Bearcat dance team captures championship, 2005
Disney World became a "magical" place in January for 13 Bearcat dancers whose dreams of capturing a national championship came true for the second year in a row.
Competing against more than 20 of the country’s best dance teams, the Bearcats overcame early setbacks, young talent and numerous injuries to place first in the Division 1A hip-hop category and fourth in the more traditional dance or jazz category at the National Cheerleading and Dance Championship at Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando. "I think they did an outstanding job and had awesome energy," said head coach Lisa Spears. "They put on a great show."
"I’m extremely proud," said team captain Jennifer Endres, a fifth-year member. "In the beginning, I didn’t know what to feel. I was just glad for the university that we could bring this home to them."
The team’s student leadership and endurance enabled members to achieve their greatest success in the team’s 15-year history, assistant coach Korin Smith said. "They really pulled together come national time and did it so well. We tried to prepare them for what was to come. It’s such a shock when you get there."
On the floor, a lot of things can go wrong; one misstep can destroy a team’s chances. One UC dancer lost her hat during the course of a routine, and although judges mentioned it in their scoring, they did not give a penalty.
The most pressing factor during competition is team synchronicity, Smith added, followed by technique, appearance and choreography. To help create their prize hip-hop routine, the team turned to Barry Youngblood, a choreographer who has worked with Jennifer Lopez, Pink, Christina Aguilera and Ja Rule.
After Youngblood attended three practices with the team, the Bearcats took over. "Once we get the choreography, we do a lot to make it our own," Endres said.
The dancers overcame an early setback this season when they sent a video of their jazz routine to qualifying judges. Placing 15th among the competition hopefuls was good enough to qualify, but the lowest the team had ever scored in qualifying, said Emily Greenstone, one of the few first-year members to compete in Florida.
"We basically had two and a half months to start from scratch," she said, crediting much of the quick turnaround to Spears, who brought in Broadway choreographer Jeannine Sabo to assist in creating a new jazz routine.
"[Spears] is probably the best coach I have worked under," Greenstone said. "She always makes the decisions that are best for the team."
The head coach said she has worked hard to create scholastic opportunities for dancers and to lobby for additional coaches. "I’ve tried to better the program in many ways," she said, adding that she hopes the team’s success on a national level will be recognized at the university.
Anything but easy
The road to Florida began last May, when dozens showed up to see if they could make the cut. Spears, currently in her seventh year as head coach, initially selected 21 out of 70 hopefuls to join the team -- designating 13 for the varsity squad.
Once Spears had her dancers, she put the team to work: four four-hour practices a week, plus their academic duties. When football season started, the dancers performed at all home games, too.
But it was the first day after football season, when the varsity squad began practicing nearly every day of the week and performing during men’s basketball games, that separated the women from the girls.
As testament to the grueling weekly routine these dancers endure, more than half the team currently suffers from at least one injury. "I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t sore or didn’t look for elevators so I didn’t have to use the stairs," said Greenstone, who has danced competitively since age 3.
Participating in a season that begins in May and ends around March, the dance team has one of the longest and most work-intensive seasons in UC athletics. What the crowds never see are the faces wrenching from pain or the dancers limping home after practice. In fact, several dancers quit this year because they could not endure the workload.
"There are a lot of people that think we just go out there, throw pompoms around and where skimpy outfits," said Endres, who graduates soon. "Unless you experience it, there is no way you could know the amount of work we put in."
More than a trophy
Besides bringing success on the national level, Endres’ dance experiences have taught her about life: the value of hard work, how to take criticism constructively, to "never give up and always have that drive to improve." Most of all, dancing competitively has taught her the importance of being confident, on and off the dance floor.
"Confidence is important," she said. "If you don’t have confidence, the audience can see through your performance and your smile."
The Bearcat cheerleaders also competed in Orlando, led by the all-girl squad, which captured seventh place overall. In the Division IA finals, the co-ed cheerleading team placed 15th in a field of 22 squads.
The National Championship will air more than 50 times in the upcoming year on ESPN/ESPN2.
Bearcat dance team site
Images from competition