Ask any young kids what they dream about growing up, and you will get a variety of answers. Some dream of becoming a doctor, a teacher or an astronaut. Eden Prairie High School seniors Hailey Nerison, Britt Gillis, Alex Limberis and junior Krista Kronlokken all visualized something a bit different, to join the Eden Prairie Pom Squad.
Kronlokken, a captain on the Pom Squad, created a time capsule in fifth grade. Just recently, she reopened it and discovered something she knew all along, her young-self dreamed and hoped to be on the Pom Squad.
Not to be confused with the Eden Prairie Dance Team, the Pom Squad solely competes at a national level in both pom and jazz. The squad has traveled to the national competition for the past two decades, and is recognized nationwide for its skill. It also earned second place in both jazz and pom the past two years, and was named national champion in jazz in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
All four Pom Squad captains began dancing at three years old. They danced through different studios and joined at different points in their high school careers. Pom Squad is a collaborative effort, a kinship of sixteen girls with a passion for dance. They all dream of a national title and hope to win the coveted silk jacket. They are a family. “I am surrounded by a bunch of people who are just like myself,” Limberis says.
Yet, Nerison acknowledges that their coach does not preach winning as the most important. Nationals places the Eden Prairie squad in talented company. “Winning isn’t obviously the most important thing. We always say we want to bring the best team we can bring to nationals,” says Nerison.
The Pom Squad is steeped in tradition. Head coach Anna Itman graduated from Eden Prairie in 1996 and joined the team as a sophomore. She took over as head coach in 2002. Assistant coach Katie Balfanz danced for Itman throughout her Pom Squad career and joined the coaching staff in 2009. “I love the relationships. It’s such a cool time in life being in high school. To see someone grow from their freshman year to being ready to move on to college is a pretty remarkable thing,” says Itman.
Beginning in September, the squad spends fall and winter preparing for nationals. They start over from scratch, enlisting an expert jazz choreographer from Boston. They build stamina, improve consistency and perfect nuances with practice nightly, ballet twice a week and yoga on Fridays. The captains acknowledge that pom is extremely difficult physically, whereas jazz takes more precision. Unification is key and judges hope for perfection.
The countdown began in October. Nationals is a testament to hard work, genuine skill and heart. “That dance is such an accomplishment, and all the work you put into it throughout the year. Being in the final position is a good feeling,” says Gillis.
Not only is the Pom Squad a talented bunch, it thanks the Eden Prairie community for its support and gives back. From Feed my Starving Children to donating tie blankets to homeless shelters to face painting at events and carnivals, the group participates in endless volunteer opportunities. Each also assists in making those little dreams come true through a yearly dance clinic. “It’s so awesome to know that you made the team because so many girls dream to be on the team. I am that person that people look up to. I am that person that people want to be on the team with,” Kronlokken says.
Each season, Itman and Balfanz strive to maximize their dancers’ potential and to improve from the previous year. Itman cherishes the time she spends with her team and hopes the connections last long after the season ends. “Championships come and go but the relationships are what last over time,” she says.
For Nerison, Gillis and Limberis, this year marks the last time they hit the nationals’ floor in red, black and white. Together, they have struggled through challenges, leaped through wins and experienced once in a lifetime moments. Next year their paths diverge, but they will always have two things in common: their passion for dance and a dream come true.
The Eden Prairie Pom Squad performs for the final time this season at the Dance Xtreme Competition on February 20–22 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Visit eppom.com to find out how the team performed February 1–2 at the national competition in Orlando.