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.

4 Teams I LOVED at National Dance Alliance High School Nationals

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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!!

5 Teams to Watch At UDA Nationals 2015

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GUYS GUYS GUYS. We’re only a few days away from Universal Dance Association Collegiate Nationals in Orlando, Florida! Even though my team doesn’t attend these nationals (we do NDA in Daytona! See my post here for more about my team and nationals,) we get so freaking excited every year to tune in and watch some of the incredible teams who compete at UDA. UDA Nationals always start the weekend that my team moves in early to start our Daytona Season training, and it’s a great way for our team to bond and get really excited for our own road ahead.

There are always some amazing teams at UDA that literally blow our minds apart. UDA tends to be a little bit more about technique, where NDA does a little bit more with overall performance and spirit/tradition of the teams; both competitions have fierce ccompetitors. Here’s my list of the top 5 teams to be on the lookout for this season.

1. The University of Nevada Las Vegas Division IA Hip Hop, IA Pom

How did they not win last year? How, how, hooooow? Don’t get me wrong, Cincinnati was amazing, and nobody can take that away from them, but jeez, UNLV is like where God sends His Son to learn hip hop because they are just the gold standard. I can’t wait to see what they do this year because, dang, I’m rooting for this team. Here’s their game from 2013:

2. The University of Tennessee Division IA Jazz, IA Hip Hop

Tennessee has the distinct honor of performing my favorite dance team routine Of. All. Time. It was back in 2009 and they did half the routine to the Vitamin String Quartet version of “Iris” by the GooGoo Dolls, and just at the build, they had a group holding an almost 180 degree ponche and then they hit their peak as the music switched to that point of the song in the GooGoo Dolls version. It was amazing. So many dance teams do this now, but Tennessee was definitely the first. Last year they got second in IA jazz and sixth in IA hip hop. Hip hop is rad, but I’m really waiting to see what they do in jazz. Tennessee will always have a special place in my heart. Take a look at their Home Camp routine from this past summer:

3. The College of St. Benedict Open Jazz, Open Pom

The College of St. Benedict, although only coming in fifth place in 2014, is always a team I’m super amped to watch. Dancing one of the most breath-taking routines back in 2013 to an a capella version of “The Climb,” this team has had my support ever since. Don’t get me wrong– University of St. Thomas is so technical and Lindenwood is also unreal, but St. Benedict will always have a warm place in my heart after that routine. And their pom?! Jeez Louise. So great. No words. Obsessed. Here’s last year’s pom:

4. Cal. State Fullerton Division I Jazz Division I Pom

These girls are wild. They have so much energy. Last year (2014) was the first year they did pom, and they rocked it out getting second. The weakness that I saw was that their power level dropped more by the end of their (super long) routine, while winners North Dakota State didn’t have that much of a decline. I think that Cal State Fullerton started out stronger, but that meant that they had further to drop. This year they definitely have a good chance of stealing the title from defending champs North Dakota State in pom. For jazz… Oh jeeze. This team has always been incredible. Their 2013 routine to “I Surrender” by Celine Dion was crazy. Last year’s was stunning, too. There’s a reason why they have two national championships in jazz under their belts. Can someone please tell me how a team manages to do two incredible routines at nationals?! And do football and basketball games? Because to me that’s crazy. Take a gander at their national title-holding jazz routine from 2014:

5. The University of Minnesota Division IA Jazz, IA Pom

Because, honestly, if you aren’t obsessed with Minnesota, you have something wrong with you. THESE GIRLS ARE ROBOTS I SWEAR. They have unbelievable technique, probably an infinite money pool to work from (all of their jazz routines are done by Carl Mundt, I believe [forgive me if I’m wrong], and he does not come cheap,) and those girls are so freakin’ passionate. No matter what, each year I’m dying to know what they’re going to pull out of their sleeves.

Honorable Mentions:

I mean of course I’m going to watch everyone– am I the only one who feels like there aren’t enough dances to watch at UDA Nationals? Thank God the NDTC is held only two weeks later and I can get my fill with amazing high school dancers (preview for that post: The only team that is relevant is Westmoore. I guess sometimes Coral Reef.) Here are some other teams to really keep your eye out for:

Bridgewater State University– Open Jazz (Gotta give them a shoutout because their coach is an ACDT alum! Go Cassie!!)

Westfield State University– Open Hip Hop (one of their seniors is a North Andover School of Dance alum!)

Arizona State University– IA Jazz, IA Hip Hop

Louisiana State University Tiger Girls– IA Jazz, IA Hip Hop

Hofstra University– I Jazz, I Hip Hop

And then it hit me.

I talk a lot about my writing on here (I’m mean… I want to grow up someday and become a writer or do something with writing and media, so I guess it makes sense), but I’ve never really shared about dance. My first love ever. The way I first learned how to put my heart on display. My team.

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So here it is.

I grew up dancing. It was something my sister did, and I don’t even think I asked to sign up for it—my mom just threw me in there. I’m glad she did.

Dance was sort of just an activity for me until I was in sixth or seventh grade—that’s when the gross, intense love affair began. I poured myself over YouTube videos with amazing dancers, I danced in my yard and in the teeny tiny section of tile floor in my living room, I saw dances in my head as I listened to music. Somewhere along the way I stopped doing moves and started being moved.

And then I went to college, and started on this dance team that was nothing but DII Open eighth place at NDA nationals. We didn’t really have a ton of skills and w12e didn’t really have a ton of technique. But we had a lot of heart—we had a lot of girls who weren’t just doing moves, but being moved. At the end of that first year we were second place.

We became the kind of team that went to the gym together, that could run an eight-minute mile and had lines from muscle definition down the sides of our legs. We became the kind of team that never stopped pushing and that could do a lot of pirouettes and that had really high leaps. But maybe we’d lost our heart. I think somewhere on our journey that second year we started just doing moves again, and things started to unravel and I started to fall out of love.

At the end of that year our coach gave up. He left the school, he left (what was left of) us all alone with our hands shaking and our eyes closed and our stomachs in knots because we didn’t know how to lead a team alone. And so we stopped moving altogether.

This final year new people have joined us, and we’ve started moving again. People have come back to us. And we’ve learned that if we get knocked down the only thing that keeps us there is if we stop moving.

My team got the choreography for our nationals routine this weekend. For anyone who doesn’t compete at the national level in college (dance or cheer), I can tell you this: choreography is like trying to hold yourself up when just the tips of your fingers are gripping the ledge. What makes it is if you believe the tips of your fingers are enough.

A few counts of eight into the dance. Our formation changes. My favorite line of the song is coming, and I look to my right and to my left.

The three girls I started this journey with.

And then it hit me.

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And it hit them, too. I could feel my tears coming. Sophie started crying. Michaela’s eyes were red. Ericka was looking between us all.

I’m so thankful for them all, because this year I’m not doing moves—I’m being moved.