From the first count of the thump-thump-thump of techno music blaring from the speakers, dancers on Hillcrest’s top-ranked drill team are twirling, twisting, and turning bursts of power and energy.
Headed into the 4A Utah Drill Team State Championships, Hillcrest Drill is considered one of the very best in the state — a reputation that has been earned through sweat, dedication, and a commitment to carrying on Hillcrest’s tradition of take-it-to-the-next-level performances.
Rankings released by the Utah High School Activities Association on Wednesday, Jan. 24 listed Hillcrest as the No. 2 drill team in the state in the 4A classification. Joining Hillcrest on the list of teams to beat are the dancers from CSD’s four other traditional and comprehensive high schools. The Corner Canyon Charelles are ranked No. 7 in 6A. The Brighton Accadians and Alta Las Scelles are ranked Nos. 8 and 11, respectively, in 5A. Jordan High’s Charlonians reached No. 10 in 4A.
All Canyons District drill teams will compete in the championships, which start with the quarterfinals on Monday, Jan. 29 at Utah Valley University. The top teams in all classifications return for a chance for the championship Jan. 30-Feb. 2.
Spend an hour watching the rehearsals of Hillcrest Drill — affectionately called “HD” by Husky fans — and it becomes readily apparent this year’s team is hungry to add an eighth state drill championship to the school’s record books.
By their own admission, two of Hillcrest’s coaches, Head Coach and Healthy Lifestyles teacher Chelsea Divine and her brother, Carter Williams, “eat, breathe, and drink” all things related to drill. Divine and Williams say they were dancing as soon as they started walking. They were encouraged by their mother, who was once a member of the Hillcrest Drill team. “The legacy runs deep in our blood,” says Divine.
Divine and Williams recently sat down with Connect Canyons to talk about the art and athleticism of drill, one of the sanctioned sports of the UHSAA. “I would define drill as the most passionate form of dance,” Williams says. “These girls not only wake up so early every day to come to practice, but they are the most passionate group of girls that are representing themselves, representing the girls who came before them, and representing the girls in the future.”
Williams, who performs with the Weber State Dance Team when he’s not coaching the Hillcrest team, says it was his sister, a former dancer with Odyssey Dance Theatre, who helped him see dance could take him beyond high school. “Chelsea kind of paved the way for all of us siblings to know dance is actually a possibility,” he said. “I feel like it just really showed my other sister and I that it’s possible to dance after high school.”
The hours in the studio paid off when he gained national attention on season No. 17 of the hit television show “So You Think You Can Dance.” He finished in the top six and wowed audiences with his technique and artistry. Williams also is a two-time National Latin Champion and four-time World Latin Finalist in ballroom dance.
On school days, Hillcrest Drill starts rehearsal at 5:55 a.m. The team puts in the work necessary to hone performances not just at Hillcrest half-time shows but for their competition season. The painstaking count-by-count rehearsal of all their competition routines can sometimes take months.
At the state competition, judges will give scores to teams in three categories: Military, Jazz or Lyrical, and Show. The military routines focus on the uniformity and intensity of the routine, even when it comes to the facial expressions of the dancers. The jazz- or lyrically-styled routine brings in more turns, leaps, and tumbling skills, and the show routine helps the team take on a new character while still showcasing their dancing ability.
“The non-dancers in the room can really connect with the team in the show routine,” Williams says, “because not everyone will understand military with the intense faces, not everyone will understand an emotional dance routine, but everyone will understand a freaking awesome, hard-hitting, hip-hop that you can just go off in.”
Divine and Williams also want their girls to sparkle. Costuming is a big part of the team’s preparations. “We love rhinestones,” Divine says. “So if it has rhinestones on it, we’re happy. We want those costumes to pop and really highlight the girls and all the hard work they put in.”
While the team aims to capture the state championship in the coming weeks, regardless of the outcome, Divine says she wants the team to adhere to the team motto: “Champions on and off the floor.”
“Truly, we want these girls to not only become champions in our sport, but to become champions in their own lives,” she says. “We want them to see their accomplishments and all the hard work and dedication they put forth, and know the work was worth it. Not only for this team, this season, but in their lives, that they’re going to be able to become successful, strong women, no matter what path they take.”