by Anna Ferraro
Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz around the Jacksonville High School (JHS) J’ettes. And for good reason too, as this young team displays exceptional talent and energy while they advance to impressive rankings in state contests. The Source recently had a chance to talk with Tiffany Hickox, co-coach for the J’ettes, and when we did, we got to experience first-hand some of the energy abounding on the team of young dancers and their enthusiastic coaches.
Hickox has a lot of herself invested on the team. She was one of their original dancers, working under Jan Ryan in the 1990’s, the founder and first coach of the team. Within just a few years of her graduation, Ryan called her in for an interview, and hired her on the spot. Hickox was back on the team. 18 years later, she laughed, “Yeah, you can tell I like a little bit…”
Recalling her team back in the 1990’s, Hickox filled in some details of their early successes, saying, “My freshman year, we were state champs. … By my fourth year, we had seven state titles. Under Dan, we were very successful.” Back then, one area the team excelled in was prop dancing – where they used creative props including capes, sticks, and umbrellas to put together fun routines. Hickox summarized, “We did a lot of creative things in those dances. … We won props all four years in high school.”
As the years went by and Hickox continued working with the team, she handpicked two of her former students to add to the coaching staff – Sarah Gray, and Katie Armstrong. Hickox explained, “They were from my first freshman group. They graduated in 2004 and have been coaching some since then. With them, we’ve also had a state championship in props.”
Looking at the 2018 team, Hickox couldn’t help bubbling over with some enthusiasm. “We’re just so proud. This year, we had so much talent at tryouts we were able to put together a great junior varsity team and a varsity team. It really is an exceptional group of girls. They came to me highly trained from their studios, and were able to walk in and begin the dance routines. … This year’s been a bit of a perfect storm coming together – a lot of talent and great routines.” This year, the J’ettes added hip-hop to their dance routines, and with stunning success, too.
At the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) dance contest in Bloomington, the J’ettes entered with low expectations, and high energy. Beginning at sectionals by competing against 85 other teams, the J’ettes went on to place first in their division, a huge surprise for the entire team. They finished finals in fifth place – a massive and unexpected accomplishment for them all, especially considering what they were up against. In other contests, their poms competed against other poms. But in this case, Hickox shared, “This was the first time we went to the IHSA state series. It’s different from what we’ve done in the past. This is all dance styles put together. Our poms went up against other types of dances (jazz, lyrical, etc.)” – and with all that competition, the J’ettes still came out in the top five. Way to go, girls!
Hickox shared a bit about their dance selection for competition saying, “We chose a thunder/weather scene this year. The leaders do the brainstorming for the dance. Then the girls choreographed it, primarily. We really tried to come up with something unique that hasn’t been done.”
As they worked, Hickox shared, “I chart the music out, and decide where the poms will go. As I plan, I try to place each of the girls in their strongest positions. It takes about a month to teach it all. Then we just clean each count, because everything is scored. So as we practice we have to be really intricate.”
With the addition of hip-hop to their dance routines this year, Hickox said that it was hard to choose which dance to compete with – poms vs. hip-hop. When they decided on poms, she explained, “We had to make sure the team was dancing at the same level so that we could show off what we could do as a whole. In our practice, we really focused on transitions vs. blocking, and we’re always trying to improve our form. On the floor, we’re working as one, and making sure our formations are in line – looking like a team, and not moving as individuals.” Considering that the team is only able to practice together six hours each week, Hickox shared, “I feel like it’s pretty exciting what we can do!”
Next up for the team was heading to Springfield the middle of February to compete in yet another contest, this time, with the IBTA. There, the contest was comprised of, what Hickox termed, “style championship” – a separate champion in each genre of dance. They were joined by the JV team “who have worked just as hard as us,” said Hickox.
The hard work payed off. The J’ettes won firsts in multiple awards at the IBTA event.
In closing, Hickox stated, “We have been overwhelmed by the support from our school and our town. This season has been such a special memory that the girls have that they will carry for a long time. They did everything I asked for and we are all so proud. … They still haven’t gotten over it yet.”
To follow the J’ettes and their upcoming contests, check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dancejettes.