College Dance Team Central

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Towson Tops Again

More than three cheers at this competition

Staff Writer
Daytona Beach News-Journal

DAYTONA BEACH -- Most of the crowd was rooting against them.

Hoping one of the women falls. Twists an ankle. Drops her smile.

But Towson University's Dance Team has no plans of folding under the pressure. After all, the Maryland team has won the National Dance Alliance championship seven years in a row.

"A lot of people are waiting for us to slip up," says an anxious Kate Bumgarner, 21, before the team's performance at the Bandshell on Friday. "But we come up with something new every year."

With choreography invented by the women themselves -- and the support of a coach who treats them like the daughter he lost years ago -- the squad manages to win the Chick-fil-A Cheer & Dance Collegiate Championship in Daytona Beach every year.

But it's never a given.

They're up against 12 college dance teams from across the country in their division, and the top five are usually so good they score within fractions of a point of each other.

So it's anybody's game.

Going for their eighth title Friday, the 16 women in identical red- and black-velvet outfits stretched and silently practiced their routine while waiting to climb onto the Bandshell stage, where a crowd of thousands and national cameras awaited them.

They held hands in a circle to give final pep talks.

With a minute to go, Coach Tom Cascella took a moment to remind the women what they're competing for -- not the medals and trophies but validation of their hard work and dedication.

"Attack every moment," says the coach who took over the dance team 13 years ago to get over the grief of losing his 3-year-old daughter to an undetermined illness. "We want this more than anyone."

Cascella's team has come a long way. Half the team quit when he took over because he didn't have dance experience. The other half quit when he changed their name from the "Tigerettes" to the Towson University Dance Team.

At his first audition, one woman showed up. He made her captain and started recruiting. Five years later, after attending workshops, watching competitions and quizzing other coaches, the drama teacher's team won its first national championship.

Repeating wouldn't be easy. The two teams before Towson scored so well they moved into first and second place. Towson needed a near-perfect score to beat 9.38.

The women took the stage. A Broadway medley started. The women kicked, twirled, snapped their arms in the air. Two minutes later it was over and the crowd went wild. They left the stage to wait for the results.

They looked up at the screen and 9.54 popped up. They won -- again.

"We gave every ounce of our energy and are so, so proud," Taylor Walker, a senior captain, told a television reporter while her teammates squealed and cried behind her. "Winning every year, we have to work 10 times harder to keep moving up and up. But we come back with hard work and dedication."

That's what Cascella likes to hear.

"You guys are a force to be reckoned with," the reporter said.

He likes to hear that too.

To Learn More

To see the Towson University dancers win their eighth National Dance Alliance competition, tune in to CBS on May 2.

Other divisions of collegiate dancers and cheerleaders competing in the annual Chick-fil-A Collegiate Cheer & Dance Championship at the Ocean Center and Bandshell will air April 22 on CBS.

The competition draws 4,000 dancers and cheerleaders on 200 teams from across the country.


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