College Dance Team Central

Friday, March 28, 2008

CU Dance Team Lifts School Spirit

By Matt Velazquez
Columbia Spectator

As the waning moments of the first half tick off the clock at games in Levien Gym, the basketball teams prepare to head into the locker rooms for halftime. However, there is another team—a Columbia team—that is preparing for its turn to take the court and wow the fans. And this group, the Columbia University Dance Team, definitely gets the job done.

Although they make it look effortless, there is more than meets the eye, as the CU Dance Team prepares diligently for halftime performances.

“We practice three times a week for three hours each, we condition in the gym twice a week for an hour each, and during basketball season we dance at every single home game, men’s and women’s,” senior co-captain Alexandra Stylianos said. “We also dance at other campus events, like Midnight Mania and Glasshouse Rocks.”

In order to keep things fresh, the team learns multiple dances throughout the season, working on one at a time and eventually performing about five or six. All of the dances are either choreographed by the captains, head coach Bernadine Goldberg, members of the team, or are dances that the team learned at a mandatory summer camp that qualifies the team for national competition.

Two years ago, the dance team took home ninth place at National Dance Association Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship, a very high national honor, and the team will be aiming high when they head down to Daytona Beach, Fla. in April for the competition this year. The NDA Championship is a two-day event that begins with an opening round from which only select teams move on to compete in the finals on the second day.

“We have to do one routine there that is two minutes long, and it has to have three different dance styles, so it’s very structured,” junior co-captain Hayley Dirscherl said. “The captains basically choreograph that—we worked on that together over Christmas break—and [the team] started working on it as soon as we got back from Christmas break, so it’s a semester-long endeavor just to learn one dance.”

Preparing for national competition involves more than just learning the dance, but also recruiting a team that can work well and dance well together. All members of the team come in with experience, but not always from time on a dance team. Getting a group to work at such a high level is not always easy, but Stylianos and Dirscherl describe all the members of the team as being best friends.

Most students witness the advanced ability of the dance team at basketball games, but in the past, this was not the norm.
“Between my freshman and sophomore year, I think we had a pretty drastic change in the skill level of the people that we had,” Stylianos said. “My freshman year, we didn’t dance at every game. We just kind of did what we wanted to do, and then sophomore year, they [the Athletic Department] created a new spirit group adviser, who got us a lot more involved in basketball games. At the same time, the girls on the team were a lot more serious about it, so we made new rules, and we became a little less relaxed, and we wanted to push each other a little more and become better dancers.”

The Athletic Department has a hand in the dance team’s decisions, and the relationship is mutually beneficial.

“It’s more of a good thing,” Stylianos said. “And we feel like much more of a presence on campus. Now people know who we are,” Dirscherl said.

Part of working with the Athletic Department has been working with the basketball teams and cheerleaders. Dancing at home games is not limited to men’s basketball games, but has, in the past few years, branched out to women’s games as well. Instead of separating from the cheerleaders, the two groups cooperate during games and do cheers together.

The mission of the dance team is not solely focused on preparing for competitions or dancing and cheering at games—it is much broader. Stylianos referred to the role of the team on campus and around the community as “helping people have school spirit ... trying to get people to be interested in the athletics teams.”

“We get really frustrated at the lack of school spirit sometimes, so I think we make a strong effort to encourage people to come out to basketball games,” Dirscherl said.

Before heading to Florida to compete in the NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship, the team will be providing a showcase of its routine as a final tune-up before the competition. It will be held on April 8 at 9:30 p.m. in the University Gym and anyone interested is invited to attend.

Many positive changes have occurred in recent years to make the CU Dance Team as prominent as it has become, so next time you’re at a Columbia basketball game, you can appreciate the halftime show just a little bit more, knowing what went into making that performance a reality.