It all starts with being positive.
That is how Lynne Wolfe approaches coaching her alma mater’s dance program.
The expectations are high for the performers at Mountain View High School, a Division I member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association. As Wolfe and fellow coach Carli Turley — a fellow Mountain View alumna — add new moves and set advanced goals for Toro Pom each season, they ensure Toro Pom’s dancers are ready.
In creating routines, Turley and Wolfe build around the strengths of team members, who work on their craft at studios outside of the program. They want to ensure captains have the confidence to lead Toro Pom in performances. Additionally, the coaches want to enable the growth of each dancer.
“Our skill level, we keep increasing it to be at the top of the state,” Wolfe said. “We have highly competitive girls that work really hard to have the best skills in the state.”
Arizona has taken notice.
Under Turley and Wolfe, Mountain View has won five state titles, continuing a victory streak for arguably one of the nation’s top dance squads. Toro Pom is a 23-time state champion and has brought nine national titles back to Mesa. The program has sent dancers to professional positions, as well as universities such as Arizona State, Brigham Young, Northern Arizona and Utah Valley.
Wolfe took over Toro Pom in 2016 from Dannis Zazueta, who led the program since 2000, and brought her longtime friend Turley on as a coach. Before Zazueta, Jane Driggs — who also coached Mountain View’s cheer team — instilled a culture of discipline and added competitions to Toro Pom’s performances during her six-year tenure starting in 1994.
In addition to performing against squads from across the state and the country, Toro Pom hones its craft at football and basketball games, as well as school assemblies.
“It’s fun to see every year when we start a new year because we have a different team,” Turley said. “It’s exciting to see what we’re going to create with this new team and see what we’re going to accomplish.”
One of Toro Pom’s most notable recent performances came during the national tournament in February 2020. Slotted as the last dance of the competition, Mountain View’s Jazz squad performed a piece entitled “Heaven,” which earned the team its third straight Jazz championship.
Senior Clara Garner, one of Toro Pom’s captains this upcoming season, says what makes Mountain View’s jazz routines different from those of other schools is its lyrical approach to help the audience “feel” a performance.
The team achieved this objective with “Heaven” — a two-and-a-half minute piece.
“A lot of other schools came up to us and said that they were crying because of how emotional it was and how good it was,” Garner said. “I remember afterwards seeing our parents and they were just all so proud of us. It’s just the best feeling coming off the floor knowing that you left it all on the floor.”
Garner will be in charge of Toro Pom’s Jazz routine this year, while Haley Bastian will coordinate the team’s Pom choreography and competitions. Additionally, Ellie Arnett will serve as the Gameday captain, a position that ensures dancers are in the right gear for game days and are ready to perform chants and routines from Mountain View’s track.
Toro Pom’s 2021 season will look vastly different from its performances last year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the AIA enforced mask rules during competition, including qualifiers. Dancers had to wear a mask that strapped over their heads and were deducted points if it fell below the nose or came off entirely.
“That added a whole other factor of stress,” Garner said. “We tried to find ways to hold it up. We got glue and glued the masks to our faces.”
Even though the team was not able to attend nationals, Toro Pom participated in the state tournament at Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley. While the mask requirement was lifted, each performer could only bring one guest.
At the conclusion of the competition, the squad brought another state title back to Mountain View.
“We have to have the ‘it’ factor or something that’s gonna help us bring that state title home,” Wolfe said. “I feel like we’ve done that in the last six years. We’ve found that thing that puts us ahead of everybody else.”
Amplifying the competition is that Wolfe feels Toro Pom has “a target on our back” due to its “dynasty and this legacy of greatness.”
Toro Pom will start its 2021-22 season in late July, but Arnett’s mind is already on the upcoming campaign.
“I always think about Pom,” Arnett said. “How we can make it better and how we can help our teammates get to where we want to be for competition and have a good attitude throughout the year.”