WASHINGTON — All eyes were on the Pantherettes at halftime of a high school boys basketball game Friday night in Torry Gym.
Washington Community High School’s dance team performed its competition routine, “Washington Strong,” a musical and lyrical depiction of the tornado that roared through the community Nov. 17, 2013, destroying or damaging more than 1,100 homes, and the response to the disaster.
Four of the 17 girls on the dance team lost their homes to the EF-4 twister, including senior captain Hannah Brownfield.
The idea for the routine came from Pantherettes coach Lauren Metz.
“I wanted to tell the community’s story through this dance,” she said.
The routine begins with the dancers performing to Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.”
“There’s no indication at first that’s this dance is different, just like nobody expected what was going to happen the morning of the tornado,” Metz said.
After about 40 seconds, the music cuts out and is replaced by silence.
“The calm before the storm,” Metz said.
Sound slowly returns with voiceovers and music. The dance continues with what Metz calls “the chaotic orchestration of community members sharing their stories. At this point, there are many dance movements that represent fear and confusion.”
Soon the routine switches to voiceovers talking about how the community was raised up by others, Metz said.
There’s also a chant created by the dancers that they say before each performance. The chant ends with the community’s post-tornado motto, “Washington Strong.”
Metz said practicing and performing the routine since November hasn’t been easy.
“I’m proud of the emotion and talent the dancers display every time they do the routine,” Metz said. “It’s so much more than a dance.”
The Pantherettes finished third at the Illinois Dance Team Association state competition Feb. 13 after a 12th-place finish Jan. 29 at the Illinois High School Association state competition.
Two more performances are on their schedule. Neither is at a competition. The dance will be performed March 18 during March Madness at the Peoria Civic Center and March 20 at the Pantherette Showcase at Five Points Washington.
Assistant coach Emily Eckstein and Ashley Emory, a former Pantherette, helped Metz choreograph the routine.
Alex Metz (Lauren’s husband’s closest friend but no relation), who has a sound recording studio in Springfield, developed a framework for the dance’s soundtrack and recorded the voiceovers in late August in Washington.
Mike Brownfield, Hannah Brownfield’s father and a Washington City Council alderman, is the featured speaker.
“Alex layered the voiceovers into the framework and created a soundtrack that was ready by October,” Lauren Metz said. “Basically, sound-wise, he made my idea a reality.”
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Stein Time blog on pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.