The University of Wisconsin Dance Team, also known as the Spirit Squad, competed at the Universal Dance Association College Nationals from Jan. 12 to Jan. 14. Taking place in Orlando, Florida, at the Walt Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports, the dancers got to represent UW at the national level.
The dance team performed two pieces — a poms routine similar to one they perform at football games and a jazz routine to a cover of the song “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles. They advanced to the semi-finals round for their jazz routine, boasting an amazing performance.
Spirit Squad Director Josette Jaucian recalled amping the team up before their appearance on the mat.
“I just told them how proud I was of how far they’ve come and how hard they’ve worked on everything as a team this semester,” Jaucian said. “Just to go out there and do their best and be proud of what they’re putting out there and showing everyone. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does, it just matters how you feel coming off the floor.”
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The dance team’s main responsibility throughout the year is to perform at other sporting events like football games, basketball games and other UW events, according to the group’s website.
But, UDA Nationals are an opportunity for the dancers to compete for themselves. They get to represent their school at a large national competition and be the center focus of the event, Jaucian said.
“UDA Nationals is really cool,” Spirit Squad Senior Captain Lucie Sullivan said. “It’s the one time that all college dance teams get to be together, and it’s really our sport that comes first at this event, when most of us spend a lot of the year supporting other sports …”
The mental game is completely different for the dancers at nationals than it is during the year. With longer practices right up until nationals, it not only can be physically draining but mentally tough as well, Sullivan said.
Dance team members have seven hour practices leading up to the national competition and though they face incredible mental and physical fatigue in trying to master their advanced choreography, those days are where the team sees some of their greatest improvement, Sullivan said.
The UW Athletic Department funds this trip for the dancers, like any other sport would receive. But other schools are not as fortunate to have a supportive athletic department that wants to see their dance teams on the national stage, Sullivan said.
“Our program is funded a lot more generously than other schools, so we’re lucky to not have to pay out of pocket to go to nationals. It really does feel like a thank you to all the work that we put in to other sporting events, which is always our priority and we love doing it but to feel the support behind us on our own national floor — to be seen on that national level is huge,” Sullivan said.
The team conditions like any other sport, with weightlifting, stamina building and strength and conditioning workouts, Jaucian said. Throughout the semester they work on skills and learn the routines on top of conditioning to be able to last through the performances.
As captain, Sullivan maintains the added responsibility of focusing her teammates and re-centering them in order to stay on track. What motivates them is their collective goal of who they dance for — Wisconsin.
Most girls on the dance team have been dancing their whole lives, Sullivan said. Just as a football player dreams to play in the national championship, these dancers have wanted to take this stage from an early age.
“It’s truly one of the most unforgettable experiences,” Sullivan said. “… the UDA College National stage is the highest level that you can really reach in competitive dance. The feeling of walking on that floor, representing the school that we all love and really support so much throughout the year, but getting to represent that on our own level gives me full body chills.”
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Elated with their performance at UDAs, the team already has the same choreographers locked in for next year, which is exciting for the team because the choreographers are already invested in them and want to see their hard work pay off for next year, Jaucian said.
The dancers are already motivated for next year, working on new skills they want to incorporate into their routines and pushing to do better, Jaucian said.