The Silent Strength Behind the Dance Team

Little known to students is the impact that Clara and Anand Kao have had on every dancer that has been a part of the amazing DHSDT.

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Anastasia Simonenko

Being the founding force behind the Dance Team, Anand and Clara Kao, with Josh Alexander, have created the team that is the heart of Dominion’s school spirit.

Around halftime, as the players race off into the locker rooms for a break after a grueling two quarters of play, the Dance Team races onto the track, and begins their routine, to massive cheers and excitement from the audience, which only grows as the team begins to dance. Their influence isn’t just limited to football games; they recently won first place in UDA Regionals. What many might not see, however, are the coaches standing behind the pride of Dominion.

Married couple Clara and Anand Kao began their coaching career in 2006. “[D]r. Brewer asked us all to find a way to engage Titans in their community outside the classroom,” said Clara Kao, who was a teacher at the time, on the creation of the Dance Team. Although she is no longer a teacher, she continues to volunteer as one of the Dance Team coaches, alongside Anand and Josh Alexander.

While Clara was already in the building when she began coaching, Anand saw it as an opportunity to pass on his knowledge. He said, “The first time I came in to meet the team, I immediately felt inspired by the excitement of the students that wanted to learn and grow as dancers. My dance background at the time was more on the breakdancing side as I spent numerous years learning from many others and being a part of the breakdancing club at James Madison University and at my high school. I was very excited to be able to give back to the community and pass down my knowledge of breakdancing and hip hop. I’ve always loved teaching in general and this gave me a chance to help others to grow with their passion in dance.”

Alexander, who was a member of the team his freshmen year, joined the coaching ranks in 2015 after helping out since 2013. He noted that the Kao couple inspired him to join the team, “The way they continue to help inspire students’ creativity through dance has always been my inspiration for coaching.”

They’re not just our coaches, they’re literally a part of our family.”

— Aden Vinnacombe

“We just love that we get to mentor positivity through the creativity of dance,” Clara Kao said. All this love certainly paid off, because in 2019, the team won the National Championship, which all three describe as one of their proudest moments as coaches.

“Winning nationals didn’t feel real at first but when I opened my eyes, seeing all of the dance team with tears of joy, that’s when I knew it was real,” Alexander stated.

While their success is undeniable, Ananda Kao stressed the team has greater values and goals.. “On the team, we have a set of core values revolving around positivity, hard work and most importantly respect. We are proud to see that keeping these values in mind with the actions we take each practice has translated into how students not only interact with each other but also with their peers outside of the team. They continue to motivate each other and help to bring each other up with positivity,” he said.

In terms of individual bright spots, Clara Kao pointed out the kindness of the team assisting injured members, as well as the time the team joined Black Lives Matter protests, while Anand Kao mentioned that some of the students have gone to take their passion for dance beyond high school, with some even coming back to mentor middle school students.

The team members hold the coaches in very high regard, with senior dancer Aden Vinnacombe noting that despite not gaining money or recognition, they spend countless hours creating routines and preparing the team. “They’re not just our coaches, they’re literally a part of our family,” Vinnacombe noted.

Performing at the winter pep rally, Aden Vinnacombe flips over Devin Freeman as the DHSDT has another amazing performance. (Anastasia Simonenko)

However, there have also been multiple challenges that come with running a dance team. The Kao family has two daughters, ages one and four, adding on to their burdens and schedules. They also have careers outside of the team, with Clara Kao joking that the hours she puts into dance is enough to be considered a second career.

“Sometimes the best thing to do is to just listen and adapt and be willing to make changes for the good of the team,” said Anand Kao about the challenges that come with each new year.

But in the end, both consider coaching a worthwhile experience. “We created the team to be a place where kids of all backgrounds and experiences could come share their love for dance and meet others that they may otherwise not have made friendships with and we hope to always follow that through each season,” Clara Kao stated.

“I’ve been motivated to continue coaching because of the Titan community and how supportive they have been,” Alexander said.

“I have always appreciated and felt very fortunate to be presented with an opportunity to take my passion of dance and share it with others,” Anand Kao said. “I hope that this program will continue to grow and spread positivity to the community.”