College Dance Team Central

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Feature On NC State Dance Team

Dance more than a routine for team
Members of the squad say they do more than shake pompoms

By Emily Seck
Media Credit: Josh Lawson
Technician Online

Being a member of the dance team takes more than knowing how to shake a pair of pompoms, according to the team's captains. It requires working out on a regular basis, marathon practices and the ability to complete a triple pirouette.

But those are only basic prerequisites, they said. For the captains of one of the most visible club sports on campus, it takes leadership, dedication and thick skin.

It also helps to have understanding boyfriends.

"At first, our boyfriends were like 'Yeah! You're on the dance team,'" Ashley Beasley, a senior in biological sciences, said. "Now, they're like, 'We hate the dance team. It takes up so much of your time.' Dance owns us. Dance is our life, especially this season."

Beasley, along with seniors Lauren Strasser and Jenna Patkunas, leads the squad of 24 women. All three have been dancing their whole lives and have been members of the team for four years.

Although the team's season spans the entire school year -- it begins practicing in the fall and ends with its national competition in April -- it is not recognized by the University as an official sport. In other words, the team must finance itself.

"We have to raise all of our money," Strasser said. "Each girl is responsible for $400 a semester of sponsorship for themselves from the community. That's the majority of our funds."

This year, the team was able to earn a partial bid to the national competition on April 10 and April 11 at Daytona Beach, Fla. because of its second-place finish at the National Dance Association's summer camp.

In addition to the burden of fundraising, the captains must take charge of the rest of the squad. Because the team is a club sport, the coaches volunteer their time to help the dancers.

"We pretty much run our team," Beasley said. "Other team that are sports, their coaches run them. Our coaches are great, but they have their own jobs and their own lives."

All three girls have been members of the team for their entire college careers, but thatÕs not the typical scenario. Many dancers quit after just a few months.

At the beginning of the year, 35 women comprised the team. Now, 24 remain. According to Strasser, a senior in biological sciences, many don't realize the enormity of the time commitment.

"We practice Monday through Thursday from 6:45 to 9:30 every night," she said. "We run at least two miles before every practice. It's not just warm-up dance, no. We work out hardcore before every practice. Then we'll have games either during the week or on the weekends."

And that's on top of a full school load and the community service commitments required by all club sports.

On April 6, the team will have a dress rehearsal at Reynolds Coliseum to showcase its routine for national competition. Beasley said the performance gives prospective members a chance to see the skill level required to make the team.

"A lot of people underestimate what you have to do to audition for the team," she said. "They'll come in and see what we do on the basketball court or the football field and assume we don't do anything challenging. But as soon as you walk into our audition, it's skills; it's leaps; it's all the stuff we do at nationals. A lot of people will turn around and walk right out the door because they don't understand that it's more."

Because the team is so visible at football and basketball games, members are often recognized on and off campus. It might be an old man wanting a hug. Or it could be someone who found them on Facebook.

"They'll be like 'You're on the dance team, aren't you?' And we have no idea who they are," Patkunas, a double major in accounting and international studies, said.

But reaction to the dancers isn't always positive, according to Beasley. While the team has plenty of supporters, it's also been criticized for everything from its clothing to the weight of its members.

"People will say 'I thought the dance team girls were supposed to be prettier or skinnier,'" Beasley said. "It's not like we're not working out everyday or running everyday. A dancer body is different than a cheerleader body, and a lot of people will compare us to them because we're on the court at the same time. We're average-sized girls. If I'm not stick thin, then I'm fat to some people."

But through it all, the girls remain steadfast in their passion for dance.

"We love what we do," Strasser said. "It's worth it. We do work hard. We don't just shake our poms. We're more than that."

So, with nationals steadily approaching, the free time will diminish. Practices between basketball games will stretch on for hours.

And, for now, their boyfriends will have to spend a few nights alone.

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