Matthew Lehna, 17, a member of Davenport Central High School’s Central Singers Inc. show choir, was sweating after he got done warming up Saturday afternoon.

Central Singers Inc. was one of five Class 4A show choirs performing in The Big Dance Show Choir Invitational hosted by Davenport North High School. Nine schools, mostly from Iowa, competed, and Davenport North groups gave exhibition performances.

Lehna, a senior, had been sick all week. He even missed Thursday’s dress rehearsal. And he wasn’t over his illness by showtime Saturday. As the girls in the song-and-dance group put on their earrings and the boys tied their ties, Lehna tried vainly to relax.

“I’m nervous,” he said. “I’m always nervous before I get on stage and at the beginning of the show. But once the show starts, the butterflies go away.”

After missing Thursday’s practice, he had to make sure before the show that he was getting his steps right.

And when it was over, he was happy, even though he nearly threw up. “We did well,” he said.

Well enough to perform again Saturday night in the finals after the afternoon performances ended with the Waukee (High School) Millennium group in first place, the Cedar Rapids Prairie (High School) Ambassadors in second and Central Singers Inc. in third.

The Davenport West High School show choir, West Connection, was the first 4A team to perform Saturday. Their 20-minute routine had the crowd on its feet.

Afterward, the team sat through a critique by judge Ben Schrank, who is also West’s choreographer.

“I’m extremely proud of you,” Schrank said. “You made great leaps since Thursday,” he said, talking about their dress rehearsal. “But we have a lot of work to do.”

The judges nitpick. The show choirs’ directors and choreographers do the same.

Amy Pham, 17, a junior at West, and her teammate, Anna Wells, 16, also a junior, compared it to being on a football team.

“Show choir is more of a team sport than most people realize,” Pham said. “We work really, really hard doing the same routine over and over again without breaks. If one person is out of step, it throws everybody else off.”

Wells said show choir competitions are often endurance contests.

It looked that way. The 50 or so students in West Connection sat gasping for air or guzzling water after their performance.

Waiting to go onstage, Rose Vanderwal, 16, a junior who has been in show choir for three years, had the jitters. “I’m so nervous and so anxious, but I am so excited. I love show choir so much.”

Afterward, she was nervous about what the judges would say. “I was so proud of us and proud of the way she performed,” she said.

Shrank opened his critique with “Great show.”

“So many of the things you did, I have been waiting for Central Singers Inc. to do for years,” he added.

The finale routine by Central Singers Inc. featured Kadijah Pettie, 16, whose powerful voice helped bring the crowd to its feet at the end.

“I thought we did a great job,” Pettie said. “Hopefully, we can take what we’ve learned and improved on and use them going forward.”

North vocal music director Ryan Riewerts said, “Our competition this year was very close. Every group here did a tremendous job.

“We have an incredible group of parents who pulled together to make this happen,” he added. “Some people really stepped up in a big way and did a tremendous job.”

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