5 Jazz Teams To Watch At NDA Collegiate Nationals 2016

2016-3-20 NDA OPEN TEAMS GRAPHIC

Following up some crazy traffic on my 5 Teams Performance Teams to Watch at NDA Collegiate Nationals 2016 post with one about the jazz division (formerly open division).

I feel like it’s kind of redundant to chat about how much I love NDA collegiate nationals in this post, too, especially because I really want you to click on that little link above where I already talk about it once.

Instead, I’ll just say this – it’s nearly impossible to decide the jazz teams I’m most excited to see. There is seriously so much talent at NDA, and a treat in every single division. I think it’s really important for you all to know how damn hard it is to narrow this all down, but here’s my best shot:

Stephen F. Austin State University

These stunnas were in Challenge Cup last year and I remember being just so confused. They were flawless; what were they doing in Challenge Cup? Then I quickly realized they got a safety deduction (I’m guessing because they held flowers in their hands during a team side aerial? Someone can fill me in on that), which made perfect sense because, like I said, they did a damn team side aerial.

Anyways, they ended up in third against two very, very, very talented teams. Even though I think SFADT definitely deserved their third place finish, no routine made me cry like theirs, and moving an audience is the real win here. Huge tip of the hat to them.

West Virginia University

I feel like WVU is kind of the soul sister to Assumption because they, too, have had some struggles at NDA. Of course they totally ran the show in 2010 and 2011 when they brought home titles, and even killed it in 2012 and 2013. But they did go through some coaching changeovers that were tough (just like Assumption), and didn’t have the most spectacular finish in 2014 (and Assumption didn’t even get to go that year). I’m probably just drawing the parallels because I really wish I was a WVU dancer.

But anyways, in 2015? Shit. That routine was beautiful. I hope they pull something even better off this year because to me, WVU will always be that 2011 team that killed me when they put that damn scarf in their mouths.

Grand Valley State University

Competing against the best is fun, which is one of the main reasons why I love Grand Valley. With Assumption, I’ve had the honor of going toe-to-toe with this team (and let’s be real, it was only a real competition back in 2013 when Assumption was still am actual NDA force) and seeing what they can deliver has always been humbling.

I’m going to be 100 percent honest, I think I wanted Grand Valley to get its win last year on principle alone, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t completely deserve it. Their routine was stunning. They are hard workers. They are humble. I hope they keep all of that up this year to deliver another amazing and honorable performance next week.

James Madison University & Utah Valley University

I remember sitting in the Ocean Center during finals last year and pretty much everyone on Assumption was like, “yup, it really doesn’t matter whether JMU or Utah Valley wins. They were both flawless.” Because I was totally torn on which I thought should win more last year, I’m still torn about who I’m more excited to see this year (remember up top where I said narrowing this down to five teams is hard?)

Brigham Young University

Because duuuuuuuuuuh. It’s probably so dance team basic of me to fawn over BYU so much, but I feel like if you’re not obsessed with them you’re just being bitter or denying a killer team of the respect they deserve.

If I’m going to boil down the thing I’m most excited for, though, it’s that damn team side aerial. A few years ago this team blew our minds apart by throwing a casual one in there. Then a bunch of other teams started doing it like, oh, like it’s hard or something? So BYU responded by doing the most beautiful aerial sequence in cannon, showing off skill and artistry all at the same time. What are they going to do this year to up the ante? I know I’m chomping at the bit to see.

A little PS note: Thanks so much for the support everyone’s shown this ‘lil blog the past few days. Every view, like, comment, share, and tweet has made my jaw hit the ground. Nothing makes you feel luckier than seeing things unfold doing the very thing you love. I hope you all have as much fun with this as I do, because seriously, these dance team national lists are my favorite blog posts all year.

5 Team Performances To Watch At NDA Collegiate Nationals 2016

2016-3-20 NDA TEAM TEAMS PREDICTIONS

This year, the NDA Collegiate National Championships in Daytona are super bittersweet, because for the first time in a long time I’m not going to be taking the floor in the Ocean Center dancing my heart out for a national championship.

But! At least I’ve already got my Varsity TV subscription set up for the live stream and I have the time to make a top teams to watch list. You win some, you lose some?

I’m going to be counting down teams I’m excited to see between Team Dance and Open Dance because it would simply be impossible to narrow it down to five between the two divisions. Who knows? Maybe I’ll throw a hip hop in there, too.

Here are my top Team Dance teams:

  1. University of Louisville/Penn State Lionettes

This anticipation is pretty similar to how I was feeling during 2016 UDA Collegiate Nationals when Minnesota was taking on Tennessee after last year’s upset. I’ve been a pretty diehard Louisville fan for a while (note my unbelievable reverence for Coach Todd Sharp), but for a while Penn State has been taking the title (until they didn’t last year). Penn State’s social media activity has shown that they are really out for blood this year and I don’t really blame them considering both Louisville and a super random team beat them last year. So this should be interesting.

  1. Iowa State University

Remember that super random team I mentioned who beat Penn State? This is them. I really hope that they bring it again this year. I was at the Band Shell the morning of IA finals and there was nothing like seeing their faces when they came in second, seeing them really surprise themselves and feel proud of what they managed to do through humble hard work. It was really pretty beautiful.

  1. Ramapo College

This is where my bias comes in. Assumption and Ramapo have a decent history of strongly supporting each other, and I have to give these ladies a shoutout. That said, they totally deserve this. Ramapo was back to back champs in 2012 and 2013, and came in second last year in DIII Team Performance. Practicing with them is like being on another planet… They have the most unreal energy, are constantly talking to each other throughout the routine, and push each other more than you could ever know. Having the chance to practice with them was so inspiring and it showed me and my team how much harder we could we working. Naturally, I’m rooting for them to bring out the big W this year.

  1. Towson University

I’d be pretty remiss if I didn’t mention Towson. In the entire dance team community, nobody defines dynasty the way Towson does. I think they’re like, ten? (eleven? twelve?) time national champions. They have one year where they aren’t Team Performance champs and that’s the year they decided to shake things up in Open Performance and win that instead. While I sometimes think another team could topple Towson, hearing from team alumni about how difficult it is to be on that team, I can’t do anything but respect them and get amped to see what they bring out every year.

  1. Boston University

Sucks to B U! Just kidding. More like want to B U. These ladies are fierce. Remember what I said about Ramapo? Same kind of goes for them. Last year I feel like they really concentrated hard on their hip hop (and it paid off), but they still somehow whipped out a fourth place finish for Team Performance, too. It is unreal how excited I am to see in which areas they’ve improved for this year.

5 Teams to Watch at UDA National Dance Team Championship 2016

NDTC 2016 Graphic Edit

If you all thought I loved UDA College Nationals, you ain’t seen nothing yet… I’m just dying for UDA National Dance Team Championships to get rolling.

I feel like the NDTC is something that really got me into dance team and dance in general. I’ll never forget seeing one of the great teams for the very first time, and seeing a whole new world of dance. I feel like every year I fall in love with dancing a little bit more in a little different way watching the NDTC.

I’m really looking forward to the UDA high school nationals this year because they have seriously switched up the game adding in the medium category. Honestly I think it’s a pretty good call. If you look at some of the winning large teams compared to the small teams, they really aren’t much bigger. It’s not super fair to the teams that really are big… Like 20-something dancers big.

Anywho, amongst all this excitement about the new categories, these are the teams I’m just dying to see this year:

Westmoore Pom Squad

I’m putting them first because it’s honestly no surprise. I ranted and raved about them last year because every time they dance I die. I think they’re dancing in medium this year, which will be really interesting considering it’ll be a brand new category and we really don’t know for sure who they’ll be against. Imagine if the medium category is like, Westmoore, Coral Reef, and Eden Prairie… Like shit, that’d be a killer division. I’m dying to know who is joining them in medium!

Eisenhower

Eisenhower brought something to UDA that isn’t usually brought… a fierce jazz. You see a ton of fierce jazz at NDA — both high school and college — but you see way more lyrical at UDA. But last year Eisenhower fucking brought it. Nevermind the fact that they have approximately nine thousand squillion dancers on that floor and they’re super clean… I really hope that they stick with their fierce jazz this year, because it was such a breath of fresh air.

Floyd Central

I don’t know much about Floyd Central’s program except that Todd Sharp is their coach, and I respect the actual fuck out of Coach Todd Sharp. If he runs his Floyd Central team anything like his Louisville teams, then I know that these girls are hardworking, strive for nothing but the best, and are driven toward success. For years Floyd Central has been in the mix for both hip hop and pom, and I really want this year to be their year.

Eden Prairie

What freaking technicians… I feel like Eden Prairie has been such an underrated team for the past few years, but they honestly have such a solid program and a great group of dancers. I feel like one of the reasons why they might not have done as well in jazz last year is because their routine was kind of confusing. Where they trying to do an Adam and Eve thing? Harkening back to Minnesota’s Garden of Eden routine a few years ago? I really don’t know, but pushing past my confusions I actually really loved what they did. I hope they bring it with something fierce this year, because they’re one of the teams I really think could take the whole competition.

Los Alamitos

So it’s probably cheating that I’m repeating two teams two years in a row, but Los Alomitos really deserves it. They had the hands down most entertaining routine from the entire NDTC last year, and they genuinely left me on the edge of my seat to see what they will do this year. Hats off to you ladies, Los Alos.

 

5 Teams To Watch At UDA College National Dance Championships 2016

 

UDA college nationals 2016

UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships are this weekend, and we all know what that means – my blog is about to go hog freakin’ wild.

Dance team nationals are honestly some of my favorite things ever. They’re these super boiled down displays of teamwork, an intensified showcase of athleticism and artistry all into one two and a half minute routine. I’ve always said that something that makes dance team so unique as a sport is that the stakes are so high – it’s not like we get multiple games to rack up a good record; we can’t just “play better next week.” We have to own it for those two minutes we’re out there, and if we don’t, all of the months of hard work are gone.

It’s so thrilling, which is why I keep up with it so closely, even when it’s a competition I don’t go to, and even when I’m already a year out of college.

In anticipation of the big weekend, here are my top picks to keep your eye out for at UDA 2015 college nationals:

  1. University of Minnesota and University of Tennessee Division IA Jazz

Yes, I’m going to put these two together because while I’m super pumped to see what these teams do individually every year, what I’m really looking forward to this year is seeing the absolute showdown that we all know is coming. In 2015 Tennessee blew up the universe by beating University of Minnesota in 1A jazz using the same song as Minnesota. Gauntlet thrown.

I’m going to have to preface my prediction with this: University of Tennessee has always been my favorite collegiate dance team at UDA, and their 2009 Iris routine is my all-time favorite. That said, I don’t think they’re going to win out this year. Minnesota has to be coming back with their talons blazing, ready to do anything to regain their dynasty. I know they’ve had good old Carl Mundt in practice from time to time, and their camp routine was flawless. Tennessee’s camp routine was more their usual thang, which means I was kind of underwhelmed considering their mind-boggling routine from last year.

Needless to say, I’m going to be on the edge of my fucking seat waiting to see how this one plays out.

  1. University of Cincinnati Division IA Hip-Hop

SLAAAAAY KWEEN, SLAY. Last year the University of Cincinnati took it all with their hip-hop routine, and rightfully so. It was honest to God the most innovative hip-hop routine I have ever seen (and I’ve seen Brigham Young University at NDA nationals live in the flesh four times, so that’s really saying something). I’m honestly just curious to see if Cinci can follow that up. I know they’re going to be amazing, but they made enormous shoes for themselves to fill, and I’m wondering if that’ll even be possible.

  1. University of Central Oklahoma Open Jazz, Open Hip-Hop

UCO!!! These bad bitches were always in my team’s division at NDA, and I was super shocked last year to see that they changed competitions. Truth be told, they usually got totally screwed every year at NDA, so I was really excited to see that they took the plunge in UDA instead.

Last year they got fifth in Open Jazz and 10th in hip-hop which is unbelievable for newbies at UDA if you ask me. I always loved competing against these girls, and really respected what they brought to the table. They’re fierce competitors, and I’m really pulling for them to improve both finishes from last year.

  1. St. Joseph’s University Division I Pom

What would this article be without a little bit of love for the pom girls? It’s so awkward because I feel like as a jazz dancer, I never really hear about pom, but oh my God is it hard to do. I have such respect for these ladies, and I have to tip my cap to them in this article.

St. Joseph’s was last year’s winner, and that’s especially notable because in 2014 they came in fifth. That’s an crazy jump and I have so much respect for that. I’m super curious to see if it was a fluke or if they’re going to create some sort of DI pom dynasty that we all follow as closely as Minnesota’s.

  1. Arizona State University Division IA Jazz

…because they got robbed.

Not to say the people who beat them weren’t good, but these girls got sixth place AND DANCED TO A GODDAMN A CAPELLA VERSION OF MY HEART WILL GO ON. Not only is that song generally epic, but dance teaming to a capella music is damn near impossible and I will forever be impressed by this. I could literally feel the passion of Celine dripping out of their pores.

Plus, they had a straight up fall on a girl’s butt during that dance and nobody talked about it (although maybe that’s because none of us could shut up about Tennessee and Minnesota). If that’s not impressive then I really don’t know what is.

I’m seriously so excited to see if these girls can go back to their circa 2012 prowess and not get absolutely screwed this year.

Dance Made Me Hate My Body (& Made Me Love it, Too)

I wonder if other girls remember the day they got fat, because yes, in a time where body image is so heavily influenced by the media, it is something that happens overnight; one minute you’re a happy little girl, and the next you’re one who only sits a certain way because she’s afraid her stomach will roll over her pants.

Sixth grade, the year I got fat, in an international award-winning tap routine.
Sixth grade, the year I got fat, in an international award-winning tap routine.

I remember the day that I got fat. I was in sixth grade, and all of the little girls in my dance class were in one of two jazz small groups. When my group, “Havana Nights,” was in our lesson, the other would sit in the waiting room, snacking and chatting and having fun; except one day, the they decided it’d be more fun to talk smack about their classmates who were in rehearsal, and I was one of their targets.

The rest is pretty easy to piece together—people gossip, and it got back to me exactly who slammed me for being too fat for their dance class (side note: that bitch eventually got hers; one year her high school’s senior prank was putting goose shit in underclassmen lockers, and guess who’s locker got hit?). From there on out, getting ready for dance meant a set of sit ups before leaving the house, strategically placing the elastic band of my tights so nobody saw where it pressed into my belly and not drinking anything for a few hours beforehand so I wouldn’t bloat. In hindsight my dance prep was super exhausting.

The body hate kept on going into high school. I never suffered with anorexia or bulimia like some dancers do, but that didn’t keep me from envying the girls who seemed to never hit puberty, or who didn’t need to wear a sports bra so the strappy backs of their leotards weren’t obstructed, or who didn’t need to pay as much for costumes because they managed to squeeze into child larges. I hate that so many of my memories dancing were plagued with worrying how my stomach looked doing the dance moves.

17 years old, award-winning soloist, but still not feeling okay dancing inside of myself.
17 years old, award-winning soloist, but still not feeling okay dancing inside of myself.

There’s something romantic in knowing all of my body positivity came from my first and truest love—dance. It’s especially pleasing because for so many girls (me included at certain points of my life), dance has been the very thing that makes us hate our bodies. As a dancer and a woman, I am not unique in struggling with body image.

It has always been hard to be a dancer (or woman, for that matter) who loves their body—I will never forget being a child watching Center Stage and seeing Maureen, a beautiful ballerina, make herself throw-up because she didn’t like what she saw. I don’t really remember what I did with that image. I remember being really affected by it, like hey I feel you there, sister, but it’s upsetting that I wasn’t more affected—a dancer hating their body just seemed so normal, so ordinary, so run of the mill. And now, in a world of Dance Moms drama and InstaFamous dancers with flawless silhouettes, we don’t even need eating disorder storylines to feel like shit about ourselves—the standard for dancer perfection is everywhere.

I hope every day that everyone gets to have the kind of revelation I had in college. I spent most of the college search process looking for a school that had a smaller student population but still managed to have a nationally competitive dance team. I am so unbelievably lucky that I found Assumption College when I did, when its team was at its peak and when I was going to learn some of the most important lessons of my dance career.

After a second place finish at NDA Nationals, loving life and loving my curves.
After a second place finish at NDA Nationals, loving life and loving my curves.

Like I said, my team was pretty competitive on the national scene. We might not be dance team ‘famous’ the way some huge schools are, but we’ve brought home some pretty high national rankings. Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of dance teaming, all of my body shaming bullshit fell by the wayside. Maybe it was because practice was so hard that I literally didn’t have time to think about what I looked like in the mirror, or maybe it was being surrounded by such beautiful, talented, badass girls whose bodies looked a lot like mine. Maybe it was that I was put in a way more mature dance environment, and I started to see that I couldn’t possibly hate my body, the very thing that made it possible for me to turn for days and days or spin with my leg pulled up by my face (or, you know, bring home a second place trophy from nationals). I’m not really sure; I think it’s a combination of all three of those things. I realized that thick, muscular thighs helped my jumps have power, and a solid tummy held my core in place. My body was pretty freaking beautiful because it let me do some pretty freaking beautiful things on the dance floor.

I’ve always hated that I started feeling fat because of something that someone else said; it made me feel embarrassed. But now I realize that’s how it goes for everyone—we don’t start hating our bodies because we have some intrinsic damage that forces us to not like ourselves. We start hating our bodies because society tells us to, whether those messages come from a magazine, or a TV show or the models in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. But now it doesn’t really matter that I let someone else’s opinion of me dictate my own. What’s important is that my love for myself came from dance, something that lives deep inside of me. I guess that’s all any of us can hope for.

For dance. For being a role model. For all sorts of things. (The Final Curtain Call, Revisited)

It’s kind of a big deal in dance today– it’s the first tryouts for my college dance team that I won’t be participating in, and it’s the last recital my dance studios seniors are in. Any other year, it’d be a tough choice for me to decide which to go to, but this year it was a little too easy, because I can’t really put into words how proud of North Andover School of Dance’s class of 2015 I am, even if I’m going to try.

Image via NASD Facebook
Image via NASD Facebook

I feel like every dancer comes to the moment when they’re like 14 or 15 where they realize that all the “big girls” that they used to idolize aren’t at the studio anymore, and that somehow they’ve become the “big girls.” For me, it was during a giant production rehearsal, and everyone in the room was just messing around. I threw a bunch of pirouettes, and the ridiculously talented 10-year-old in the room looked at me, and then threw just as many. My teacher caught it, smiled, tilted her head, and cooed, “aw, big sis and little sis nailing their turns.”

Big sis and little sis.

The next year the same girl pulled my name for Secret Santa, and on the evening of our Holiday Show gift exchange, I was pulling out big sis little sis necklaces. I knew, in the best way possible, that I was being watched.

Over the years I continued to hear about it: you’re being watched, Sara, work harder, someone is going to match the work you put in, Sara, don’t post that, you don’t want people to think that’s okay.

Maybe I’m just really flattering myself, and maybe all these kids weren’t really looking up to me the way I was imagining (hoping), but it doesn’t really matter. Because for me, it’s not really about what I could’ve given to them as a supposed “big girl”; it’s about what they gave to me.

I kept on working hard throughout high school because these little munchkins were always a pirouette, a leap, a tap trick behind me. I genuinely believe that I wouldn’t be the dancer that I am today if I didn’t have the need to make sure the little kids never got better than me (although that definitely happened…) I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am, either; when they eventually did get better than me, I learned how to support someone, how to stand behind them during their journey. I learned how to dance with integrity and confidence and love because I wanted them all to have that, too.

nasd recital
Image via NASD Facebook

So, NASD Class of 2015, I want you all to remember this today: Stay absolutely still in your head and in your heart. From someone who has done that final bow on the Collins Center stage, as someone who walked off from her final performance a short month and a half ago, I’m telling you to be still. Feel the stage lights on your skin, look at every fallen sequin on the marley floor, hold onto those moments in the wings for as long as the music lets you. Look everyone around you in the eye, and thank them for making you into the dancer you are; thank dance for making you the person you are.

And don’t think today that you’re never going to have this (the dancing, the friends, the studio, and the love that’s inside it) again. You will. I’m telling you from experience that you will. After months away, after millions of moments of happiness at college, you’re going to walk into that studio, it all is never going to have gone away.

5 Coed Teams to Watch at NCA Nationals 2015

nca 5 teams to watch

Guys! I’ts that time of year! National Cheer and National Dance Alliance Collegiate Nationals! Words cannot describe how excited I am because I’m finally writing about the national competition that my team attends. How freaking cool is that? These are the teams I’m so excited to see, and I get the honor of seeing them in person.

Since I attend NDA nationals and have, yaknow, my whole college career, it hasn’t just been about the dance for me. It’s been about cheer, too. So, I’ve decided to count down the five teams I’m most excited to see at NCA nationals. These are all co-ed teams (although some might have all girl counterparts), mostly because co-ed is really exciting because the guys are so strong and can throw the flyers pretty much anywhere they want… like last year I saw for the first time a basket toss where a dude was the flyer. What?! I freaked out.

All of these teams were selected because they’re either legendary, or generally have really awesome sportsmanship– some of them even have both. Although I had my little stunt (haha, pun totally intended) with cheerleading my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I really don’t know much of the technique of it all, but I sure do know which teams get me pumped up and which teams make me say wow. And that’s what cheerleading is about, right?

1. The University of Louisville Cheer IA, Small Coed IA

What would this list be without the Cards? They lost three stunts in small coed last year and still won. What? That’s how amazing these kids are. And their routine in Cheer IA was nearly perfect– the only problem was that OSU’s routine was more perfect. Something that will always have me cheering for Louisville, though, is how much I freaking respect their coach, Todd Sharp. He’s a legend in the spirit world and such a class act. It’s hard not to get behind a team that he coaches.

2. Oklahoma State University Cheer IA, Small Coed IA

Just like I couldn’t post this list without Louisville, I couldn’t post it without OSU. They’re perennial favorites with the Cards, and it’s always so exciting to see the two teams go head to head yet again. OSU has some of the cleanest tumbling I’ve ever seen, and it blows my mind apart, and I can’t wait for them to blow my mind further. Fun fact about OSU: whenever I think of them, I think about the time I saw one of the boys on their team carrying around a stick that they all slid their national champion rings onto, and it was one of the most glorious things I’ve ever seen.

3. Stephen F. Austin State Cheer I, Small Coed I

What’s really weird about SFA is that they are so much better in smoed than in large, which for whatever reason, doesn’t tend to be the case for other teams. Does SFA just spend more time on this team? Or what? Either way, I’m obsessed and am dying to see what they do this year in smoed. These folks kill it with energy every freaking year.

4. Navarro College Junior College

Do Navarro students just study cheerleading all day? Because holy crap. They are UNREAL. It’s so weird because even though they’re in the junior college division, this team could totally hold its own in DI or DIA. Like, they’re a total dynasty and have owned junior college for years. Unlucky ducks for the other folks in their division, huh?

5. Texas Tech University Cheer IA

Okay, okay, I admit it– one of my favorite parts of TTU’s cheer team is that the boys on it are the prettiest male cheerleaders at the entire event, but that’s not the whole reason why I love them! TTU is such a strong contender in cheer IA, and I love every year being able to see them get closer and closer on OSU and Louisville. I hope I get to see them creep up on those two teams even further this year. Nothing like a super close competition to get your blood rushing, am I right?

Who are you all excited to see cheer at NCA Nationals? Are there any kickass all girl teams that you think should be highlighted? Let me know!

4 Teams I LOVED at National Dance Alliance High School Nationals

nda high school post

Okay. I admit it. I’ve never watched NDA high school nationals before; but since I’ve had so much success writing about UDA Collegiate Nationals and the National Dance Team Championship, and since I loved doing so so much, I figured I’d tune into varsity.com and see what I can see!

Being real here, NDA High School nationals didn’t blow my mind. What did blow my mind is seeing the pictures and videos from the event. More than any competition I’ve followed or been to, this one seemed to bubble with spirit and sportsmanship and pure love for the sport. My team used to have a pretty close connection with the coach of Texas Tech Pom Squad, and their coach, Erin Harold, was in attendance at NDA this past weekend, and her report was so heartwarming. She posted a Facebook status talking about how inspiring it was to see teams there to work hard and cheer not only for themselves, but for everyone. Reading that kind of stuff gives me all sorts of feels, because that right there is what dance is about.

Now onto the teams I loved. I’m not super familiar with pom and kick, so even though I watched and was really impressed (especially with kick), I didn’t really feel super confident commenting on them. But the jazz and hip hop? Boy did I have stuff to talk about. Let’s go:

1. Sachem High School East Medium Varsity Jazz; Medium Varsity Hip Hop; Large Varsity Kick

This team won in jazz, and that’s really notable, and they got third in kick, which is awesome but I didn’t watch it, and honestly I can’t remember much from their jazz because their hip hop was. freaking. killer. I loved every second of it. They were buck, their choreography was spot on, they were clean, their costumes were great, their showmanship was all there. This routine could’ve easily held its own at a UDA competition, no questions asked. Check out this pep rally routine from 2014 that knocked my socks off:

2. Lake Central Centralettes Large Varsity Jazz; Large Varsity Hip Hop

What a lovely jazz routine! The they got seventh in hip hop, which is always commendable, but let’s talk about their jazz. They also got awards in jazz for technical excellence and superior showmanship, both of which were well-deserved. Their choreography was great and I was super into the costumes, too. Here’s a video of their jazz routine I found on YouTube. It says it was published a year ago, but maybe it’s older? I’m not sure. I’ll I’m sure about is you should totally check it out.

3. Tesoro High School Small Varsity Jazz

These girls have INCREDIBLE technique and amazing super-human turning powers… Turning powers that are a little familiar to me, actually. Can someone who is more familiar with California tell me how close Tesoro High School, located in Las Flore Cali, is to Fullerton College and Mount San Antonio College? Because all three schools dance a check of a lot alike. Which is totally fine; there is definitely nothing wrong with that and I’m not insinuating that I think there is something fishy going on. It’s just that I compete against Fullerton and San Antonio and it’d be interesting to keep an eye on Tesoro to see what batch of dancers the two schools will get come the next year. BUT… back to their dancing. They had great technique, great energy, and their choreography was textbook NDA and flowed incredibly along that stage. However, I wasn’t crazy about the costumes. I don’t personally like velvet pants, mostly because I don’t think they look good and all they do is scream “we are hiding any potentially bent knees!” But all in all, wow. I loved this routine. Here’s a pep rally routine from a few years ago because, ugh, even their game routines are unreal.

4. Marquette Mystique Small Varsity Jazz; Small Varsity Pom

I don’t get it. They only got seventh in jazz and eleventh in pom. It makes literally no sense to me, because I though their jazz routine was incredible, and I didn’t watch the pom, but I think that the technique they showed in jazz proved they could do well in pom, as well. Maybe NDA was just going a little crazy? I’m not sure. It seems as though every year in Collegiate Nationals there’s a crowd upset, and maybe it’s the same with high school, too. My disappointment aside, I think they were one of the cleaner routines I saw, I thought they had pretty nice technique, and I thought they had a whole lot of heart, which is so important. Keep doing what you’re doing, Marquette, because it’s going to happen for you! Check out this video of their pom routine from last year.

Who did you guys think were awesome? Who did I leave out of this list? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Teams to Watch at UDA National Dance Team Championships

5 teaMsSo, as the views of my “5 Teams to Watch at UDA Collegiate Nationals” post piled up to the hundreds—nay, thousands—it appears to me that people seem to like my crazy little dance team post almost as much as I loved making the post. What a freaking honor! To do something that you love and see other people love it, too. Check out more of my sappy as heck gratitude for that in this post.

Let me preface the NDTC post with this—I LIVE FOR UDA HIGH SCHOOL NATIONALS. Don’t get me wrong, I love college nationals, and have started to love it even more since going to college and being on a college dance team myself. But high school nationals are my freaking spirit animal. I live and breathe that crap. I’m a huge Pats fan, and the Pats are playing in the Super Bowl this weekend, but all I can think about is the fact that during the game the dance teams will be hearing results.

I’ll have to be a little honest, I don’t know much about the all-star portions (is Planet Dance still a major contender at this competition?). Maybe later this week I’ll face a bout of boredom and check out the all-star videos from last year, but right now, I don’t feel equipped enough to give my input for predictions for this year’s competition. (Why don’t you head down to the comments section and let me know your top all-star picks for this year?!)

I’ll have to be a little honest about this, too: Westmoore Pom Squad, no matter what happens, no matter what they do, will always be my favorite dance team. Always. But just because I’m so in love with Westmoore doesn’t mean I can’t admire the other teams, too, right? Let’s get down to business.

1. Coral Reef School Large Varsity Jazz, Large Varsity Hip-Hop; Large JV Jazz, Large JV Hip Hop

If there’s a team that comes close to my love for Westmoore, it’s Coral Reef. I mean, Ricky Ubeda went there and graced the stage with his godly dance moves (Ricky Ubeda from the Fox hit series, So You Think You Can Rick—ahem, I mean, Dance). Beside their claim to fame being SYTYC-Ricky, Coral Reef has run an unbelievable program for, like… ever. Their varsity team is HUGE and always so clean, and they always provide amazing and artistic choreography. And their hip-hop? People can say what they want about dance team hip –hop not being true, thug hip-hop, but Coral Reef is totally the exception to that rule. They are straight up buck. Here’s the jazz routine the Cudettes performed the year they double-ringed:

2. Rosary High School Small Varsity Jazz

So Rosary competes right against Westmoore most years (sometimes Westmoore goes to Large Varsity instead of Small Varsity), and sometimes they beat Westmoore, which is like, okay I guess. What it really means is that the years that Westmoore (or anyone else) does win, it means they beat the very best. Because that’s what Rosary is. The very best. They are strong, technical, and have killer tricks, and although I’m usually rooting for a different team in their division to win, don’t think for a second that I don’t have absolute admiration and respect for this team. Embedding was disabled for the video of Rosary I found? Really? These high school teams really make it hard for you to showcase their work, as you’ll see. Click here to see a video of their routine from the ESPN show last year.

3. Assumption High School Large Varsity Jazz

I could talk for hours about how good Assumption hip-hop used to be, but I don’t think I have to. They were like the UNLV of high school nationals. I’m not sure what happened to Assumption’s hip-hop or the story about why they no longer compete in that division, but I’m pretty bummed about it.

Still, their jazz is really something to write home about. A few years back they performed this beautiful jazz routine that was dedicated so someone’s (someone from their town? A team member’s family?) little son and it was one of the most touching routines I’ve seen at a dance team national championship. Last year, they did a high-energy jazz, and it’s crazy because it’s like these girls never even get tired. I didn’t completely care for their costumes,but their energy and intensity was enough to make up for that. I’m also going to have to apologize for the video I’m sharing, which is a few years old. It’s because they don’t have any up-to-date videos up on YouTube and I’m not having much luck embedding videos from the Varsity site! You can check out their routine from last year here.

4. Los Alamitos Small Varsity Jazz, Small Varsity Pom

I’m a dang huge fan of this team. 10th in small jazz last year?! Everyone ahead of them, of course, were great, but I’m just like… what happened?! They had a fall, a part of the dance where the formations were  not on, and a leg come down in a leg-grab turn, which might have contributed. Small jazz is a killer division. Still… I’m rooting for these girls. We’ve all seen what they’ve been able to do in the past, and I just hope they can pull something out again this year (I definitely think that they can!) They got 6th in pom, which is definitely respectable. It really shows that they are capable of pulling off something great this year. Here’s a video from Los Al at a different competition a few years ago– still amazing, as per usual.

5. Westmoore Small Varsity Jazz, Small Varsity Hip-Hop

SERIOUSLY, THEY’RE LIKE GODS AMONG US. This team does an amazing job of mixing artistry with technique and cleans it up into a flawless nationals routine. Although they definitely have a distinct style that they use year to year, they look like nobody else. You can always tell which team is Westmoore by their quirky choreography and always amazing and creative costuming. Maybe it’s because I’m super loaded onto the Westmoore bandwagon, but I honestly do not understand when I hear from people that they enjoy seeing them lose. Video of the masters themselves below:

Who are you all excited to see this year?! Let me know in the comments below!!

On Dancing, Love, and Other Drugs

dance blog realOn January 12, 2015, exactly eight days ago today, I published a post entitled, “5 Teams to Watch at UDA Nationals 2015.” It was literally exactly how it sounded—a list of five teams I was super amped to watch at UDA Collegiate Nationals. Now, eight days later, I’ve gotten 679 views on that post. 679. I hadn’t even gotten that many views on this entire blog until the start of 2015. Like what? Dang.

The really cool thing about it all is that I would’ve come up with my favorite teams heading into the competition whether I’d decided to post to my blog about it or not. I freaking love to dance and have obsessed over collegiate nationals for years and years and years, so doing my thang and being able to post it to the blog was rad because I didn’t need to come up with a blog post for the week.

Especially since making other blogger ‘friends’, I’ve been looking at other people’s blogs and being like, “oh, okay,I need to do this, this, and this.” By “this,” I think I’ve meant outfit reviews and DIY crap and recipes. And that’s really not who I am. You want me to post an outfit of the day? Why don’t you take a gander at my collection of plain white shirts and black leggings. You want me to post about DIY crap? I’d rather just buy a set of coasters rather than modpodge photos to some. You want me to post recipes? Well guess what—I may make a lot of baked goods from scratch, but I don’t know crap about actually making up a recipe.

Let me set the record straight: There is nothing wrong with the fact that I accept a free mascara to review, or hair conditioner, or whatever. Posts like that are fun. Posts about my day seeing the Nutcracker are fun. But this blog was supposed to be about my poetry, and although I can’t crank out a sonnet the way I used to, I feel like I’ve lost the purity of my intentions.

Which is why the “5 Teams to Watch” post came at the perfect time.

I have two great loves in this world. One of them is dancing. I love having it hurt when I inhale the day following at 7-hour practice. I love working through a dance and realizing that my mind truly will give up before my body does. I love the camaraderie and the way that this art has somehow become my space, my breathing room.

The other is writing. I love threading a sentence through the eye of a needle. I love taking a totally universal feeling or emotion and articulating it in a way that nobody would’ve thought of. I love recognizing this predictability amongst the human race, recognizing that we’re all sort of just writing the same story and that’s really beautiful.

And when I wrote “5 Teams to Watch,” I was, in the most natural and serendipitous way, just putting those two worlds together. It’s like, there are parts of dancing– the dance, the feeling, the photos of teams learning of their victories– that are in themselves poems that I am not conceited enough to think that I know how to write. But I still want to try.

I started the second semester of my senior year today, which pretty much just indicates one thing—I have to figure out what the fuck I want to do with the rest of my life. And I’m starting to kind of realize that whatever I do, I have to do it with love. Do it with love, and what will follow is the success.

I really hate when people wrap their words around old clichés, making them feel really dank and heavy. This is not Oz—not everything you write is some pulling away of the curtain which hides the universe’s secrets. Sometimes it’s just about a boy in your car or the cruelty of hearts beating or of the way two people holding hands can look like Mary Magdalene—a bunch of drugs that we get addicted to and breathe in like some intoxicating potion.

So I’m sorry that this was all incredibly heavy. I’m sorry that I’ve spent this last page just throwing my heart a cliché and hoping it will stick. But I hope you all know—I did it with love.