Return to Headlines

Johnson, Alma dance team learning to adapt on the fly 1/14/22

Johnson, Alma dance team learning to adapt on the fly

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Loralye Johnson couldn’t imagine being stationary. Not for long, anyway. 


The Alma senior admits splitting time between the school's dance team and NJROTC can lead to a last-minute adrenaline rush.


“Personally, I procrastinate with all my schoolwork and end up doing a lot of it at the last minute,” Johnson said. “But it always gets done.”


A native of Georgia, Johnson found herself in Crawford County the summer before her ninth-grade year. It didn’t take her long to sway Alma dance coach Sara Murray. 


“I lived in Georgia before I moved here, so I have done competitive dance since I was 5 or 6,” Johnson said. “Then I moved to Arkansas. My freshman year, I was in the beginning dance class.”


Between her freshman and sophomore year, which concluded the COVID-19 shutdown in spring 2020, Johnson’s family moved to Fort Smith. 


She continued, however, to be part of Alma schools. 


“All my family is in Georgia right now,” she said. “We have family on my dad’s side in Arkansas and we wanted to be closer to them. But, getting up and leaving was really hard.”


Planting new roots was just a matter of time, she said.


“I’m able to make friends wherever I go, and especially in this school,” Johnson said. 


“She is outgoing and positive and brings a light to the team that is so important when you work as hard as we (dance coaches) expect them to,” Murray said. “She is also incredibly talented and has worked very hard since her sophomore year to be a role model for the other team members in skills, focus in practice, and determination on the competition floor.


“Loralye is one of those kids you don’t ever have to wonder whether or not she’s going to work hard in practice or give her all in competition.”


Johnson’s unique first name was pulled from the early 2000s television show “The Gilmore Girls,” though parents Steve Johnson and Jessica Palmer chose to spell the lead character's name as Loralye — a name of German origin that means "alluring enchantress."


Last summer, Murray named Loralye Johnson captain of the dance team. 


“Loralye was named captain of the varsity dance team at the end of summer after we (coaches) watched several of the girls at UDA Camp and summer practices to see who we thought would be a good fit for this team,” Murray said. “We have so many incredible girls on the team that choosing captains is rather difficult. 


“But Loralye stood out to us for her ability to encourage the team and connect with every single member, as well as the Freshman Dance Team members.”


Older kids giving back, Murray said, is an important part of their program. 


“It’s often overwhelming being on the dance team and we expect a lot from every single member, so having the older veteran team members to look up to and connect with is vital to the success of the team,” the coach said. 


Quick turnaround


Wednesday afternoon, Alma schools announced they would be shutting down all activities, including two days of school, so that the recent spike in COVID might drop by the start of next week. 


But Murray didn’t fret Wednesday when late in the morning it was announced that Alma would be going virtual for the next five days. Not only would the hallways be empty, but there would be no athletic practice or events. 


That means the dancers, who will appear at halftime during Tuesday’s game with Van Buren, were put on short notice. 


“The kids are awesome at learning things in a short amount of time, and I’ve been really proud of their ability and willingness to change things on the spot if needed,” Murray said. “Just last night (Tuesday) at the Siloam Springs game, we lost two more girls in the last minute for our performance, and in a matter of 15 minutes before the game we re-did the routine and the girls performed.”


Murray is hopeful the team’s trip to nationals comes off without a hitch. The group is set to perform in Orlando in February. 


“It’s a bit more frustrating when it comes to preparing for nationals since so much of our routine relies on everyone being present at practice,” Murray said. “But the kids have beautiful spirits and such incredible work ethic that they have continued to push through all the challenges thrown our way. 


“We adapt the best we can and just push forward.”


Giving back


Johnson said she will take a little bit from each of her dance coaches, Murray, Ashlyn Hill, and Emilie Westra.


“All three of them have impacted me so much,” Johnson said. “Coach Westra comes in positive every day. It’s crazy because 6 a.m. is really early, and we’ll be out there practicing and she’s ready to go! Coach Hill started the ninth-grade team and she tries to spend time with all of us as much as possible.


“Coach Murray is like the glue that holds us all together.”


“These kids are incredibly important to me, and I love them like they’re my own,” Murray said. “Their success in life, not just dance class and performances, means the world to me. In everything I do, I try to think about what’s best for the kids on and off the dance floor, and how I can help mold them into adults I know they can be.”


The fruits of their labor will come to fruition this spring with Alma’s big Dance Show, an event all its own.


“I’m a lover of dance shows,” Johnson said. “It’s when the entire dance program comes together, and I meet people from the middle school and others from the dance program. The dance show is a way to bring everyone together. When we’re in the PAC (Alma Performing Arts Center) starting to work on everything, seeing everything come together and getting closer with your team, is really awesome.”