CHESHIRE – During the summer, thousands of beach-goers flock to the Jersey Shore for some sun, waves, and entertainment. But for a group of local youngsters, it wasn’t the beach that drew them south but, rather, dance.
Performers from the Cheshire Performing Arts Academy traveled to Long Beach, New Jersey, from June 26 through July 1, to participate in the Turn It Up Dance Challenge, a national competition that brings together some of the best young dancers from around the country. It was the first time since 2019 that CPAA had taken part in the Challenge, and for many, it was their first experience at a national competition.
“This type of event is an awesome way to come together with studios from other places throughout the country. The competition component is exciting and it is nice to celebrate dance and student growth,” said Brittany Barbaro, owner of Cheshire Performing Arts Academy.
A total of 27 dancers traveled to New Jersey to take part in the six-day event, with the group earning several honors that included top-10 finishes in multiple age divisions. The team took home the runner-up spot in the final “Dance Battle,” which served as the culmination of the competition.
“It’s really exciting watching them dance,” said Sarah Zaczek, one of academy instructors. “Getting to see all of their hard work and training come together, especially getting to see them self-improve and improve as a group and just having fun doing what they do, was heartwarming in itself.”
According to Barbaro, the dancers began training for the event last summer, which included state and regional competitions that ultimately earned them an invitation to the national event.
“The students are well-versed in many styles of dance, so they learn many different routines,” said Barbaro. “It takes extensive practice to be proficient in the variety of styles.”
Those styles are important, Barbaro said, but can only be accomplished by mastering the fundamentals.
“We feel it is really important for them to concentrate on their technique classes,” she said. “That is where they learn the foundation of all the routines. When you are proficient in technique classes, it translates much easier into the choreography of the routines.
“We like to remind the students to have fun as well,” Barbaro added. “Of course, everyone likes to (do well in competition), but we are also there to do our personal bests, (accomplish) more goals, and to have fun.”
Those lessons, Zaczek believes, can be applied to life in general.
“Some of our biggest and favorite advice we give is probably, ‘You have to put in the work to see the results you want’, and, ‘Make sure you always dance from the heart, not just the steps,’” she said.
While the group was there to compete, they also had a chance to experience downtime on the Jersey Shore. It was important, Barbaro noted, to make sure the dancers were having some fun outside of the competition.
“We made sure to have some time on the beach, by the pool, at the arcade. We love to do team building activities both in and out of dance itself,” she said.
But it was the reactions of the performers both on and then off-stage that really excited their instructors, including Jillian McNamara.
“The students’ reaction when they made it into the dance battle (was incredible),” said McNamara. “We got feedback from one of the staff members of the competition about (the CPAA performers’) reactions backstage and how excited and thankful the girls were when they found out they were selected.”
Barbaro and her staff are thrilled the dancers were able to have the experience.
“It is always awesome to see what cool things studios from other states are coming up with and share ours as well,” she said. “It is great for the students to be exposed to what is happening in the dance world all around and for them to be part of that.”