The Voice of Wakefield High School

The Howler

The Voice of Wakefield High School

The Howler

The Voice of Wakefield High School

The Howler

‘They were like a coach’s dream:’ Varsity dance team leaps their way into school history

The Wakefield High School Varsity dance team poses with their poms after their competition. The team won tenth place in the nation on the weekend of March 7. (Photo Courtesy of Shannon Proctor)

From half-time shows at sporting events to pep rallies, Wakefield High School students have all seen the highly-talented dance team perform. On the weekend of March 8, over 500 schools from across the country had the pleasure of watching the team perform at the National Dance Alliance (NDA) National Championship. 

For nearly 21 years, the varsity dance team has been under the guidance of Shannon Proctor. On March 7, Proctor, assistant coach Lauren Plant and the team of seniors and juniors boarded a plane headed to Orlando, Fl., where they made school history placing as a top 10 finalist. 

“I think there were seven teams representing North Carolina, but nobody else in our division, and only one other Wake County school,” Proctor said. “We competed in two divisions: we competed in team performance, but we did not make finals on that one. The one we made finals in was Large Varsity Pom.”

The team first went to nationals in 2019, but did not return until 2023 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Proctor believes last year was more of a learning experience for the team than an actual competitive one. 

I’m a firm believer that you not only learn by doing but also performing and observing.

— Proctor

“They had no idea what they were walking into [last year], and then they realized that even how good they were, every team is good,” Proctor said. “I still consider this year only second, because last year it was new for the entire team. I’m a firm believer that you not only learn by doing but also performing and observing.”

Last year’s competition provided a huge opportunity for the dancers to learn and observe, making them more prepared for this year’s competition. The team received high scores on their routines last year, but did not place or make it to the finals. Senior Vanessa Macdonald went to both the 2023 and 2024 competitions. 

“I think it provided us with the opportunity to show how much we had grown and also just prove to ourselves that we deserved to be there, especially after last year [when] we didn’t make finals,” MacDonald said. “It was a big step to actually make the top ten and realize that we improved so much in just a year.”

With schools from 34 states coming to Florida for the competition, the audience was packed full. Families, friends and coaches watched as their dancers took the stage for nearly two minutes. 

The ending pose for Wakefield’s varsity dance team’s pom routine. The team made school history placing in the top ten in the nation for competitive dance.
(Photo Courtesy of Shannon Proctor)

“I have made finals with other organizations and I’ve made finals with winter guards and other things, but I’d never made finals at Nationals for dance team,” Proctor said. “When I watched them, I sat on the side and for the first time [I didn’t] critique it. Normally when I watch them I’m always looking at things we can improve on but I knew it was the last time so I just wanted to enjoy the moment.”

However, Proctor and the other schools weren’t their only audience. A panelist of judges watched their every move, studying their spins, leaps and facial expressions. With hundreds of performances, it’s important for a team to stand out – which is exactly what Wakefield did. 

“I think [what made us stand out] was our unifying as a team; we looked very together and it was a very clean routine,” senior Autumn Battle said. “We didn’t have any big mistakes, so I think that’s what made us place so high, and we’ve been working on the routine for a really long time, so you can tell all the hard work we’ve put into it.”

Since last year’s competition, the dancers have been preparing: tightening turns, strengthening cardio and eventually practicing their routine. Genevieve Tomlinson, a junior, explains the training schedule that led to their strong performance. 

“We trained every single day during second period for about an hour and a half, and then on Wednesdays we had two to three hours [after school] based on the Wednesday for training,” Tomlinson said. “It was a lot of pull out run-throughs and then a lot of technique days where we practiced the turns or the head springs or [other] technical parts of the routine.”

However, after-school rehearsals and in-class practices weren’t the only times these girls prepared. 

“A lot of us came in during pack times. We were required to record ourselves doing the routines, so some of us would be in here for the entire lunch or multiple days a week,” MacDonald said. “A lot of us have a studio outside of school, so it’s also practicing on our own time on top of that.”

Day and night, the dance team practiced the two routines Proctor choreographed specifically for the NDA National Championship. 

“I think something that made us stand out mainly to the judges is Ms. Proctor’s choreography. She kept claiming like ‘I know what NDA Nationals is looking for,’ and then we went there, and to be honest, we were all star-struck,” Tomlinson said. “We knew [Saturday] wasn’t our best run-through, but the choreography stuck out so largely to the judges, and then we got [a score of ] 10 on our choreography.”

Proctor didn’t just choreograph their routines, however. She was with the team every step of the way, from long practices to stressful moments, supporting the girls 24/7. Junior Nola Fulk, along with every single dancer on the team, recognizes the amount of work Proctor puts into the dance team. 

She has her own family, own personal life, and she doesn’t have to do dance team but she’s put so much energy into it because she wants it so bad for us, she wants to see us succeed.

— Fulk

“She played a huge role, not [just] being our coach. She literally did all of this on her own, [including] the rides, the flights, buses, collecting money. Since we don’t get that help from the school she is literally like our travel agent,” Fulk said. “She has her own family, own personal life, and she doesn’t have to do dance team but she’s put so much energy into it because she wants it so bad for us, she wants to see us succeed.”

All that work and energy paid off in the end, creating a sense of accomplishment for every single member of the team. 

“It really was a very hard-working process, but I worked really hard. They saw me working hard, so they worked just as hard as me. I thought it was a very collaborative process,” Proctor said. “I feel just ecstatic, validated, you know, all the things, but I’m very happy for them, because really, though it’s part of me, that moment on stage was not my moment that was theirs, and they deserved every bit of that moment.”

After the competition, the dance team went back to their hotel to relax. Proctor and assistant coach Plant found out the team made finals, and placed in the top ten, before any of the dancers. After celebrating in their hotel room, they called a team meeting to break the good news. 

Emily Aurora, Kayla Godspeed and Cassidy Lair pose with the NDA National Championship trophy they won. The trophy is front and center in the trophy case by the main gym. (Nic Cazin)

“First [the coaches] announced that we made finals which was a big moment in itself. When she said that we were top 10… that was just a crazy feeling going from last year not even making finals [to that moment],” Fulk said. “We did three dances last year and only brought two this year so we had a smaller chance of getting in finals. It was just so much excitement and it just felt almost like relief like all that hard work and stress and nerves – it all finally paid off.”

Only 16 schools from the original 500 made it to finals, and the Wakefield dance team placed eighth. That’s right, eighth out of 500. They got on stage to perform their routine for the last time the morning of March 10, where they then placed tenth, taking home a shiny new trophy for the case. For the first time in school history, the Wakefield Varsity Dance Team placed as a national finalist within the top ten.

“[This] raises the bar [for what next year’s team] is to expect because we’ve left such a legacy for them,” Battle said. “[Future dancers] see how much hard work [they] have to put in and things [they] need to be to be as good as a team as we are.”

These strong standards will lead to an even stronger team for next year’s NDA Championship, but it’s not just skill that makes a team great. All the dancers care about each other and care about their coach, creating a family on and off stage. For Coach Proctor, the caring and loving feeling is mutual. 

“The whole weekend was just a great experience. It was a lot of highs and lows, but they handled it, they handled that pressure, with grace and poise, and they were beautiful on stage,” Proctor said. “I’m going to be forever grateful for this team to make this history and to set that standard. My coaching will be harder in other ways if I don’t have the talent, but I don’t think I’m ever going to have to convince kids [to] trust me, because [these girls] trusted me to get them here and [get] the reward – it all paid off. They were like a coach’s dream.”


Video Courtesy of Shannon Proctor

Story continues below advertisement
View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All The Howler Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • K

    KatieApr 3, 2024 at 1:43 pm

    Go Wakefield dance team!!