At a recent Sunday afternoon rehearsal at Nancy Chippendale's Dance Studio in North Andover, a gaggle of girls was making a lot of noise. But very few words were spoken. All the racket came from the metal of their tap shoes.
They aim to be as perfect as humanly possible. You would, too, if you were heading to Germany to represent the United States of America in international competition.
Tap dancers from the studio, part of the Nancy Chippendale's Performance Team, qualified for the World Tap Championships at a competition in Boston this past July. From Dec. 3 through Dec. 6, more than 80 of Chippendale's hoofers are headed to Reisa, Germany.
Five of the dancers are from Haverhill: Shannon Blanchard, 18, a student at Haverhill High School; Molly Potter, 17, of Haverhill High School; Andrea Pound, 17, also of Haverhill High; Justine Kaelin, 15, a student at Whittier Vo-Tech; and Tori Foresta, 11, a student at Hunking Middle School.
Some of the dancers will perform solos or duets in the competition, including Tori, one of the youngest dancers headed overseas. But everyone is involved in a group number.
One group of about 20 dancers shuffled, scuffed and heel-toed together to the overwhelming bass and drums of "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes. Another channeled their inner jockeys as they tapped to a song synonymous with horse racing, using their metal-bottomed dance shoes to recreate the sounds of a race.
With military precision, the dancers change formations, move lines and hit poses, making a nearly impossible task seem second-nature. But a lot of hard work went into making it look easy.
Almost every day, the girls perfect their routines in the North Andover studio. Even when they're not in class or rehearsals, the girls constantly have the steps on their brains.
"I love hearing that they got detention," Chippendale joked. "That means they were practicing their tap."
Of all the dance styles, tap can be one of the most diabolically frustrating art forms because of the need for complete perfection. If one dancer slips up on one step, the audience can hear it.
"It has to be perfect," Pound explained. "Sometimes, you have to make six sounds with one foot, in one count. If you miss one sound, it's all wrong."
There's a T-shirt that many of the dancers wear around the studio that simply says "I can't. I have dance," which they feel perfectly captures the long hours they spend at the studio.
But all the sore muscles, bloody toes and sweat-drenched clothes are worth it for the dedicated dancers. What others see as painstaking drudgery, the dancers see as pure joy.
"We love it," Pound said. "Dancing just makes you feel better."
The young dancers are looking forward to competing in Germany, especially in their matching red, white and blue warm-ups.
"We're representing the country," Pound said. "That's a big deal."
But they're also excited to be traveling with some of their best friends, experiencing new cultures and meeting dancers from all over the world who share their passion. They'll be joined by dancers from 20 to 30 other countries.
Chippendale, beaming like a proud mother, said she is thrilled that her dancers get to have this one-of-a-kind opportunity.
"Of course, I'd be thrilled if they take home gold medals," Chippendale said, "but the cultural experience is just as important to me as taking home the gold."