College Dance Team Central

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Eight Straight Is Great For Towson

Dance Team Dominates Competition
Towson leaves Daytona Beach, Florida with eighth straight national championship trophy



by Brian Stelter
April 10, 2006
The Towerlight Online

After eight years and eight national championship titles, the Towson University Dance Team is used to winning. But that doesn’t mean the competitions are easy.

“There are a lot of teams that just want to surpass Towson, so it gets harder every year,” junior exercise science major Christy Tarrant said. “Every year you have to prove that you deserve the national title again.”

Coach Tom Cascella puts it this way: “You’ve got to convince the people that want you to lose that you’re too good to lose.”

That’s exactly what the team did over the weekend.

On Sunday the team arrived back in Towson with two national championship trophies from the Chick-fil-A Cheer & Dance Collegiate Championship in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Judges decided the team’s two-minute 15-second performance was the best of the 22 Division I teams in attendance.

Teams competed in several divisions, and Towson’s score of 9.54 was the highest of any team in any division, making them the grand champion and giving them a grand trophy, as well.

“We’ll have to find a way to fit that trophy on the plane,” Cascella, also interim chair in the dance department, joked on Saturday.

The team arrived in Florida on Monday and endured intense two-a-day practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. Preliminaries took place on Thursday and finals were held on Friday.

The team members woke up at 5 a.m. Friday and met in a room to have their hair and makeup done. Following makeup, they went over the routine many times before stepping out on stage of the Band Shell amphitheater along the beach. Hundreds of audience members were lying in the sand awaiting the routines.

“When you walk out on the stage, there’s a sea of people,” Tarrant said. “There’s people standing on rooftops and standing on balconies at the hotels.”

The floor of the blue stage was sticky and hot. And all eyes were on the 16 members of Towson’s team.

“When you’re on stage, it goes by so fast,” Tarrant said. “You blink your eye, and you’re halfway done with the routine. Your muscles just take over because you’re so trained to do what you do.” Co-captain Mikki Bresnahan, a senior marketing major, said the team has to set the bar higher for themselves every year.

“Every year it’s different,” Bresnahan said. “Every year you go out with a new routine. You don’t know what to expect from other teams. So every year you’re nervous.”

The win is even more impressive since the team threw out its routine in the second week of February.

Cascella said they had developed a routine based on a musical called Dreamgirls, but “realized it wasn’t going anywhere.”

“Most teams down here have been learning their routines since like October,” Laura Blank noted. Blank graduated from Towson last year and traveled to Florida to help the team prepare for finals. She said Towson’s team was tweaking the choreography right up until Wednesday night.

“We’re a team that works very, very well under pressure,” Blank said. “We don’t want our team to have their best performance until finals.”

Many dance teams rely on outsiders to choreograph their routines, but Towson’s team handles it internally.

“The captains and coaches get together and we think of different moves,” Bresnahan said. “Then we bring the moves to the team and the team puts their ideas in.”

And then they practice, and practice, and practice. The team practices for three hours on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, along with many-hour long practices on the weekends. And it all pays off at finals.

When the musical cue starts, the dance team has 2 minutes and 15 seconds to impress the judges. Every second counts.

The judges require 30 seconds of cheerleader/pom technique; 30 seconds of hip hop technique; and 30 seconds of jazz technique. The other 45 seconds are up to the team. The requirements force teams to show off a variety of skills, Cascella said.

TU usually begins with a 10-second introduction of technical skills, followed by 38 seconds of cheerleader/pom motions, 38 seconds of hip-hop, and 45 seconds of jazz.

“It’s pretty much like sprinting for 2 minutes and 15 seconds,” Blank said.

The judges score teams in categories like technique, showmanship and spacing – “basically all the things that you would have in your routine,” freshman mass communication major Dana Richmond said.

Perfecting the routine is called “cleaning.”

“We spend a lot of time cleaning each section,” Blank said. “It takes about a month to clean each section.”

Cleaning means having every dancer’s hand in the exact same motion at the exact same count of the beat. Rehearsals are videotaped so the team can watch the performance in slow motion. “Sometimes we look at the video and think we need an arm there, we need an arm here,” Bresnahan said.

Cascella breaks out a laser pointer during the videotape critique sessions.

“We freeze frame it and say, ‘What’s this, see how this arm is like this? See how the timing of that kick is off?’ We use that to help clean the routine,” he said.

The judges notice, and prospective dancers do, too. Richmond came to Towson specifically because of the dance team., and she’s not alone. With seniors like Bresnahan graduating, a new crop of freshmen dancers are about to join the team.

Cascella said a Florida high school student who saw the team’s performance on Friday had “already e-mailed me asking if she could come to Towson.”

In a few years, she could help bring home a national championship trophy, too.

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