Using snippets of a voicemail from her deceased boyfriend as part of her theme music made the solo dance routine of Somerset senior Bethanie Mangine emotional and controversial as she competed through the 2018-19 dance season.
Having her boyfriend's voice built into her routine lifted Mangine to incredible heights. She qualified for state with the routine. At the WACPC state championships, Mangine said she felt her boyfriend's presence as she performed her routine. She said it was the best she'd ever done the routine and the state judges agreed, rewarding her with Division 3 All-State honors.
Mangine and her boyfriend, Matthew Freeberg, both grew up in Somerset. Freeberg was killed in a car accident a month after he graduated from Somerset High School in 2017.
Mangine has been dancing since she was 3 years old. Soon after Matthew's death, she decided that she wanted to create a routine in his memory. She decided to wait a year so she could handle the emotion of the situation and give more time to planning the routine.
"I thought about it all year and wanted my senior year and I wanted to go out with a bang," Mangine said.
Mangine set the stage for an emotional routine when she selected the country tear-jerker "You Should Be Here" by Cole Swindell as her music.
The season began with Mangine getting high grades on her routine from judges at several meets. But at the Middle Border Conference meet, the judges weren't as enamored with her selection and she didn't receive all-conference status.
"At first I was heart-broken," Mangine said. Somerset coach Kacie Larkowski said Mangine wanted to give up the routine, but she asked Mangine to take some time to think over her decision. As Mangine was at home, mulling the decision, she heard Swindell's song on the radio. She took it as a sign. Instead of quitting, Mangine and the coaches revamped the routine.
"We added more tricks, more intracacy, we made it a lot more fluid," Mangine said.
Larkowski said they were careful in designing the routine in making it respectful of Freeberg's memory.
"We didn't want to mourn for him. We wanted to celebrate his life," Larkowski said.
Mangine agreed, saying "I knew I needed to do something to carry on his legacy. Dancing is my life. My primary goal was to keep Matthew's family proud."
After being denied at the conference meet, Mangine was guarded in her hopes at the regional meet. When the judges began to announce the state qualifiers, hers was the third name selected.
"My mouth just dropped," Mangine said upon hearing her name. "It was one of the best days of my life. Everyone was crying."
That led into the state competition at La Crosse. The solo performances were held in a smaller room, which helped everyone to hear Matthew's voice more clearly interspersed within the music. Mangine said she's usually highly nervous before performing, but she was basking in a sense of calm before this performance.
"Not one part of me was nervous. I was so at peace with who I was, I didn't have any fear," she said.
That sense carried into the performance.
"As I hit my position (to start the routine), I literally blacked out. I wasn't thinking about what my body was doing. All I could think about was Matthew," she said. "It felt like I was being lifted up. It felt like Matthew was there. It was one of the craziest feelings. My jumps were the highest of my life."
Upon the completion of her routine, Mangine was swarmed by her crying teammates, who were all caught up in the emotion of her performance. She said she saw many people crying in the audience too. That emotion carried to the presenter of the all-state awards. Upon handing Mangine her all-state certificate, she told Mangine, "Bless your soul."
Mangine said she had no doubt that she and Freeberg would have gotten married if he hadn't been in the accident. They had already dated for two years. He was her biggest fan, known for loudly cheering at her performances.
"We did everything together. It was like a Hallmark movie," she said. "He was one of those people you meet once in a lifetime. He spoiled me like crazy, in the best way possible."
The state meet was the final dance performance of Mangine's career. She will be attending UW-River Falls, which does have a dance team. Mangine said she plans to study psychology in college and wants to concentrate on her academics.