If only one word could be used to describe the Etowah High School Dancing Eagles up until 2022, it would be underdogs. In 2023, the athletes are nothing less than champions.
Since the Dancing Eagles began in 2016, the girls have strived to show they truly embody the definition of an athlete. In the first couple of years, the Dancing Eagles was a club started from a senior project, which practiced in the auditorium and performed for students who often asked: “We have a dance team?” This changed in 2018 when dance became a recognized sport by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), with the first state competition held in 2019.
The team’s coach, Brittany Chandler, was overjoyed to see this change. However, being the only dance team in Cherokee County, the Dancing Eagles had no one else to look to for guidance, so they had to overcome many obstacles. With 6:30 a.m. practices every week, added practices around competition weekends and studio classes nearly every afternoon, the girls did not let this deter them.
The team has continued to improve each year, winning their first trophy as runner-up GHSA State Champion in 2020. They did not see another state trophy for the following two seasons but were able to score hardware at nearly every regional competition. They now have more than 15 trophies.
The girls cherished their regional wins, but they were not satisfied with their state ranking. Thus, for the 2022-23 season, they united and stained the gym floor with determination and, of course, quite a bit of blood and tears. On Feb. 11, the team ventured to the 2023 GHSA state championship at the Macon Coliseum to finally show off what they had been working toward. After hours of warming up, practicing and performing, the Dancing Eagles walked out the coliseum doors with a trophy in hand, medals around their necks and the titles of pom champion and second overall state champion. (Pom dance often combines elements of cheerleading, jazz and synchronized choreography.)
Though they did not take first place for the entire 4A-5A division, the only tears on their cheeks were ones of pride. They were proud because, for the first time in a long time, they had something to show for the 75-plus hours of practice and the work they had put in during the 2022-23 season.
The girls believe that the biggest things that helped them win was the bond they had and the sense of team they created. The two graduating captains, Avery Digirolamo and Caroline Byars, led the girls to state and will begin classes at the University of Georgia soon. After such a bonded season, Digirolamo and Byars are especially happy to leave the team on a high note.
On top of representing Cherokee County as the only high school dance team, the Dancing Eagles stand as role models within the Etowah community. For the third year in a row, they have partnered with the school’s competition cheer team to organize a camp for girls in grades K-5.
On July 10-12, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., high school volunteers from both teams will teach campers a chant, a dance and a stunt. On the final day, campers will perform for their parents. The camp is meant to inspire young girls to think about hobbies that could lead them to be the next generation of Dancing Eagles. Even if a child has no interest in being on the dance or competition cheer teams, the camp provides an opportunity to have fun and learn something new. The Dancing Eagles are excited to show the girls just how passionate they are about spreading a love of dance. For more information, visit https://etowahspirit.weebly.com. (Registration is open until the day of the camp. To guarantee a T-shirt, register at least a week prior.)
Although the camp consists of fun and games, the Dancing Eagles will begin training for the upcoming season in the three days after the camp by learning choreography, as they are eager to get to work to give their 2023 trophy a neighbor. While the girls are very happy with their success this past season, they do not wish to settle with what they have. They will not stop until they have overall GHSA state champion rings on their fingers.
The Dancers’ Perspectives
“The camp is a fun way for kids to learn about dance and be involved, and it also helps to support our team for the upcoming season. I love getting to teach the kids our fun dances, and it is one of my favorite things we do.” — Madison Hall, rising senior and four-year member.
“My involvement with the Dancing Eagles has been one of the great prides of my career. So many dancers do not get to showcase their talents for their school despite spending most of their lives committed to the craft. I love giving this team a platform to represent Etowah positively and at such a high level. Although we are very focused on outcomes as a team, the relationships that we have formed have been my favorite part. These girls truly understand the value of teamwork and what it takes to become champions.” — Brittany Chandler, coach and Etowah literature teacher.
“The Dancing Eagles are very special to me because we have a huge bond. It is the hardest-working team I have ever been on, because we are all so driven in becoming better dancers and bringing home awards to our school! I’m glad we finally have the title of GHSA Pom State Champions!” — Caroline Byars, graduated captain and four-year member.
“Winning this past season was an incredible feeling, because my team and I worked tirelessly to reach that point of precision and performance. We bonded so much as we worked toward the top, and I would consider every one of the girls on the team some of my best friends. No longer being an underdog is an amazing feeling. We showed our rivals we are true competition for the state championship, and our hard work paid off.” — Grace Hedlund, rising senior and four-year member.