College Dance Team Central

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Orange Coast College: Give the squad a W-I-N

College’s dance squad took first and second place in competition in Florida. They say their secret weapon is ‘practice, practice, practice.’

By Tom Ragan
Daily Pilot

As though choreographed, the girls gather around the pair of shiny trophies at the Fitness Complex at Orange Coast College, falling in lock step to something they’ve grown accustomed to over the years: winning national titles in Orlando, Fla.

It’s not the first time the OCC Dance Squad has returned with a first and second place trophy — and it certainly won’t be the last. The 16-member squad has won 14 national titles in the last 15 years, and some of the girls have gone on to bigger things — like dancing for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers or the San Diego Chargers.

The key to their success isn’t just about pretty looks, dazzling smiles and swirling hair. As corny as it sounds, they say it’s all about “practice, practice, practice” — mixed in, of course, with Coach Dan Sapp’s eye for originality and his 25 years of coaching experience.

“The girls are very disciplined, and they know what to expect when they come into the program,” Sapp said. “We have a goal and we reach for it. I try to come up with something new and innovative and then we drill and work on it — mentally, physically and emotionally.”

By the time the national competition rolls around, they’re more than prepared, Sapp said. But even then the girls don’t sit back and rest. Over Christmas break, for example, they did nothing but practice, they said, some of them waking up as early as 5 a.m. to begin their moves.

“For three hours a day, for two weeks straight, we got together every day and practiced,” said Stephanie Yonkovich, 20, one of the squad’s captains. “The coach reminds us that we have a reputation to uphold, and we try to uphold it.”

And that’s exactly what the team did on the East Coast. They took first place in the “Pom-pon” category and second place in jazz before a 4,000-plus crowd at the Orlando venue earlier this month. In all, 30 dance teams competed and 15 made it to the finals.

It was quite the moment when judges announced OCC as the first- and second-place winners among the smaller universities and junior colleges across the country.

“What’s special is that we never won first place in ‘the pom’ before,” said Taylor Winston, 19. “It was something we set out to do and we did it. That’s what we’re all about: setting higher standards for ourselves.”

For those who don’t know the difference between cheerleading and dance squad, there’s a distinction. The OCC cheer squad, a formidable unit in its own right, performs all sorts of acrobats and pyramids while the dance team, well, dances. While the cheerleaders are “more athletic,” the dance squad is more “more artistic,” Sapp said.

Both, however, work beautifully together as a team, said Mike Reynolds, cheer coach and advisor for OCC’s Cheer and Dance Program.

“These days, they’re starting as early as 6 years old,” Reynolds said. “You have to if you want to be really good.”

If anybody would like to see the two teams perform together, Sunday is your chance.

Both will be performing inside the Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach, starting about 11 a.m.

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