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A rare camaraderie in competitive dance

The dance teams from Eisenhower High School (red black) T.F. North pose together before performing halftime varsity boys basketball game

The dance teams from Eisenhower High School (red and black) and T.F. North pose together before performing at halftime of the varsity boys basketball game between the two schools. | Supplied Photo

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Updated: March 4, 2013 6:05AM



It’s a cliche, but sometimes you can get what you want —even from a rival — just by asking the right person the right question.

After watching Cardinal Dance Team, a five-time state champion, perform at a competition last year, T.F. North High School teachers Chappel Berry-Billings and LaTonya Woods approached Eisenhower High School coaches Marion Castillo and Cristal Guzman.

“They were on our radar during our first competition season,” Berry-Billings said. “We saw them compete with maybe eight members on their team. They blew us out of the water, and we had 22.”

The T.F. North teachers asked Castillo how her smaller team beat larger rivals.

“LaTonya and I asked how they did it. I said, ‘You kicked our butts with eight people.’ I was not expecting a lengthy response,” Berry-Billings said. “But Marion was on the contrary. She told us it took a lot of practice and discipline.”

As the coaches talked, the conversation became an exchange of ideas, mutual respect and common goals.

“She talked freely about what made her program so successful,” Berry-Billings said.

From that initial discussion, relationships developed. Over the course of the past year, Eisenhower coaches have traveled to T.F. North to help. Likewise, T.F North visits Eisenhower to observe and rehearse.

Friendships blossomed and, today, while the two teams compete, they also cheer for one another. T.F. North also nominated the Eisenhower team for the prestigious Team Dance Illinois True Blue Sportsmanship Award (Eisenhower won it).

“This relationship is, of course, unusual,” Berry-Billings said. “We cheer for each other at competitions.”

Dance teams face off in juried competitions. Top performers advance to state-level tournaments sponsored by Team Dance Illinois and the Illinois High School Association.

“Throughout the season, we supported and mentored their team and cheered for them from the stands,” Castillo said.

“We do pull for CDT and hope the best for their program,” Berry-Billings said. “We look up to them as mentors. We will see them at the varsity level one day, and Marion encourages that. If you want to be the best you learn from the best.”

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