College Dance Team Central

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cincinnati Dance Team Feature

Championship style
By Keith Jenkins
The News Record

Leaving behind a trail of pirouettes, split-leaps and fouette combinations, the University of Cincinnati dance team has garnered success year after year. Winners of three consecutive National Championships in the hip-hop category from 2004 to 2006, and one point shy of a fourth championship in 2007, head coach Lisa Spears and her 28-member dance troop have built a routine-spawned dynasty.

As the team strives to sit atop both the hip-hop and jazz categories, and prepares for another trip back to Orlando, Fla. for nationals, there is a lingering worry in the back of each of their minds as one of their own, Kristen Drew, fights a battle with cancer.

"We're going to go back and win it again this year," Spears said. "Last year we placed second in jazz, which is the highest we've ever placed in that category."

Spears, who was a member of the dance team at local Goshen High School, brings the same values she learned from her years with UC's dance team from 1991 to 1994. Now in her 10th year as head coach, her experiences have left quite an impression on her dancers.

"Coach [Spears] keeps a constant reminder of every little thing counts," said Jamie Cobb, third-year UC dance team member. "It's the in-betweens that count. The in-betweens that make the big picture. She's always constantly reminding us someone's watching and to present yourself well and just act like a lady."

The squad is hard at work staying in shape and practicing routines four, sometimes five or six times a week, according to team captain and Mason, Ohio native, Emily Greenstone. Spending so much time together causes the girls to become more than just teammates.

"They are like family," said Brittany Jones, second-year dance team member. "They basically are my sisters."

Jones, a Mesquite, Texas native and one of only two non-Ohioans on the team, ventured on the 20-hour trek up to the Midwest in pursuit of a higher education and to become a member of the award-winning UC dance team.

As an only child, having no friends to join her in the new environment or knowing anyone who was also attending the university, Jones realized a move to the Queen City would be much harder than she ever envisioned.

The squad has to constantly keep Jones on track and on top of things since she's used to her mom being around, according to Cobb.

Over the past few months, the team has missed a key attribute to its success.

Drew, a second-year dance team member and Cincinnati native, was diagnosed with leukemia in late July.

With a two-and-a-half year treatment program ahead of her, Drew is forced to take 30 pills a day and undergo chemotherapy once a week, according to Spears.

"[Kristen] is a great teammate," Spears said. "She unfortunately had to withdraw from school this year, but she's still in touch with all the girls. She finally made it to practice the other night."

With her visit, Drew was able to give the UC dance team a dose of her characteristic good nature and easy-going personality.

"She's definitely the clown, the class clown," Spears said. "Her presence is being missed. It was really hard on us at first, but I think everyone's accepted it and they've done their best to just keep her here. Every night we say a prayer and we always, always remember her."

Greenstone echoed that same sentiment. "[Kristen] always has been the one that's made all of us laugh and just keeps our energy up," Greenstone said.

Spears, Greenstone and the rest of the UC dance team have established the Kristen Drew Foundation, which is an account where donations can be made to help the Drew family with medical expenses, according to Spears. The team also worked a fund-raiser this summer for Drew.

On Saturday, Oct. 13, as the UC football team hosts the Louisville Cardinals for a Homecoming, Big East showdown, there will be a booth and boxes at each entrance where people can make donations to Drew and her family.

In addition, all proceeds earned from the admission to Bearcats Fan Jam, the official kick-off to the UC basketball season, will go toward Drew's cause, according to Spears

With help, Kristen can switch-leap past this obstacle and get back to what she loves most: dancing. That's all coach Spears prays for as Drew continues to fight.

"She's actually doing really good," Spears said. "She's got a great attitude. She's the most confident person I've ever met."