WEST FARGO — Lofty goals and high expectations are nothing new for the West Fargo Packatahnas, perennially one of the top-performing dance teams in North Dakota.
The dance team has continued to rake in awards and live up to those expectations in limited competition this season. The Packatahnas took first place in kick and jazz in both invites they participated in this winter.
The program’s standards remain high — one of the only familiar things this season. From the head coach to auditions, almost everything has been different for the Packatahnas.
The dance team held virtual tryouts beginning late April last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gretchen Stafslien, who was the Packatahnas head coach from 2004 to 2009, and an assistant until 2016, took back the reins last April.
“It’s been frustrating at times, but we've tried to keep things as normal as possible within our little bubble,” Stafslien said. “There are obviously things that are out of our control, but one of the things we’ve focused on this year as part of our motivation is what we can control.”
The only thing the Packatahnas are fixated on now is the upcoming weekend’s state competition. The North Dakota Association of Dance and Drill state meet, which runs Jan. 22-23 in Jamestown, might be the team’s last chance to walk onto the floor together this season.
“I'm so excited, because I feel like we've been working for so many months,” senior captain Mallory Tremel said. “Even though our season is shorter, we finally get to show what we've been working for.”
At this time last year, the Packatahnas were also looking forward to nationals. They took home the national title in the large varsity high kick division a year ago, ending a 14-year national-title drought. This year’s Universal Dance Association’s National Dance Team Competition in Orlando, Fla., is still up in the air.
“It’s all so uncertain. I think every time we get to go out, I just try to soak it all up and perform like it could be the last time I ever get to compete,” Tremel said.
There hasn’t been any new date for UDA Nationals released. All that’s been said is it’s potentially postponed, Stafslien said.
“Which is frustrating, because we don't know how much longer we have of our season,” Stafslien said. “We don't know if we'll be done after state or if things will continue on after that, or what will happen. We're kind of in limbo right now.”
The Packatahnas have faced delays, schedule changes and quarantines this season. They’ve competed in just two meets, when normally at this time, that number would be around four. They’ve performed at only two basketball games this season, far fewer performances than a normal year.
With the shortened season, Tremel admitted the looming state competition felt “sudden.”
“The season is weird, but I’m really grateful,” Tremel said. “At the beginning of the season, I didn't even know if we were going to be able to do anything. We went through a few different quarantines and we finally got to come out and do some competitions and performances."
The Packatahnas won state titles in Class A Large Varsity pom and high kick, and were the runners-up in jazz, last season. They were piled into a crowded gym during last year’s NDADD awards ceremony. This year, awards ceremonies have been virtual, and the state competition won’t be any different.
The Packatahnas still come back together to watch the ceremonies as a team, Stafslien said.
The state schedule, like the other meets this season, is organized in blocks. There’s a few teams per session, each arrive at a certain time, perform and then leave.
“It’s a little different,” Stafslien said. “Usually they do all the jazz routines together, and then all the pom routines or whatever it may be, by categories, so you might have a couple hours in between your routine. But now it goes so fast that, maybe, if you're lucky, you have one hour.”
There’s no interaction with other teams at competitions, Stafslien said. Teams remain in their own areas of the building until they perform, then return to the designated areas right after.
“I feel confident with what my team can do at the state competition,” Stafslien said. “I think it's always good to stay on your toes and be prepared for whatever happens.”
The dancers don’t have to wear masks while they perform, but have to right up until that moment.
“You have to make sure your lipstick is dried before you put your mask on, so it doesn’t all come off,” Tremel said. “There’s sometimes a little mask line, you can tell, so you have to touch it up before you go on.”
Stafslien said makeup was a process of trial and error during the first competition.
Participants will be allowed four vouchers apiece at this weekend’s NDADD state meet in Jamestown, and those spectators will be admitted to the arena 30 minutes before their selected block starts.