The Commack High School Cougarettes won first place in the varsity...

The Commack High School Cougarettes won first place in the varsity kick event at the NDA National Championships in Orlando, Florida. Credit: Gary Licker

The Commack High School Cougarettes, competitive dancers who reemerged last year as national kickline champions after a nearly decadelong dry spell, have won again.

The team won first place in the varsity kick event at the NDA National Championships in Orlando, Florida, March 3-5. They also won a sportsmanship award after sharing a set of cheer poms with a dancer from Syosset High School who forgot hers at the hotel.

In what has become a local custom, the Cougarettes returned to their high school with a Commack Fire Department escort, a triumphant end to months of preparation. 

Other Long Island teams that medaled at the event included Sachem East High School and Smithtown High School West. 

Competitive kick incorporates, at a minimum, 45 coordinated kicks over the length of a two-minute routine: some head-high, straight-legged with perfectly pointed toe, some angled; some executed by dancers in an unbroken line, some by smaller groups in motion. 

To build endurance, the Cougarettes did 200-kick drills, said their coach, Alexa Armentano, 29, a substitute elementary school teacher in Commack and a former Cougarette herself, along with co-coach Nicole Baretsky. The winning routine, choreographed with Nicholas Clement, an Orlando-based kick specialist, and Smithtown West kick coach Tara Foglia, involved 65 kicks. “The judges look for uniformity, spacing and formations, how you’re using the stage as best you can, moving the line to create visual effects, rather than staying in one spot,” Armentano said. 

For Alina Mirman, who hopes to continue dancing next year at the University of Delaware, where she will study pre-veterinary medicine, the most interesting and difficult parts of the routine came during its transitions: “There are parts where everyone’s in one line and we’re all kicking together, then parts where we unlink, turn around and relink.” 

It was challenging for 20 dancers to twirl, fire simultaneous kicks and “keep it clean” under competition pressure, she said. Then there was the waiting. “At dance competitions, the awards ceremony is at the end and they announce last place to first place. … It’s super stressful, since once you’re done with your dance, your place is set in stone.”

Mirman, interviewed last week, was elated and hoarse from cheering for her friends. But she knew that the Orlando trip had marked an end to an important part of her young life. “There were a lot of lasts," she said. “I’ve known everyone on my team forever. It’s so weird that I’m going to go from seeing my best friends every day, practicing and performing, to stopping — just like that.”

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