First published in 2015 for the MSHSL Centennial celebration in the 2015 State Tournament program. Updated in 2018.
The History of Minnesota Dance Team
From the early days of women’s participation in high school activities, dance and spirit teams were a part of the first primitive options for high school girls. What began as a source of pride in other school activities has become its own main event from the 1970s to today. No longer simply a halftime entertainment, competition dance is now a complex and evolved sport within the Minnesota High School League. Dance Team as we know it in Minnesota began from the tradition of military drill and marching band visual groups blended with the elements of cheer and dance. Today’s athletes represent the finest dance training in the country, combining precision kicks with technical leaps and turns to create a style that is uniquely Minnesotan and at the forefront of the sport nationally.
A HISTORY OF DANCE TEAM IN MINNESOTA
Beginning in the early 1970’s, high schools were independently developing their own Dancelines (as they were known) and eventually added the element of competition, where the school that won the state tournament would host the next year’s event. The activity existed outside of the high school league, and often only survived through the leadership and drive of the pioneering women who coached the teams. There were no judges to speak of during the first “state tournaments;” rather, the team advisors served as judges for other teams. Eventually, as dancers graduated and interest in the activity grew, a basic judging panel was developed along with score sheet criteria.
By 1980, the state tournament was being hosted at St. Olaf College in Northfield and spurred the creation of the coaches’ association, the Minnesota Association of Dancelines (or MAD). MAD gradually took on the responsibilities of coordinating the state tournament and created its bylaws and basic formation we see today. Fifty-five schools were in the initial startup group, and all were welcome to attend the invitational-style state tournament. There were three classes of competition in the high kick style, each based on school size. In 1984, the state tournament moved to St. Cloud State College, then on to the historic Minneapolis Auditorium in 1985. The sport was still evolving and growing, and an additional class of competition (A, AA, AAA, and B) was added to make four classes. By 1989, the event crossed the river to the St. Paul Civic Center and participation continued to grow. In 1993, the jazz/funk style of dance was added as a way to encourage participation in multiple styles of dance by the teams. It took off into two divisions by the next season. Then in 1995, the state tournament site was moved to Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus, with four classes of kick and two classes of jazz/funk. At this time, the tournament was still an invitational style event lasting two days, with preliminary and final rounds of competition. In 1996, MAD ran its final state tournament, and the sport saw the one and only year of the “pom” style of competition. During this tremendous decade of growth, dance teams couldn’t continue to run their own tournaments and coach their expanding programs. The Minnesota State High School League voted to take on Dance Team as a competitive athletic activity for the 1997 season, paring it back to two divisions: High Kick and Jazz/Funk in three size classes.
The new MSHSL state tournaments took the lead from the 1997-99 seasons, with an invitational preliminary and eight-team final round for each class and style. The two-day event was the peak of a long and rather unrestricted season. At this time, teams had continuous fall season programs that ran into a winter competition season–with few rules on competition requirements. The teams did add an array of restrictions on uniform and some basic dance style guidelines to the rules book during this period. MAD also dropped the moniker “Danceline” and took up the modern term “Dance Team” to distinguish themselves from performance squads. By 2000, Dance Team was ready for its modern era with the addition of sectional play. When sections began, there were three geographical sections per class, with four teams advancing to the state tournament for a 12-team preliminary round. Six teams were selected for finals to be held the evening of the state tournament. From 2001 to 2008, the tournament took place in the new Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and finally settled in its current home at the Target Center in Minneapolis. During that time, additional changes were made to the sections layouts including moving to four sections with three state tournament advancements. Without a head-to-head competition setup, Dance Teams have been unique in their approach to sectional play and state tournaments without a possible “bracket” style playoff.
The dawn of the modern era of Dance Team saw many changes to the rules as well as the format of play. With no national governing body, the Minnesota coaches, judges, and league officials set the rules and advanced the safety, technical requirements, and athleticism of the sport. By the time the term “Funk” was dropped from the Jazz division in 2009, the spirit squad teams of the past would not have recognized the athletically-focused, technical performances of today’s Dance Team athletes. Where we once played music from reel-to-reel tapes, today’s teams have professionally-mixed and carefully-crafted digital audio. In the early days, uniforms could be anything; today, modern teams follow strict guidelines for a professional look while the value of the “costume” is removed from the competitive outcome. Today’s scoring is more complex, too–specifying everything from the number of competitors, skill requirements, execution, difficulty and creativity to even the smallest details. Teams can earn points ranging from poor (1 point) to excellent (10 points). The Judges Association of Minnesota Dance Teams (JAM) started in 1999 to address the need for a formal organization and training specifically for judges. In just a few short years, JAM became the leader in competitive officials across all Minnesota sports, producing innovations in training, scoresheets and professionalism that are imperative to the success of the sport.
Dance Team continues to see tremendous progress as a young sport in the league. By the mid-2000s, it generated more League revenue than all other girls’ sports at the state tournament level. There are now 172 schools with registered competitive Dance Team programs, and those programs are eligible to register with the Minnesota Department of Education as a sport under Title IX requirements. Participation, audience growth, and the respect for today’s sport puts Minnesota in a national leadership position in so many ways. Minnesota Dance Team is a role model for first-class sports organizations. It continues to strive for alignment with other MSHSL league sports, reducing performance-only squads to a separate fall intermural activity and improving play structure by adding regular conference and sectional play. In 2018, the sport celebrated its 22nd year under the MSHSL guidance and the 44th year of its state tournament.
NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS IN DANCE TEAM
Three Consecutive State Championships:
Waconia High School – High Kick: 1989,’90,’91
Montevideo High School – High Kick: 1993,’94,’95
Eden Prairie High School – Jazz: 1994,’95,’96
Spring Lake Park High School – Jazz: 2005,’06,’07
Cannon Falls High School – High Kick: 2005,’06,’07
Faribault High School – High Kick: 2005,’06,’07
St. Cloud Cathedral High School – High Kick: 2008,’09,’10
Eastview High School – High Kick: 2016, ’17, ‘18
Four Consecutive State Championships:
Totino Grace High School – High Kick: 1993,’94,’95,’96
Burnsville High School – High Kick: 2000,’01,’02,’03
Faribault High School – High Kick: 2000,’01,’02,’03
Yellow Medicine East High School – Jazz: 2000,’01,’02,’03
Marshall School, Duluth – Jazz: 2007,’08,’09,’10
Eastview High School, Apple Valley – High Kick: 2011,’12,’13,’14
Aitkin High School – High Kick: 2014, ‘15, ’16,’17
Five Consecutive State Championships:
Bloomington Kennedy High School – High Kick: 1992,’93,’94,’95,’96
Six Consecutive State Championships:
Totino Grace High School – Jazz: 1998,’99, 2000,’01,’02,’03
Total State Championships:
Totino Grace High School – 8 Jazz Championships, 10 High Kick Championships (18)
Eastview High School, Apple Valley – 3 Jazz Championships, 11 High Kick Championships (14)
Wayzata High School – 7 Jazz Championships, 5 High Kick Championships (12)
Faribault High School – 1 Jazz Championship, 11 High Kick Championships (12)
Aitkin High School – 2 Jazz Championship, 10 High Kick Championships (12)
Benilde St. Margaret’s High School – 10 Jazz Championships, 1 High Kick Championship (11)
Burnsville High School – 10 High Kick Championships
Maple Grove High School – 7 Jazz Championships, 1 High Kick Championship (8)
Brainerd High School – 8 High Kick Championships
Montevideo High School – 7 High Kick Championships
Yellow Medicine East High School – 6 Jazz Championships, 1 High Kick Championship (7)
Marshall School, Duluth – 7 Jazz Championships
Cannon Falls High School – 6 High Kick Championships
Waconia High School – 1 Jazz Championship, 5 High Kick Championships (6)
Bloomington Kennedy High School – 1 Jazz Championship, 5 High Kick Championships (6)