College Dance Team Central

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Panther Athletes Remain Unrecognized

By Tim McCue
The Northern Iowan

Last Monday at the McLeod Center, the lights were on, the music was loud and the athletes were on the floor.

But there was no one watching.

Practicing in relative obscurity is nothing new for the University of Northern Iowa dance team.

Despite their recent fifth place finish at the Universal Collegiate Dance Association Championships, the highest finish of any Missouri Valley Conference team, the team is still seen as “the cheerleaders with shiny poms” or “the girls who sit next to TC,” UNI’s mascot.

Most spectators have come to expect to see the dancers take the floor during timeouts and halftimes at various Panther athletic events. The precision it takes to get 12 elite athletes performing in unison doesn’t happen by accident.

The team has two three-hour practices each week focused specifically on perfecting various routines. It also spends additional time outside of practicing doing strength and aerobic conditioning in order to deal with a hectic schedule.

During the basketball season, the dance team performs at every home game for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The dancers are required to be at every game 90 minutes before tip-off because they have to warm up before the teams are ready to take the floor.

During football season, the dancers show up even earlier in order to socialize with tailgating fans before games.

“It would be impossible to do what we do if our hearts weren’t in it, and we didn’t care about what we were doing,” said senior Morgan Havlicek, a four-year member of the team.

Nate Clayberg, UNI athletic sales coordinator who oversees the dance team, said he is impressed with the squad’s maturity, especially in light of the fact that the team has gone two years without a coach.

“The girls all know what they want and they’re willing to do what they need to in order to make their goals a reality,” Clayberg said.

Clayberg said he is impressed with how self-motivated the team is when it comes to fundraising and being active in the community.

Many of UNI’s dancers have been dancing for at least 15 years. They have decided to continue dancing at the college level simply because they enjoy it despite the hardships involved. Members of the team receive no scholarship money and they have to fundraise to cover many of their expenses

Senior Kim Gladson has been on the team since she was a freshman. She said the team continually fights the perception that dancers aren’t real athletes. She pointed to the fact that team members routinely spent six hours per day working out and perfecting their routine before nationals in January.

When creating routines the team takes a group approach. There is a choreography committee that puts together material. Team members also develop choreography skills by helping high school teams choreograph their routines, something the UNI dancers typically do as a fundraiser.

Like any athletic veteran leadership and individual talents help create the team dynamic. This year there are five seniors on the team, all of whom are getting ready to take the floor for the final time tomorrow during the UNI women’s basketball game against Missouri State.

Gladson said the addition of a talented core of freshman has helped this year’s team implement more challenging routines, just like a veteran basketball team running a more complex offense.

Camaraderie makes a difference for team members.

“ All of my best friends are on the team,” Havlicek said. “Whom else would I hang out with if we weren’t together?”

Success is just important to these panthers as any team that wears the purple and gold.

“ We take pride in what we do every time we take the floor,” said Sierra Vander Helm a sophomore member of the squad. “We pay attention to detail because we know what it takes to be successful and everybody on the team is committed and wants to be successful.”

Team members agreed that to be successful as a college dancer takes drive and commitment.

“ To be a successful dancer and put in you have to be at least a little of a perfectionist,”

Gladson said after the team rehearsed Saturday’s routine for almost the twentieth time.

“There are times I try falling asleep at night and end up rehearsing routines in my head,”she added. “Sometimes it keeps me up later but at least I know what I’m doing when I go to practice the next day.


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