WAYNE, NJ - The movie Footloose was about a town where dancing was banned. A plot that would be familiar to all the students who participated in Wayne Valley’s Student Dance Association (SDA) this year. Even after Murphy ordered schools to stay closed for the remainder of the year, there was a slim hope that the Wayne Valley SDA would be able to perform. Now that hope is gone.
Every year, both high schools put on a friendly, fun and extremely competitive weekend dance competition. Hills creates two teams that compete against each other and Valley does the same. Hills had their performances in late February but Valley’s decision to hold their competition in early May turned out to be costly.
SDA is not just something that’s fun to be a part of. Those involved, especially the senior captains, take this as seriously as any athlete on any sports team.
"There is a lot of practice, and so much passion put into this," said Darla Zisa. "You work so hard for so long that by the time the show comes around, you just want to win."
The show is judged, and awards are given for best costumes, best dance performance, best music and more.
These high energy performances are held in the gym in front of bleachers packed with fellow students and family members who scream their encouragement. The love, joy and excitement shown by the crowds during the performance can be felt like a physical thing.
“If you’re in SDA, you are 100% committed to it,” said Wayne Valley senior and one of the captains of the Blue Team, Juliana Rigoglioso. “I think it puts you under some kind of a magical spell.”
"The week of the show gets pretty intense," said Zisa.. "There have been friendship's ruined by the rivalry; that's how intense it can be."
Preparations for the May performance began in early October, and for the next five months, the shows were planned, themes created, and music chosen, then tirelessly mixed and re-mixed to make it perfect. Choreography began, teams practiced for countless hours, costumes and props were purchased or made.
“The whole show was finally put together and ready in March, just when the schools closed their doors,” said Rigoglioso, the disappointment clear in her voice. “When the quarantine hit, I thought: ‘I did all this work for nothing!’”
Zisa echoed her remarks. "I was really so upset. We had such a strong team and such a great show planned, and all that work and preparation was going to go unnoticed."
School was originally slated to reopen in April, so from home, the teams kept working and the captains kept track of isolated backyard practices that were recorded and shared on group chats. Then the opening of schools was pushed back to May 15. It became harder to keep the teams motivated, but the promise of the show was the reward that kept them going.
Then Murphy ordered that the schools stay closed for the remainder for the school year, but Rigoglioso, Zisa and their teams still held out hope that the performances would happen. They went to the Township and asked if they could hold a masked performance on the open football field with no audience present and live stream it to everyone at home.
Unfortunately, because it was considered a school event, the idea was shot down and the shows will not go on.
Rigoglioso took a positive take on it, although her and her fellow SDA members were sorely disappointed. All the practices were not just the teams trying to stay prepared, according to Rigoglioso. For her, she felt they meant something more. “I think they brought a little bit of Wayne Valley to our homes, and made quarantine and our time apart, a little easier.”