Longtime West Valley High School teacher Jodee Cahalan was recently inducted into the Washington State Dance and Drill Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Cahalan, however, tries to downplay her role in the decades of success the high school’s dance team has had in the 18 years since she took over. She’d rather the focus be on the talented students and support from their parents and the school district.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming for me to get the award,” she said. “It should be the program.”
Cahalan’s West Valley roots go deep. Her parents attended the high school and when she attended the school in the mid-1970s she was on the dance team, but Cahalan said it was a different team back then.
“When I was on the team the skill level was pretty low,” she said. “I would not make the team we have today. The majority of them have previous training.”
She and her sisters were inspired to join the dance team because of their father, who was voted the best dancer in the class of 1957. “He’s probably the one who sparked my interest in dance,” she said.
Cahalan teaches AP European History and geography. When she finished college there weren’t many teaching jobs available, but she fought to stay in West Valley. “I aggressively went after the job,” she said. “I told them I would devote my life to this school.”
Cahalan got involved in coaching the dance team when her daughter was a freshman and the fifth coach in five years had stepped down. “My daughter is the one who implored, I guess is the word, me to take over,” she said.
She planned to coach the team for three years until her daughter graduated, but just kept going. “I’m not very good at quitting,” she said.
Her daughter, Maggie Kazemba, now owns Spokane Elite Dance. She’s been choreographing the routines for the dance team since she joined it as a student. Today many of the students on West Valley’s dance team have trained at her studio.
Cahalan organizes fundraisers and helps create the costumes that fill several storage areas. She often finds herself modifying clothes and adding bling to make the costumes flashy. Each costume has a name based on the dance routine and Cahalan can sort through them and recall what routines they were used for.
The costumes are sometimes reused for new routines and even lent out to other programs. “We’ve got a lot of stuff,” she said. “We’re one of the few programs that keeps a costume closet.”
She also washes the costumes and keeps them maintained. “The whole thing keeps me super busy,” she said. “It’s a lot of work.”
Cahalan is not in front of her students leading them through the routines. It’s a student-led program, with two captains for each style of dance who teach the routines and tweak the choreography. “My biggest responsibility is choosing captains well,” she said. “The biggest part of my job is training the girls how to be leaders and how to be teachers.”
She’s attended many training clinics over the years, including ones on teaching stunting safely. While the students are responsible for much of the teaching duties, Cahalan often offers suggestions if she thinks a part of a routine isn’t working.
“I’m like the cheerleader and the naysayer when it’s needed,” she said.
The student-led model seems to work, if the number of state championships the team has won is any indication.
“We are always at state,” she said. “We haven’t missed a year since my first year of coaching. We’ve won state I think six times. Right now we’re probably the most successful program in Spokane.”
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