,” recalled coach Kelli Saxe. “And we had such a big amount of fan support there. So when that moment happened, to be able to share with our families was really awesome.”


This was the third straight year the Bulldogs competed in Hoopla, a division unique to Iowa where dancers perform with sets of colored hoops. 


“For a lot of the girls, it’s their favorite category because it’s an impressive show,” said Saxe.


The 2022 routine theme, “Conga,” featured the songs “Conga” by Miami Sound Machine, “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)” by Harry Belafonte and “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens. According to Saxe, the music was inspired by the team uniforms: sparkly, red dresses borrowed from the school’s Legacy show choir.


“When I went to a Legacy performance, I was captivated by their beautiful costumes. They were really eye catching and looked nice on stage. I talked to [director] Jaydeane Berns to see if she would consider letting us borrow them for competition. When she said yes, immediately my wheels started turning of what could match the jazziness of the uniform,” Saxe explained.


She originally planned to go with a 1920s flapper theme, but couldn’t find the right music. Saxe switched to a Latin theme at the suggestion of a dance friend.


It proved a good choice. The judges were impressed with the fast tempo.


“It doesn’t look hard, but managing those hoops is not as easy as it looks, especially to a fast tempo. We’re fortunate to have 15 girls on our team. In hoop, the more girls you have, it’s a lot more to keep together, but it also can be exciting to watch. We tried some different things with choreography and it all pulled together for an impressive show,” Saxe said.


As an Iowa specific category, hoopla requires teams to create their own hoops using colored strands; they can’t simply be purchased like pom poms, for example. MFL MarMac borrowed hoops the first year, then Saxe’s dad helped make sets from PVC pipe and dowels a year ago. This time, she ordered embroidery hoops and tied them with red, black and gold pom strands.


“It takes like 30 minutes per hoop, and each girl has four of them, so it was a big undertaking,” she said. 


Performing with hoops is difficult because it largely goes against what dancers have been taught in other styles, according to Saxe.


“What’s hard about it is I drill, drill, drill wrist alignment and pom placement when we have our pom poms. When you have the hoops and you do the same motion, you have to hold your body differently so they face front,” she said. “We have to spend a lot of time so they can feel the difference and that, when they hit the motion, they’re doing it the hoopla way. It’s hard when you have to think through the counts and know the choreography and hit your placement correctly.”


Heading into the state performance, Saxe said the team was still battling occasional spacing and memory issues. The Sunday and Tuesday practices beforehand, as well as a rehearsal before the student body, weren’t easy. But it all fell together the day of competition.


Saxe said two factors contributed to the success. The team was able to leave school early and enjoy downtime at the hotel the night before. And this year, for the first time, a room was available to run routines full out before taking the floor.


“They’re always ready, but it makes a difference if you can actually practice. Then, they really nailed it,” she stated.


Heading into the awards ceremony, Saxe had no idea where MFL MarMac stacked up. 


“They called fifth place, fourth place, third place. You could visibly see the girls let their breath out. Then they said the second place team and it was the team I expected to place first. They won all the divisions last year and I saw their performance and they were really good,” she said. When MFL MarMac was announced as the state champion, “we were not expecting it at all.”


The Bulldogs capped off the state experience as runners-up in military, a division they tried for the first time four years ago but ventured away from in favor of other dances.


“I pushed them into that division because I wanted to try something different and now they’re like, ‘We should do that one again,’” Saxe said.


The routine was set to a techno arrangement of “Sweet Dreams.” Like in hoopla, the team struggled to make the pieces fall together before state. 


“It was the routine we put together last, so they didn’t have as much practice time. They were so excited and anxious they would get ahead of the music,” Saxe explained. “But the music started and they came up together and there was this first tricky part they hit. They nailed it. I’m proud of their performance, and even if there were more teams, we still would’ve done really well.”


Saxe said MFL MarMac benefitted from having 15 dancers this year, making for the largest team she’s coached. Many teams around the state saw a drop in numbers, leaving them without the necessary six to perform.


“The advantage is we were able to create more visuals because we had more girls to do it,” she said. “In hoopla, it’s amazing to see a lot of hoops changing, the color combinations. In military, what sets us apart is our style. I have a cheerleading background and know how to do stunts, and we did a few different stunts throughout the routine. To do that and create the visuals, you need to have a larger amount of girls.”


But having 15 bodies to take in as a coach isn’t easy. 


“When you’re looking at the little things, like whose toes are turned out a little bit or whose wrists are turned a bit, it’s a lot harder to get everybody completely in sync,” Saxe said. “And we had a lot of freshman this year, with five new girls. They’re learning still, and that adds another layer to get everybody together. But they did well and I’m hoping we have big numbers coming forward.”


Saxe also credited MFL MarMac’s three seniors. Savannah Schaller and Kadence Pape have been with the team all four years and Hailee Corlett for three. 


“They knew what it was going to take and what to strive for and how to prepare,” she said. “All three are consistent, strong performers and I knew they would be good role models.” 


Videos of MFL MarMac’s state performances can be viewed on the “MFL MarMac Bulldog Dance Team” Facebook page. People can also catch the team at multiple basketball games in December and January. Dancers will hold a kids clinic in January and their Bleacher Bash event in February. 


Dec. 11, from noon to 5 p.m., they’ll again do holiday telegrams within the MFL MarMac School District and Prairie du Chien. Donations will support next year’s competition necessities. To schedule a time, contact Saxe at

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