ROCHELLE — Rochelle Township High School has hired Haleigh Nelson to be the next head dance coach. Nelson will succeed Kass Smith, who led the Chellettes to four consecutive IHSA State Championship appearances as well as eight state appearances over the last 10 seasons.
Nelson will bring over a decade of studio experience, which includes four years of high school dance as well as five years of dance team choreography and three years of her own choreography, to the RTHS dance program. Nelson, who graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a major in dance and a minor in hip-hop studies, will bring a wealth of experience in several types of dance including hip-hop, modern, jazz, ballet, contemporary and more.
“What I love most about dance is the self-expression,” Nelson said. “It helps me on good days and bad days and it always makes me feel better. I have so much fun with dance and I love that I’m always challenged by learning something new. I’m really excited to share what I’ve learned and I’m looking forward to working with the team and sharing our passion for dance. Being able to experience that passion together and see the team’s growth is what I’m most excited about.”
Nelson said about 15 dancers participated in the team’s two-day clinic at RTHS this past week. The program will have several dancers eligible to return from last season and Nelson is hopeful for continued success during the competitive season, which begins on Monday, Oct. 24.
“We wanted to get things going as soon as we could,” Nelson said. “I was so happy to have my sister there for tryouts and it was so much fun to meet everyone and see all of the kids dance. I thought our participation numbers were great because we had quite a few freshmen and sophomores. We have a variety of dance backgrounds as well so I’m excited to have that mix. The kids seem really excited about dance and they seem really motivated to work hard.”
Nelson, who began dancing when she was 2 years old, learned about the opening at RTHS through her older sister Courtney Walz, who works for Sycamore CUSD 427 and was Nelson’s original inspiration for beginning dance. Nelson said her goals as Rochelle’s new head coach include leading the team back to the state meet as well as sharing her passion and knowledge.
“My oldest sister is familiar with the dance studios in Sycamore and someone reached out to her,” Nelson said. “She knew that I had recently graduated from college and she told me about the opportunity. I was on a dance team in high school and I loved that experience. I also thought about being a dance coach after college and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity. It’s a really exciting opportunity and my goal is to continue the standard that has been established.”