The Dance Team Is On Its Toes

Performances whose “energy, showmanship, and purpose” the judges were to praise
Claire Belhumeur, above, and Camilla Mautiauda, the dance team’s captains, will double as choreographers in the end-of-the-year performance on March 15. Craig Macnaughton

As their coach, Andrea Hernandez, was burning the CDs they’d need for an Islandwide competition the next day, Claire Belhumeur and Camilla Mautiauda, who co-captain East Hampton High’s competitive dance team, took her place when Friday afternoon’s rehearsal began, filming a varsity pom routine by a half-dozen dancers that they followed up with critiques. 

“I trust my captains,” Hernandez said on entering the cafeteria. She does the choreography primarily, but encourages Belhumeur and Mautiauda to choreograph as well.

“Do I push our dancers? Yes, I think they’d agree that I do,” she said with a smile. That’s how they improve.”

And soon, with Belhumeur and Mautiauda joining in, while Hernandez stood on one of the cafeteria’s seats and counted out the beats and half-beats of her choreography, the competitive team went at it — honing the varsity pom and varsity jazz routines they were to perform Saturday at the Stephanie Belli scholarship competition at Smithtown West High School — performances whose “energy, showmanship, and purpose” the judges were to praise.

The team had been practicing the two three-minute routines it performed Saturday for three months, the dance coach said.

Founded in 2002 by a former student, Haleigh Beyer, the dance club has come a long way, Hernandez said in reply to a question. That would be evident to anyone who has seen their recent performances at Guild Hall or during halftime at home boys basketball games.

“It’s been a varsity sport for about five years now,” she said, adding, in answer to a question, that varsity letters certainly were merited given dance’s athletic and aesthetic demands. 

“We do plyometrics, calisthenics, core work . . . if your legs aren’t strong you can’t leap high.”

The varied genres, lyrical, pom, jazz, tap, ballroom, Latin American, and hip-hop among them, keep her charges on their toes, as it were, physically and mentally.

The judging at competitions was “fairly critical,” Hernandez said. “You have to have a thick skin, but, again, that’s how you improve. . . . The kids love the competition, they love to compete in events that benefit scholarship funds, as this one does, and they love to see what the other teams are doing. They bring their homework, but they become so wrapped up in performing and in watching the other teams perform that they don’t do it.” 

There were 30 schools and some colleges represented at Smithtown West.

Mautiauda, when questioned, said she’d begun as a volleyballer, in Montauk, but she so enjoyed a monthlong dance class as a fourth grader that ultimately she was persuaded to switch from volleyball to dance last year.

“I love moving,” she said, adding that (as this writer had guessed) she’d played the libero position in volleyball. Not only did dancers have to be synchronized, she said, “but you also have to get across to the audience the emotion the song conveys — you have to act.”

She’s going to Connecticut College in New London in the fall. Yes, she agreed, it was perfectly situated — not too far away, but far enough. She will audition for the dance team there.

Belhumeur, who had play practice in 10 minutes, began dancing, she said, at the age of 3, began figure skating — first at the Buckskill Winter Club and then at the Rinx in Hauppauge — when she was 10, and added acting to her repertoire in her freshman year at the high school. She is to audition for several colleges on her list — N.Y.U., the New School, and the University of North Carolina — this month. 

The club’s end-of-the-year showcase at the high school auditorium will be on March 15 at 7 p.m.