In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

The Walden Grove Dance Team: A local school’s journey to internet fame

Every good grandparent loves keeping up with their grandchildren.

That’s exactly why coach and choreographer Kristi Lopez created the PAC Walden Grove Youtube channel. So she could show her grandma in California what type of dance routines her team was doing.

She expected to have Grandma following along, but didn’t expect millions of other fans– pushing their videos to go viral.

PAC’s first routine that went viral was Pixar, and their Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter performances followed.

Viewers showered the Walden Grove High School students with online love after this year’s Marvel-themed homecoming assembly performance, another creative production.

“They love dance and they love each other and I think that energy helps us get through everything and I think that gets portrayed on these videos and people notice that,” said Lopez.

Each year, student council picks a homecoming theme and Lopez wonders how she will create a dance around that theme.

“I spend a week complaining to myself how I can’t do it and then I get over it and somehow come up with something,” said Lopez.

But it’s not short of long hours and weeks of work towards the final product.

The team has to storyboard the idea, mix the music, find costumes, build sets, and hold fundraisers. All while practicing every single day.

For their most recent Marvel performance, the group met for over an hour, coming up with a six-page storyboard and Lopez spent two and a half weeks mixing the elaborate music track.

“If people could see what this is really like, I think there’s a perception that we’re professionals and we order these sets,” said Lopez.

Their costumes and sets are all homemade Lopez admitted. They have build days where they try to execute their ideas themselves.

“We go to Home Depot and we make it work,” said Lopez. “The people at Jo-Anns are like ‘Hi again’, because I’m always in there.”

Kristi has won awards herself back when she was a soloist but finds more fulfillment from working with the students.

“This is way better than anything I ever did; watching the kids and seeing their dreams be fulfilled,” said Lopez.

Her dance career started at age three, leading up to a major in dance at the University of Arizona. Her dance took her to a company in Florida, travels oversees and Joffrey Ballet School before she realized she wanted something more. She wanted to teach.

“I was done fulfilling it for myself; I felt like my career was self gratifying and I don’t like that,” said Lopez.

She became a kindergarten teacher, but when Walden Groves opened nine years ago, the principal reached out to her, asking if she wanted to start a dance program for the school.

Lopez moved into her new role and her dance room, which was just a storage closet at the time. That first year, the team landed in last place for the state competition.

“It was kind of a nightmare, but we came back as a group and we sat down and figured out our goals,” said Lopez. “I told them, ‘If you want to try to win we need to be disciplined and work hard’… that next year they got second place.”

PAC on Good Morning America

They’ve been unstoppable ever since. They’ve won five state titles and are going for their sixth in March. They didn’t stop there. They performed on America’s Got Talent and Good Morning America.

PAC performing the Wizard of Oz on America’s got Talent

Lopez said what people don’t know about the dancers is that most of them aren’t trained. They come to the team with little to no dance experience and spend hours trying to catch them up on training.

Senior, Kayla Brown said she never danced before joining the team. They came to perform at her middle school years ago and she knew she wanted to be a part of the team.

Brown didn’t make the team her first year, but joined the team the next year. Her dancing has improved tremendously over the years, she said. And so have the friendships.

Walden Grove’s dance team

“It’s way more than friendships, it’s basically family,” said Brown.

Senior, Quincy Harmon also had never taken a class before joining the team, but has seen his hard work pay off.

“I feel like personally these go viral is because we have so much heart and passion for this stuff that the audience, we want them to feel what we feel,” said Harmon. “Every year we bring something different.”

PAC performing at Marvel homecoming assembly

It’s more than the recognition for the team. Kristi aims to teach them life skills that will stay with them after graduation. She uses dance to teach them hard work, time management and kindness.

“I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t on the dance team to be honest, she’s(Lopez) taught me so many life lessons that I don’t think I would have gotten,” said Brown.

“What I’ve learned with Ms. Lopez and the dance team will stay with me through life,” said Harmon.

Most of all teacher Lopez cherishes the relationship with her students. She’s excited to come to work every day because of them.

“There’s nothing like that– seeing the joy in their eyes and knowing that I’m a little piece of their high school experience,” said Lopez.

And she’s given them one heck of a high school experience, with millions of people following along, even Grandma.

Every good grandparent brags about their grandchildren.

Kristi Lopez’s grandma has a lot to brag about.