Dance has been more than a sport for Rochelle Township High School senior Kayla Keilman. Throughout nearly her whole life, dance has been a stress reliever and a form of creative expression and competition ever since visited the Just for Kix studio as a first-grader.
For Keilman, dance has been her happy place, and that happiness has generated plenty of success. Keilman has danced at RTHS for the last three-plus years, helping the Chellettes advance to the IHSA State Championships twice over the last two seasons. Keilman’s dancing dreams won’t stop in high school either, as she plans to pursue dance at the college level.
“Competing feels great because we put so much work into a dance routine and we see all the hard work pay off,” Keilman said. “My goals for my senior season are to keep pushing through, work hard and not let COVID-19 bring me down. It’s been really hard not being able to dance with my teammates but I want to keep working hard so when we’re able to see each other again, we can keep moving forward. My goal for after the season is to dance at a university.”
While COVID-19 has halted athletic activities this winter, Keilman and the Chellettes are optimistic about their chances to follow up a sixth-place finish in the IHSA 1A State Finals this past year if the competitive dance season can begin. Rochelle’s varsity dance team has made tremendous strides since Keilman’s freshman season, leaping from a 13th place sectional performance in 2018 to a top-15 placement in the prelims of the 2019 IHSA 1A State Finals. Rochelle’s sixth-place finish in 2020 was the team’s second-best placement in school history.
“We worked the hardest we’ve ever worked as a team,” Keilman said. “We all pushed each other in order to reach our team goal, which was to advance to the second day of state. We worked hard as a team so nobody was left behind. I thought we worked well together and we helped each other out. I’ve never been on a more close-knit team. We all love each other like family and we all want to see everybody do their best. I think we can do better on perfecting certain skills, which we were doing before COVID-19 shut everything down.”
In addition to Rochelle’s run at the state meet, Keilman’s junior season included a second-place finish in the IHSA 1A DeKalb Sectional and a third-place performance at the Waubonsie Valley Invitational. Keilman’s individual success stemmed from persevering through the physical and mental fatigue and her willingness to move outside of her comfort zone. If Rochelle cannot compete in 2021, Keilman said she hopes the team can finish even higher at state in 2022.
“I noticed so much improvement not only from myself, but everybody on the team,” Keilman said. “I learned a lot of new skills. The competitive season takes a toll on everybody, physically and mentally, and I felt I did well to push through all of that as well as try new things. I want to continue improving on new tricks and skills and getting over any mental blocks I may have.”