When the uMatter Diamond Dancers step on stage, their goal is to sparkle and shine while expressing themselves through movement. Recently, the girls did just that while taking home a regional dance title.
According to Heather Hodson, administrative director for the troupe, the girls traveled to Kentucky for the competition.
“We attended the DTU (Dance Team Union) Regionals in Louisville,” said Hodson. “They did not have to qualify to attend this competition, however, they did attend their summer camp.”
Hodson added that DTU is a program which offers competition for school and all star teams, in addition to collegiate level dancers.
“This is where colleges like Baylor University, Western Kentucky University, Brigham Young, Utah Valley, Transylvania University and others compete,” Hodson said.
Eight girls from the Waverly City School District are members of the uMatter Diamond Dancers. Members include Daisy Tolliver (captain), Mercedes Curtis-Walker (first lieutenant), Lexie Cross, Melody Hall, Gabby Wall, Aubrey Adams, Gracie Willison, and Mya Shaw.
“Even though we had dancers compete as young as 11 years old, we had one dancer who was 17 and a junior in high school, so our team had to compete in the Senior All Star Division,” said Hodson. “All dance programs typically only compete in two events at a competition, and they spend the entire year preparing for those two routines. With this being a first year program for our girls and team, we wanted to use this year to have them experience every genre so they could learn the differences between them and experience the different expectations and scoring, as well as learning as a team what they are best at. This was very challenging, as we only meet twice a week at either the Grace United Methodist Church or the Pike County YMCA. We had to divide up our practices strategically and work really hard to get the routines competition ready.”
The uMatter Diamond Dancers competed with five routines during the DTU Regionals and received the following awards: Pom (second place), Contemporary (second place), Novelty (first place), Military (first place), and Jazz (first place).
“Our Jazz routine was a combination of Jazz and High Kick,” said Hodson. “All awards were for the Senior All Star Division, which is huge because the majority of the dancers in this division are 15 years and older, and half of our team are 11 to 14 years old.”
Solo dancers also competed and received the following awards: Daisy Tolliver and Mercedes Curtis-Walker (Senior Duo, third place), Gabby Wall and Gracie Willison (Junior Duo, first place), Youth Solos: Mya Shaw (fifth place), Aubrey Adams (fourth place), Gracie Willison (fourth place), Melody Hall (third place), Mercedes Curtis-Walker (second place), and Daisy Tolliver (Senior Solo, fourth place).
“Our program is a college-prep program focusing on what is needed for our dancers to audition for and make a college team,” Hodson said. “College dance teams not only require specific skills and techniques, which we teach, but there is a disciple and professionalism, as well as the ability to work unified as a team and know what is needed to not only make the team but to survive in it as well. Our program is designed to prepare them for the pressure and responsibilities of college dance so that when they audition during their senior year, they show up with confidence and know what to expect so that they can nail the tryout and hopefully even receive a scholarship.”
In addition to being a dance mom for 16 years, Hodson’s background includes 15 years as a cheer coach. In the past, she has started junior varsity/varsity programs and has owned a competition all star cheer gym/team.
Also working with the team is Hallie Hodson, coach and choreographer and Alex Hodson, coach and choreographer. Hallie has 16 years of dance experience including studio dance (Dance Xpressiosn and Epicenter for the Arts in Dallas, TX), high school drill teams and a dance performance company. She is currently a member of the Morehead State University Dance Team, including the MSU dance company, Gala and Delta Chi Xi academic dance fraternity. Alex has 10 years’ experience in dance, ranging from studio to school still teams, and has worked at Septien Entertainment Group, which “focuses on artist development from dancing to singing and acting.”
“We also work diligently with our dancers in regard to social and life skills. We have a very strict ‘assume the best in each other’ policy, and we work on conflict resolution with open and honest dialogue to create a ‘drama free’ environment, but one that is competitive in a healthy spirit,” said Heather. “Dance is a brilliant way to spread a message, express a feeling, or get out whatever is built up inside. It is therapy. It is art. It is exercise. It is a story put into motion and a kaleidoscope of emotions and beauty and rawness. It is comforting. It is an escape. There are days when our dancers have just had enough with life and ask for improv worship at the end of practice. We turn down the lights so no one can see and crank up worship music and they just dance it out. Dance is an art form that is a great tool for self-coping.”
Self-coping is just one way the troupe has had a positive impact on its members, said Hodson.
“They take this form of letting it out and letting it go and do this on their own at home, not just at practice,” she said. “It has given our girls a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. We have, as a team, worked with children at the YMCA, where we not only performed for them, but the girls also connected with the kids, played with them, and spent time with them during the summer ... Our contemporary piece is called ‘You are Awesome’. It is a message about how we are all unique, amazing, and awesome exactly as we are. It is the mission statement of our program. Our girls not only have grown from hearing this message every day as we practice it, but they love spreading the message to everyone each time they perform it.”
The group’s Military routine is about addiction and suicide, said Hodson, and the girls appreciated the opportunity to express themselves about the subject.
“Being able to express themselves through dance has given them a boldness and a confidence that has allowed them to grow in ways we did not expect,” she said. “That has been the most rewarding to see ... They are connecting their moves with musicality now, and they are expressing a message through movement. It is incredible to see this develop in them in such a short amount of time.
“These empowered teens have a voice in their dancing, and their message is powerful. The way they have dug deep into their own experiences or the experiences of people they care about, and the way they transfer those experiences into each piece is inspiring and overwhelming. Our hearts burst with pride when they perform.”
In January, the group will travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to compete in Dance Revolution. In February, they will travel to Orlando, Florida, to compete in DTU Nationals and visit Disney “to celebrate the end of their first season as a team,” said Hodson.