Island Dance teams shine at Disneyland

It was the first trip to nationals for the Island Dance Competition Team in years, but the young choreographers and dancers from South Whidbey impressed the judges nonetheless.

They won numerous honors and were picked from among 300 teams to perform their piece “The Puppeteer” at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. earlier this summer.

The Hollywood Vibe National Convention and Competition was the high point of a very successful season for the competitive dancers from South Whidbey.

The standout performance of “The Puppeteer,” was danced by Heather Plumberg, Graham Vanderwood, Martha Gil-Osorio and Leigha Beck and choreographed by Andrea Burr.

The hip-hop piece had been a hit in regional dance circles all season long and Vanderwood, 17, the puppet master, was proud to take the show on the road.

“The energy at nationals was a whole different level,” he said.

Not only did the group bring home a platinum award for their performance, but they were also chosen to perform the piece during the “Battle of the Stars Tour” stop in Seattle. During nationals, the group was also honored for the best costume.

Tasha Plumberg and Vanderwood, both former students and now teachers at Island Dance, also won a platinum award for “The Beat,” a hip-hop work created by Vanderwood. It was his first choreography competition.

“That was pretty cool,” Vanderwood said.

Heather Graham and Vanderwood also won a high gold award for a tap number.

The South Whidbey dancers, most under 18, took classes with professional dancers and networked during the competition/convention in Anaheim. There was enough time during their six-day trip to visit Disneyland and to have some fun, however.

“I liked the atmosphere. I thought nationals would be big and overwhelming. But we met the nicest people and worked with amazing teachers,” Tasha Plumberg said.

The instructors challenged the well-trained dancers from Whidbey Island.

“There were bruises and pulled muscles,” Plumberg joked.

Filled with new ideas, Plumberg and Vanderwood said they are ready to begin choreographing new works and start rehearsing for the next season.

“It was inspiring,” Vanderwood said.

Their goal is to finish a new piece in time for the “Monsters of Hip Hop Convention” in Portland in November.

“I am really, really proud of them,” Island Dance co-owner Char Brown said. “Each day, I got a phone call from them about the award they won and that other dancers at the convention recognized them. That’s how much they impressed upon the other dancers. We (as a studio) feel really small here, so that was great,” Brown added.

She also said it is always rewarding to see dancers who have been part of Island Dance since they were barely old enough to walk succeed in performances and competitions beyond the island and Washington, as well.

Susan Vanderwood, who coordinates the competition teams, said it was a great experience for dancers and teachers alike.

“I loved going and meeting dancers from all over the country. Now, we can say we have friends everywhere,” Vanderwood said.

The camaraderie between the dancers from across the county grew and by the time top honors were announced people weren’t rooting for just their home team anymore.

“By the time they picked ‘Dancer of the Year,’ we were all rooting for him,” she said.

The competition team is also growing. For the next season, two dozen kids between 9 and 18 have signed up for competitive dancing so far.

Island Dance hopes to bring a bigger team to next year’s competition. But the travel is not cheap. People interested in financially supporting the team can inquire at Island Dance about ways to help the dancers get to the nationals.

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