FREEDOM PLAINS – Crystal Miller sometimes grows frustrated with her Arlington High School girls basketball teammates.
When put to the task, their fundamentals and footwork are often lacking. There doesn’t seem to be a fluid synchronization, and there is an obvious absence of rhythm among them. The senior ascribes those struggles to a lack of practice; her teammates not taking it seriously enough.
To that, she believes: They can all get to steppin’!
No, actually stepping. As in the dance.
Miller is the center and one of the leaders of the basketball team, but she also is captain of the school’s step team. The steppers perform dance routines in local competitions, school productions and at halftime of some scholastic athletic events. Basketball included.
For those unfamiliar: Step is a style of dance that requires elaborate footwork and incorporates rhythmic hand claps. The stomps and claps, in unison, often combine to create a melodic beat.
Miller has developed a passion for it, which she has tried to share with her basketball teammates, giving them lessons on the basics.
“Apparently, they never remember much of what I teach,” she said on Friday, shaking her head as two teammates attempted to perform a number. “They’re bad students.”
They tried to showcase their skills shortly after Miller demonstrated some of hers for a video.
Sadly, neither of those teammates — Cassidy Clay and Meghan Povall — is whom Miller named as the worst dancer on her team. (Emma Stephens, a senior, was given that distinction.)
“I don’t have any rhythm,” said Clay, a senior guard. “I’ve tried to learn from many people but it doesn’t work well. At least I’m better than (Meghan). She’s awful.”
Povall didn’t disagree.
Miller picked up dancing as a freshman after becoming enamored watching her older cousin, Jalesa Anderson, perform with the Poughkeepsie High School step team.
“I’d watch her do it, and I wanted to try,” she said. “I joined the team in my sophomore year, and I was actually pretty good. I wasn’t an expert, but I knew my stuff.”
Miller has performed in a number of competitions, even choreographed some routines herself and, last season, was part of a halftime show during one of her own basketball games. That night, she said, was “really tiring.”
Dance, she said, can be stressful during the performance, trying hard to be perfect while making it all seem effortless.
“But it’s a huge relief afterwards,” Miller said. “You know you killed it when you’re performing on stage and the whole front section of the audience is going wild.”
Basketball still is her first love and she considers dance “more of a hobby,” but the two do overlap somewhat. There are aspects of dance that translate to the court.
“The footwork and coordination really help with post moves,” Miller said. “Basketball movements are kind of rhythmic, and you memorize the steps like, ‘One, two, drop step, go this way, then do this, then up.’ The same way you do with step.”
Some of that was on display Friday as the Admirals hosted Monroe-Woodbury, the defending Section 9 Class AA champion, in a non-league contest. Arlington lost, 45-26, but Miller scored 12 points and flashed some footwork.
Miller sank a layup, while being fouled, following a spin move and reverse pivot with 3:14 left in the third quarter. A minute later, she spun against a defender and hit a mid-range jumper. Miller scored again with 2:10 left in the fourth, duping a defender with an up-and-under move in the post after a rebound.
“She has great footwork and she’s really quick inside,” Povall said of the 5-foot-9 Miller. “Once you find out she’s a dancer, you can tell and it shows in how she plays.”
Arlington (1-3) graduated a number of key players and is entering somewhat of a rebuilding phase. Clay, however, insisted there is enough talent on this roster to do well. The team simply needs more time to develop and gel. A challenging non-league schedule, she said, will benefit them.
But were the Section 1 Class AA title to be determined in a dance-off…
“We would win it all,” said Povall, a junior guard. “Crystal would lead the way. I’d be the person in the back hoping nobody notices I’m not doing too many moves.”
This season, much like those dance lessons, is a work in progress for Arlington. But, hey, they’re taking steps.
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4