RICHMOND - The Dance Etc Senior Elite team is no stranger to awards and accolades. Most of the 25 teenaged dancers on the team have been performing and competing at Dance Etc in Prestonsburg since a very young age. These dancers represent seven different high schools from various counties in Kentucky and West Virginia. But what they experienced while performing at a competition in Richmond on February 2 was one of those life-changing moments that they will never forget. The team was debuting its competitive lyrical routine “We are Marshall,” which is an homage to those lost in the tragic 1970 plane crash that devastated Marshall University. The routine is performed to the voice of Matthew McConaughey as he gives the graveside speech in the We are Marshall movie. As the voice came over the sound system and the girls began to dance, the entire loud and busy gymnasium at EKU came to a hush. The routine eventually results in another top performance for the Dance Etc Senior Elite team.
“You could not hear a pin drop. It felt like myself and the other two coaches did not breath for the entire 2 1/2 minute routine,” Dance Etc Coach Jody Shepherd confided.
When the routine was complete there was a standing ovation, not just from the audience, but from the judges of the competition as well. According to people attending the event, there were grown men crying in the crowd. The team then formed a large huddle and the tears began to flow.
“I had told them from the beginning that this piece of choreography was so much more then a dance,” Shepherd said. “I told them that it was about real people and real loss and about having the strength to go on and rise above. And that it was so important how they portrayed it. I could not have been more proud of how they invested themselves in the choreography and embraced it. It really meant something to them. And I think they were just overwhelmed at how it affected the people in the audience that day.” The routine was put on Youtube and received over 3,000 views within just a few days. People from all over were emailing the studio’s website and messaging its Facebook page, saying they had either seen the routine that day or online and how much it meant to them. And it is currently in the works for the team to perform the routine at Marshall. It was amazing how many people it touched and how quickly. The routine received a perfect score that day from all three judges, something that in over 17 years of coaching dance, the Dance Etc coaches had never seen. But it was about so much more then a score that day.”
The “We are Marshall” routine was choreographed by Jody Shepherd and her former Dance Etc student and Elite dancer Jessica Ratliff, who is now teaching dance in Florida. Shepherd knew about the Marshall plane crash and tragedy long before the movie made it known nationwide. Her step-father, Mark Miller, was a freshman on the football team at Marshall that fall in 1970. The freshmen did not travel to away games so he did not attend the game. And he lost most of his teammates and coaches that fateful day. Shepherd says she had heard about it all of her life from her step-dad.
“When I was young he would tell me about it and it seemed almost like folklore, you don’t realize the reality of it,” Shepherd said. “As a teenager, I remember reading a book about it and beginning to understand more the enormity of it. And then as an adult when I see someone who can barely speak of it without tears in their eyes over 40 years later you see how truly tragic it was to a teenager to experience so much loss at one time. I told my dancers to imagine coming back to practice next week and the freshmen are the only ones left. Your entire team and coaches just gone in an instant. I think that is when it hit them how important this routine was and what it was really about.”
Shepherd said that the routine was being used as a competitive routine so it had to include a certain amount of technical skills the dancers are judged on, such as turns and leaps. But she said she and Ratliff worked really hard to keep it about the story. The choreography is very raw and intense. Obviously it worked as it brought an entire arena to tears.
The Dance Etc Senior Elite team is coached by Jody Shepherd, Jennifer Smith and Lauren Bowman. The team is currently preparing to compete in Chicago in March and Gatlinburg in April as well as local performances in May and June. The group is also hoping that i can touch many more people along the way as it continues to perform this inspiring routine.