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Song and dance: What it's like in a show choir

Audrey Jonke rehearses with the Batavia High School Swingsingers coed  show choir.
Audrey Jonke rehearses with the Batavia High School Swingsingers coed show choir.

BATAVIA – On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving break, Batavia High School choir director Christina Virgilio stood before a group of teens staggered on risers, walking them through choreography they eventually must perfect.

“Five, six, ready, go,” Virgilio said, alternating instructions with lyrics from “One Night Only,” a song from the musical “Dreamgirls.”

“I have no doubt – ladies, turn – the only trouble is – pivot,” she said.

The 32 teens – collectively known as the school’s coed show choir, the Swingsingers – devote after-school hours to learning and rehearsing the songs they will perform during competitions in February and March.

Swingsingers also will learn songs for local performances, such as Showtime in April, Virgilio said. She noted the school’s all-girl show choir, Legacy, also will perform there.

The coed group earned first and third place in its division when it returned to the competitive stage last year, but 17-year-old Kelsey Skomer said the group tries not to focus too much on placing.

“If you focus too much on competing, it gets to be less fun,” the junior said.

The basics of show choir – the singing, the dancing, the performance – seems to be attraction enough for Swingsinger members.

“It’s a really different way of becoming involved in music,” Skomer said, comparing it to a musical.

Jacob Livingston, also a 17-year-old junior, knew he wanted to audition for Swingsingers after attending Showchoir Camps of America, a weeklong summer camp in Decatur.

“I just love it,” he said.

He not only is performing with friends, but he also is working in a positive and supportive atmosphere. The most difficult part, he said, is the choreography.

“I’m not the best dancer,” Livingston said.

The teens begin tackling the choreography after learning the music, which Virgilio said is the foundation of show choirs.

“The show is the adjective,” she said.

Virgilio created the set list during the summer, picking songs that fit into the theme of seizing the day and living in the moment.

An outside choreographer works with the show choir monthly and last visited the group Nov. 12, when she went through the steps for “One Night Only,” Virgilio said.

Virgilio learns the moves and, with help from the group’s dance captains, makes sure the others learn the dancing, too.

“It comes easier every year,” Virgilio said.

On Nov. 14, Virgilio led the group through the same section repeatedly, demonstrating the moves herself or watching.

“Men, you need to create the tension,” she said regarding a move involving boy-girl couples.

By January, she said, the group will polish and perfect aspects of the performance, such as facial expressions.

“We’re at the beginning of learning and recalling,” she said.

In addition to rehearsing at school, Livingston said he practices at home and, along with others, during lunch. The time is well worth it, he said, describing the performances as thrilling.

Virgilio said some participants also juggle Swingsingers with drama and music activities, sports teams and clubs.

“We make it work so they can be involved in many things,” she said.

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