College Dance Team Central

Friday, March 09, 2007

FIU Dancers Overcome Injuries, Hectic Scheduling For Squad

By Sergio Bonilla
The Beacon
3/5/07

An FIU Golden Dazzler passes out on the floor during practice, yet she smiles as she sees one of her teammates help her up while the other dancers continue their routine.

This year's Golden Dazzlers team - FIU's only official dance team - is continuing the tradition of aiding and guiding one another through practices, competitions and performances, a tradition that began in 1989.

Their identity as a dance team is defined by a variety of styles including pop, jazz and hip-hop. The girls begin training camp every June and periodically perform and practice each style throughout the year at University football, volleyball and basketball games.

"It's an 11-month commitment to be a Dazzler," Popritkin said.

Popritkin was a Golden Dazzler dancer from 1992 to 1995 and she coached the team sporadically after graduating from FIU; her responsibilities as a Dolphins' cheerleader captain did not allow her to coach the team full-time from 1997 to 2000. However, she departed from the Dolphins in 2000 and has coached the team full-time since 2001.

Besides performing during basketball, volleyball and football season, the Dazzlers perform at FIU-related events and externally requested events such as the Latin Grammys. They are also obliged to be full-time students enrolled in 12 credits and attend practices six to nine hours a week.

"I believe only a former Dazzler can be coach," Popritkin said. "Only a Dazzler knows how stressful it is."

In April, the 22 Golden Dazzlers will be competing in the National Dance Alliance championship, which consists of a two-minute routine incorporating hip-hop, jazz and pom styles.

Since its formation, the Golden Dazzlers have always competed under Division I. The 2007 competition will be the first time the Dazzlers compete under Division 1-A, which is considerably more competitive.

The higher level of competition will change the team's approach when scouting potential Dazzlers, a process which involves visits to high school performances.

"We're going to be recruiting much more aggressively," Popritkin said. "That's what happens when you move up a level."

The transition to compete against more talented teams has added extra pressure on this year's team, but the members maintain each other's morale through their friendships.

"We are like a family," said sophomore Monica Flores, a Dazzler. "We're always together and we learn so much about each other. We always go out, even on Thursday night when we have practice Friday morning."

Flores is recovering from a torn ACL in her left knee. During practice, she sports a black leg brace, but she was cleared earlier this year to dance and now participates in the majority of the practices with the team.

Her injury has not allowed her to dance with the team since May 2006, but she has remained determined throughout the rehabilitation process.

"I've learned not to give up after an injury," Flores said. "So many people would just lose hope and not try to come back. My determination has proved to my teammates that you can come back from serious injury."

Flores' teammates helped her during her weakest physical and emotional moments. On the day she had surgery, the team visited her house to raise her spirits.

When Flores was unable to stand in a shower, her teammates aided her.

"They took me to a sink and washed my hair," Flores said.'

Her teammates' attentiveness left Flores with a gracious outlook.

"I'm always telling them now not to be lazy and appreciate dance while you can," Flores said. "It can be taken from you so easily."

Her team captain, junior Shea McMayo, who has been with the team for three years, also shares Flores' leadership attitude. Although she is a performer, she considers herself shy. Her teammates' presence, however, eases the pressures of performing in front of large crowds.

"Dancing with the team helps my confidence so much," McMayo said. "My teammates around me give me support."

As team captain, McMayo has to lead both veteran members as well as newer members such as sophomore Vanessa Marrero. Marrero understands the dedication and time management required to be part of the Dazzlers.

"Being a Dazzler makes you face reality," Marrero said. "It sets you for life because if you can get through this, then you can get through anything."

This year, Popritkin grouped 22 personalities to form a team that works together, struggles together, laughs together and dances together during 11 months of the year.

"Being a Dazzler isn't as easy as it looks," Popritkin said.

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