Changing the game, one pirouette at a time


Gabriella Hall

West Ottawa dance team coaches Susan Dennison and Allyson Whalen were sitting in their chairs behind the judge’s table against the mirrors in the dance room in the North building, preparing to begin tryouts. As the dancers were getting ready to stretch and hand in their auditions forms, the coaches were in for a surprise when a male walked into the dance room, ready to audition. From self-taught to varsity dancer, soph. Jonathan McCabe is breaking barriers.


  During the 2016-2017 school year, McCabe participated in the annual fundraiser for the dance team, Dancing with the Panthers. He was partnered with the captain of the 2017-2018 varsity dance team, sr. Erin Maginnis. “It was amazing to dance with him,” Maginnis said. “He picked up the choreography really quickly and he was always willing to try things; he has a gift in dance.” Because of the amazing experience McCabe had with the fundraiser, he decided to audition this year. Little did he know that he would change the dance team for good; being the first male dancer on the West Ottawa Varsity dance team is changing the game, both for the team and himself.


  McCabe has been dancing for 12 years and has been training himself for 11 of them. “I started dancing at the age of three,” McCabe continues. “Dancing gives me joy like nothing else, being able to take a song, words, and turn it into movements is an amazing feeling.” McCabe wanted to get out of his comfort zone, so in May, he auditioned for the WO dance teams.

  “I was extremely nervous for tryouts. I wanted to make the varsity team so badly, and I’ve never danced so hard in my life,” McCabe said. “I was a straight hip-hop dancer, I really had no experience with other forms of dance.” The following week, the dance team lists were posted outside the athletic office. McCabe made varsity, for the first time in 10 years, there was a male dancer on the team. “I was thrilled when I found out I was on the team, it has always been a goal of mine.” He said.


  “I was definitely excited,” said Coach Dennison. Dennison said that Jon’s stage presence and willingness to try new dance styles contributed to her decision to make him a varsity team member. “We do not always choose the well-rounded technique dancer that can do everything. Those who have a specific talent in one area of dance who are open-minded and show a passion for learning more, like Jonathan, have a very good chance of making the team.”


  McCabe was nervous going to the first practice, being the only guy and not having as many technical skills and training as some of the girls on the team. But nevertheless, he was ready to work extremely hard to prove he deserved to be on the team. “I was extremely nervous, I hope being on the team will broaden my range of dance skills, and overall become a better dancer.” Dennison expressed her hope for McCabe’s improvement on technique “While Jonathan’s current technique may limit him from performing certain skills, it does not limit him from learning the basic technique.” In dance, the majority of what audiences see in a routine at a competition is all technique based. From the jumps and turns to the basic footwork, McCabe has been self-taught for most of his dance career and lacked some of the vital technique needed for routines. “Right now he is learning how to properly pirouette and how to hold his turn out, how to point his feet, balance in relieve and when to plié and so on.” Dennison said, “being on the dance team is a learning experience for everyone and all dancers learn at different paces and start on the dance team at different stages of technique. If Jonathan keeps up with the hardworking attitude and the drive to learn all that he can I believe he will one day be able to execute those turns in a la seconde.”


  Not only will having McCabe on the varsity dance team help improve his dancing, but it will improve the team as a whole. Dennison has expressed how Jon’s work ethic and attitude at practice has affected the team, “He is an asset to the team not just through his dance ability but also because of his hardworking attitude. Jonathan always carries a positive mindset with him as well and it proves to be infectious with the team.” Varsity dance captain, Sr. Louisa Hall, agrees. “When I found out Jon was auditioning I was excited, it was a nice feeling to know that a guy was willing to at least try and put himself out there.” Hall has been on varsity for the past three years and has tried to get her guy friends who dance to audition for the team, as well as participate in the annual fundraiser, Dancing with the Panthers. “Especially with Dancing with the Panthers, guys don’t wanna put themselves out there and possibly be seen as uncool because they are dancing.”


  Sr. Erin Magennis, another varsity captain, believes that having a male dancer on the team will inspire more guys to follow in McCabe’s example. “Personally, I think that this will encourage males to join either dance or other sports that are typically classified as “girls only” activities. Anybody can do dance, you just have to believe that you can do it.” Dennison agrees, “Any hip hop dancer out there like Jonathan who wants to become a more well-rounded dancer, we encourage them to audition,  As a teacher, choreographer and coach, having a male dancer participate is inspiring. It has changed my choreography for the better.”


  As the West Ottawa Varsity dance team prepares for competition season right around the corner this November, they know they are ready. They are coming back better than ever, more determined to inspire others, get people out of their comfort zone, and break barriers, just like they did with Jon. 10 years ago, could it have been possible for a guy to be on the varsity dance team? Maybe, but today, it’s not just a possibility. It’s reality. Jon McCabe will go down in WO dance history.