On ‘Dance Battle America,’ Wasilla dancers shoot for the stars

A group of Wasilla girls is using social media to shoot for the stars or, at least Hollywood-style stardom. Dance Team Alaska has already gotten one big break, and they are back in the Valley, now, after a  few days in Los Angeles,  where they were featured in the production of a pilot television show called “Dance Battle America.”

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Sierra Kistler, Courtney Mills Lager and Penny Wont Aches. Photo: Ellen Lockyer/KSKA.
Sierra Kistler, Courtney Millslagle and Penny Wojtacha. Photo: Ellen Lockyer/KSKA.

Taylor Swift’s irresistible earworm, “Shake It Off”‘ shook the nation this summer. It’s also the music backing dance Team Alaska’s YouTube video that aced out 2,000 others in an audition competition for a new reality show.

Before you groan, ‘Another new reality show?’ — take a moment to think just how hard it is to stand out in the crowds of people trying to get noticed for a show called Dance Battle America.  Courtney Millslagle is Dance Team Alaska’s muse and ersatz director.

“And so when we did it, we didn’t think that it was going to go anywhere, we just did it to have fun. And they picked us out of thousands of auditions. They picked eight teams, and ours was one of them.”

Courtney is  the only member of the five – person Team Alaska who is out of high school. She appeared on the Jimmy Fallon show a couple of years ago, and since then, she’s set her sights on show biz. Courtney enlisted her sister Penny Woytacha.

“I was super excited about it. When I heard about this TV show, I was excited, because I knew we were perfect fits for this.” Penny says enthusiastically.

Courtney choreographed the moves,

“We would stay up super late, trying to get the moves right, trying to make it look perfect,” Penny chimes in.

The group shot their audition tape on the Matanuska River bridge in Palmer in June. Cousin Sierra Kistler jumped on board.

“We went to Wal-Mart, because it was super last minute, like she called me up and said let’s do it right now. So I was like, okay, so we went to Wal-Mart, so we bought, we wanted to represent Alaska so not only did we do it on the bridge in Palmer with mountains and and everything, but we went and got some cammo shorts.” Plus cammo umbrellas and cammo hats.

And it worked.

It could have been the magic midnight sun, or maybe the fact that the girls didn’t really take it seriously, that caught the producer’s attention. Team Alaska was chosen to appear on the show’s pilot production. They shared the stage with groups like Liquid Feet, a trio which turns deliberately bad dancing into comedy and a trifecta of high- stepping sexagenarians called Silver Classixs. The show aired live on ABC in September, pairing  sets of dancers against each other . Show hosts Alfonso Ribero and Jordan Sparks excitedly introduced the competing teams:

“From Los Angeles, California, here are my boys, Energy. And from Wasilla, Alaska, here are my girls, Team Alaska!!”

Strains of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” welled up from the studio orchestra, as Team Alaska pranced on  stage and shook their moves.  Competing team Energy, dressed as shirtless firemen, swaggered onto the other side of the stage, and the battle was on.

The Wasilla team danced well, dressed in fuzzy fur boots and lots of icy blue and silver glitter. One of them – wearing a bear costume – did ‘the worm,’ a move applauded by show choreographers.

The dancing done, tension built as the show hosts promised to announce the winner of the battle after the station break.

Then  Sparks intoned “the audience has voted, the results are in, and the winner of the battle is……..”

Alas, viewer’s votes chose the competition – the  shirtless men’s team called Energy – as the winner of that round.

A post show wrap-up aptly named Afterbuzz, summed it up.  Commentators Desiree Murphy and Kathy Kelly interviewed Liquid Feet on their post-show perspective.

‘Team Energy brought a pole into their dancing. Yeah, they did, That was crazy. Yeah, they worked it and Alaska was the opposite end of the spectrum, they were the cutest, the sweetest, they were so nervous, they were so innocent. ”

Well, fame is fleeting. What life lessons did they take away from their short stint in tinseltown? Courtney says she realizes that show business is hard work after spending ten hour days in the studio.

So now, back home in Wasilla, what’s next ?

“People will recognize me around town, people I don’t know and people will … a lot of social media connection where they will talk to me on social media and I have no idea who they are.  As far as the entertainment business goes, I think it is more of a process of putting yourself out there and then, you know, something coming back from it. Nobody’s reached out to us, though.”

Courtney says she would like to break into comedy. Her dream? A spot on Saturday Night Live.

“Dreaming big. I think that when you dream big, I think you put your life on a track when you dream and so, that’s what it takes to get on that tyrack, and people are always, ‘how do you do this?’ It’s like, just believe you can do it, come up with your goals and work on it. ”

Sierra says she now gets more recognition than usual at high school football games.

She has set her sights on medical school. But she says the show, oddly enough, inspired her.

“Growing up, I wanted to be a choreographer, but I sort of put that on the back burner because I was like, ‘ Well, I’m smart, I should do something with my brains, and its probably never going to go anywhere, so whatever, I will just be a doctor. Maybe I’ll be a doctor/ dancer.”

Penny’s not sure yet, but singing could be in her future. She sings a popular tune, and sister Courtney picks up the harmony.

Whatever happens, the Wasilla girls did represent their state in a fun and fresh way.

“We all were bringing what we have to the table, I mean, we all have Alaska. We were goofy, so we played it up. I mean, we were goofy people to start with, so we played it up.n We were who we were.”

And Dance Battle America? Drum roll please. We’ll see if the pilot is picked up by the network.

APTI Reporter-Producer Ellen Lockyer started her radio career in the late 1980s, after a stint at bush Alaska weekly newspapers, the Copper Valley Views and the Cordova Times. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Valdez Public Radio station KCHU needed a reporter, and Ellen picked up the microphone.
Since then, she has literally traveled the length of the state, from Attu to Eagle and from Barrow to Juneau, covering Alaska stories on the ground for the AK show, Alaska News Nightly, the Alaska Morning News and for Anchorage public radio station, KSKA
elockyer (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8446 | About Ellen

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