Dance studios bring national title back to Frazee
By Robert Williams
From making impacts on the lives of local people in need to garnering regional titles and national recognition, the Northern Lights Dance Academy instructors and dancers could have finished the season proud of everything they accomplished as is, but did one better by ending the year with a national championship victory.
The studio’s production line dance to a Prince medley titled “The Purple Revolution” was honored with the Grand National Championship award at the Triple S Dance National competition in Wisconsin Dells in late June.
The result was the same but the dance was different from previous championship routines that centered around an important sociological message like “Thoughts and Prayers,” a performance about school shootings that automatically earned the national bid at regionals in April or “The Village,” a performance about transgender issues and suicide that became a top five finalist at the Industry Dance Awards in Los Angeles late last year.
“It was always doing well, and it was our production line so it has over 50 kids and most of our production lines have a prop or some kind of gimmick and I feel like this is the first time that we’re just dancing to Prince songs – it’s going to be a clean dance,” said NLDA Assistant Director and Choreographer Kiala Rae Velde.
After competing all week, the top three teams are selected for the finals. Four years ago, NLDA reached the finals for the first time and placed second. Two years later was the first time the studio brought a production line with high hopes, but did not make the finals in any category.
This season was a big bounce back as they sent three teams to the finals with the junior team’s performance of “Material Girl” and “Thoughts and Prayers” also making bids for national accolades and three solo dancers making the finals.
“They were excited and the juniors were crazy excited because they came in this year a little rough,” said Velde. “They worked so hard; we call them our little robots. They deserved that.”
Nationals was not without some drama, especially for eighth-grade dancer Aubree Bristlin who injured her knee during practice.
“We go back in a little room to go practice and I hear one of my girls screaming,” Velde said.
Velde did some quick damage control after assuring Bristlin was being cared for as the performance time of “Telephone” neared.
“Can we restage really quick? Nope. Just have lots of energy on stage,” she told her team.
Out of 150 performances per day, three are selected to return to perform encores after being selected as the most entertaining.
“We got through it okay and then we got called back to do an encore,” said Velde.
They won that encore and the next day Bristlin came back and finished the production line championship routine with her team.
“She got to finish out and dance with her team, so that was really cool,” Velde said.
While some seasons end after a final recital or last practice, this year concluded in the best way possible.
“We won it and it was super exciting,” said NLDA Director Kendal Ware. “As they left, we hugged almost every single kid as they walked out. The season was done but it was really cool to end that way.”
“That’s why we always wanted a production line to make it,” said Velde. “As much as you want anyone to make it, we got the one that everyone is in and can celebrate it.”
The group is a conglomerate of dancers from both the Frazee and Park Rapids NLDA studios and also includes dancers from many surrounding towns. Between the two studios, the team lost 10 senior dancers, five from the Frazee area in Marcella George, Paige Royer, Alexa Osterman, Kiara Yates and Gracie Edwards.
“This is a bigger group for us,” said Ware. “You always think how are we going to go on?”
“But you always get surprised by who steps up into those leadership roles,” Velde said.
Three of the seniors will be returning to help teach at both academies.
“I think the hardest thing about losing the seniors, especially in Frazee, is the juniors—they sobbed like it was a funeral at the recital,” said Velde.
Much of that was to do with how good the senior class was in helping the younger dancers.
“They were so good to them,” Velde said. “It’s a testimony to them. They left their mark on those littles.”
The 2023 teams from both dance academies also left their mark on the community. In the span of three hours, Northern Lights Dance Academy raised over $15,000 for Stacy Moe and her cancer recovery at a benefit held at the high school in late January.
It was a huge year for NLDA with industry awards, a second regional title and a first national championship. Dancers get half the summer off, but there is little rest for those who want to keep the successes rolling. Tryouts are currently happening at both studios. Fall classes for boys and girls ages 3-18 begin Monday, Sept. 11, including rec classes.
“The pressure is on, now that we’ve won a national title,” said Ware.
“As much as they feel the pressure to be better, we do too,” said Velde.
To view class offerings and more information on both studios visit nldadance.com.