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.

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

UDA_Title

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