By Kate Raddatz

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Girls’ high school dance team participation is second only to football in Minnesota.

So the competition was fierce when we asked your choice for the best dance team in Minnesota.

You sent Kate Raddatz to Brainerd to see the Kixters first hand.

To watch these young women move as one is truly awe-inspiring. It is a mixture of art, athleticism and — although their faces may not show it — gut wrenching determination.

“During the season it’s six days a week and its aggressive, it’s physical, it’s athletic,” said head coach Cindy Clough. “It’s also an art form.

Clough leads the Brainerd Warrior Dance Team, otherwise known as the Kixters, and it’s probably safe to say that she’s been a part of this program every step of the way.

Cindy Clough (credit: CBS)

“I actually was on the first dance team that Brainerd had,” Clough said. “The coach that I was under asked if I would help her, and then she ended up moving away, so I kind of was thrust into it. I didn’t really plan to do it, I was more helping her out. It kind of took a hold of me.”

Or after 41 years, it may be more accurate so say that she took ahold of it.

Back then, just a kid herself, Clough led the new Brainerd dance program from complete obscurity to the state finals in 1981.

“I remember saying, ‘Well, there’s only the one more team to go and it’s Brainerd,” she said. “Yet we ended up winning.”

And that was the beginning of the Kixter dance team dynasty, whose accomplishments include 37 trips to the state tournament, eight state championships and 21 consecutive years in the top three.

It’s a resume that would be the envy of any high school program, whatever the sport.

Practices are as rigorous and demanding as any sport. Synchronization and perfection are the minimum acceptable goals.

“You have to be, you know, a total package. You have to be in shape so that you can sustain the three-minute routine without looking winded at the end,” she said. “And [you] have a creative routine that will keep the crowd wowed.”

The Brainerd Kixters (credit: CBS)

And in the Kixters’ gym, it’s just as important to properly execute a high kick, as keeping both feet firmly on the ground.

“The thing with our coaches is they’re really strict, not only on our like technique and how we’re dancing, but also like how we’re acting outside of practice, making sure we’re representing our team well,” said team captain Kalie Jeremiason.

Cough and her fellow coaches run a tight ship

“People will say, ‘What are your rules?’ and I go, ‘I don’t really have rules, we just have a culture,'” Clough said.

It is a culture of winning, excellence and caring.

“It gets really hard sometimes and you just have to remember why you started dance and why you love it,” Jeremiason said. “And also just being a good role model for the younger girls, showing them never to give up.’

After 41 years, Clough and her fellow coaches show no sign of slowing down in teaching these young women artful athleticism and, perhaps more importantly, strength of character.

“It’s neat seeing it through the young dancer’s eyes, and they finally realize that if I work hard I can accomplish anything,” Clough said.

In addition to coaching, Clough owns a business called Just for Kix. One of the main goals is teaching dance to young kids — some as young as 2 or 3.

Kate Raddatz