Bringing down the house

The Homestead High School Dance Team poses for a picture with their awards after the state championship. CONTRIBUTED

FORT WAYNE — These days it’s common to come across social commentary critical of younger generations — that they’re too sensitive, that they can’t handle criticism, that they’re needy for affirmation.

Homestead High School’s dance team has spent this season smashing this stereotype to smithereens.

The team is led by head coach Britney Lombardo and assistant coach Ashlie Manor and gets design help from Jon Bay Designs. The team also trained with Kevin Grant over the summer.

At the beginning of the season, the coaches found themselves working with an exceptionally young team — mostly freshmen with only four seniors on the varsity team — but the team was exceptional in other ways, too.

“These kids are a different breed,” Lombardo said.

Throughout the season, the dance program regularly brings in guest dance instructors from studios in the community to give the teams “fresh eyes.” The dancers didn’t shrink from the feedback. In fact, they were hungry for criticism and critiques, Lombardo said.

“They are like sponges when these people are in the room. Anything they say, they take it to heart. They try to keep adapting and growing so that they’re constantly pushing the envelope,” she said.

Even after competitions, the dancers would beg to practice the very next day, on a Sunday.

“They like to say, ‘Let’s use it as fuel for our fire,’” she said.

Lombardo, who has coached dance for seven years, found inspiration in their positive attitudes.

“They pushed me to work to my fullest potential. I really learned that there’s even more that you still have in you because these kids just pulled something out of me and taught me so much more about work ethic,” she said.

The team’s character and work ethic set a new bar for the program.

“They laid a new foundation that I’m hoping is going to stick with this SACS program for years to come,” she said.

Junior Paige Bransteter, a captain on the team, agreed that this year felt different.

“We set a lot of goals this year, making sure that each performance was better than our last,” she said.

That attitude paid off at the national and state competitions.

The dance team traveled to Orlando in February to compete in the National Dance Association national championship at Universal Studios. To raise funds for the trip, the team hosts a junior clinic for younger dancers in the community and gets sponsorships from local businesses.

The varsity team placed second in jazz and tenth in hip-hop. They also won the Innovative Choreography Award for their hip-hop routine, a rendition of “Money” from “Cabaret,” choreographed by Lombardo.

The junior varsity team placed second in jazz and fourth in hip-hop. They also won the Showmanship Award.

At the Indiana High School Dance Team Association state finals in March, Bransteter and Aubrey Couch were state champions in the duet division.

Humza Khan, Sophie Kalakay and Shannon Asiala were state champions in the small ensemble division.

Caroline Wilson, Azure Wehrle, Chloe Livensparger, Sydney Winther and Carly Wilcox placed third in the large ensemble division.

The junior varsity team was the state runner-up in hip-hop and placed third in jazz.

The varsity team was state runner up in jazz and hip-hop, receiving three standing ovations throughout the day from their fans and competitors.

“When we finished, we all knew that it was our best performance and the crowd was going crazy insane for us. Walking off the floor, we had the biggest smiles on our faces,” Bransteter said.

She’s been a dancer since she was 4, but she had never seen that kind of reaction from a crowd. Sure, rival dance teams are models of good sportsmanship and clap for one another, but this was different.

“That was a greater feeling than any trophy could ever give us,” she said.