SEASIDE, OREGON – Dancing is a huge part of many young girls’ and boys’ lives, especially here in Fremont County with the plethora of dance studios that are available to the youth. One of those studios, Room to Dance, has a history of sending their young dancers to the biggest stages and coming back with first-place trophies. This weekend proved that, once again, Room to Dance has what it takes to keep competing at the highest level. 

They did this by sending over a dozen young dancers to the Spotlight Dance Cup National Championships in Seaside, Oregon and coming back with a national championship trophy along with a handful of other awards. 

Their championship trophy (seen below) came from their stellar performance in the Contemporary Dance event, placing first with their “Seven Devils” dance that featured every girl Room to Dance brought to Oregon. 

The girls’ “Seven Devils” dance was good enough to win the national championship trophy in the Contemporary Dance event (p/c Janet Keyes)

“They did so great, I’m really proud of them,” Coach Jessica Murray said about her dancers. “They were going up against dancers and studios that spend much more time dancing than we do.”

Room to Dance was not only one of, if not the, smallest studios in attendance but they were also one of the only studios that put out a dance that was not being practiced for the whole year in preparation. Their “Teen Beach” themed dance (seen below) was only performed in their Riverton studio for the past three weeks, but when they went up on the biggest stage and performed it they were rewarded with huge amounts of applause that boosted Coach Murray’s spirits about their chances. 

Room to Dance’s “Teen Beach” themed dance was only one month old and performed well against dances that have been practicing the same dance for over a year (p/c Janet Keyes)

“I actually thought they might win an entertainment award for that, the audience seemed to love it,” Coach Murray said about the beach-themed dance. “It went over very well with everybody [and] I was super proud of them. We threw that routine together three weeks before and they put it on stage and performed it so well … against routines that have been practiced for a whole year.”

Another big group dance that Room to Dance did well in is the Lyrical event with their dance called “Tainted”, earning them first in their Senior Advanced Category. Outside of their group dances, which all earned Ruby Awards (just one step away from the higher-tiered “Diamond” awards), there was also a slew of individual and duo performances that brought back some awards. 

One of those was Room to Dance’s lone male dancer, Andrew Garcia, who brought home the “Embrace” Award for his solo performance. Garcia, who has been dancing under Coach Murray for a few years now, is known for his effort and the way he puts everything into his dances.

“I was super, super proud of [Garcia],” Coach Murray said. “He didn’t just win it because he was a boy, there were plenty of other boys … When he dances you can tell that he loves to be on stage. The judges can tell it’s authentic … he loves to perform and that resonated with the judges.”

Riverton’s Emirah Hernandez won a costume award for her Arabian Nights-themed costume on day 2 (p/c Jessica Murray)

Another award that was won by a solo dancer was Emirah Hernandez (above) with her “Arabian Nights” dance, earning one of the four costume awards during the week. Afterwards, Mya Whitaker (below) also earned a costume award during her solo performance on Saturday. 

Hudson native Mya Whitaker performed well in her final tournament under Room to Dance, in the end she placed in the Rubies adjudication and won a costume award for her purple leotard above (p/c Jessica Murray)

Whitaker was not only looking for the costume awards, she was hoping to nab a title in her final shot before she travels to college where she will be pursuing a career in dance. The former Lander Valley student had been dancing for Room to Dance and Coach Murray for most of her life and, alongside the other 18-year old from Riverton, Hannah Neuendorf, her final dances were bittersweet for Murray. 

“It was very hard to watch as a coach. It was a very emotional thing to watch because you’ve been training for years and to be on the stage for the very last time … I just hope both of those girls keep dance in their life,” Coach Murray said as she choked back tears. “I know they both would make fantastic coaches or teachers anywhere they decided to end up in their lives.”

Coach Murray wasn’t the only one holding back tears, Whitaker knew that her final attempt at a title was going to be tough. It was tough for a few reasons though, mainly because Whitaker and Neuendorf danced together as best friends for much of their lives and now are moving to separate schools and focusing on different majors. 

“It definitely was emotional, it was kind of like the end of an era,” Whitaker said after the tournament. “It was really sad [and] super emotional because it was our last dance together … Especially knowing we’re probably going to never dance together again. It was really sad because I’ve been dancing with her for so long.”

Whitaker had to face off against dancers from Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho and even Hawaii but she did what she could, and got extremely close to her first national championship as a solo dancer. 

“I felt like I did good, but it didn’t score as well as I normally do … but I was satisfied with my performance,” Whitaker said. 

Overall, the Room to Dance girls brought home a large number of Rubies awards as well as costume awards and the coveted “Embrace” award. All of these, along with their national championship trophy in the Contemporary Dance category will all go well sitting in the dance studio with the countless other awards that Coach Murray’s girls and boys have brought back over the years. 

BY: Shawn O’Brate

Enjoy photos below, courtesy of Janet Keyes and Jessica Murray