Practicing and perfecting routines for competition only marks the start of a truly incredible college dance team. The best college dance teams also have school spirit bursting from the seams, working year-round to nail their pirouettes and aerials in sync. All the hard work and gameday performances pay off with an invitation to compete in the Universal Dance Association College Dance Team National Championships in Orlando, Florida. College dance teams aim to win more than a title, though. Each member dedicates their time and energy to create a bond that positively represents their school and state. Wondering what it takes to nab a spot as one of the best dance teams in the nation? Aside from UDA rankings, it also takes intense training, rigorous requirements, academic success and community involvement to make a winning team.
It takes more than splits and kicks to be one of the top 10 college dance teams. Find out who made the cut in 2019.
10. Southeastern Louisiana University
Each year, the Lionettes show up to Nationals with a roar. The teams started competing nationally at UDA’s competition in 2001 and recently they took third place in their category for hip hop, defending a top spot for the past eight years. Members commit to a full year and should have previous experience in hip hop, jazz and pom. The group of about 20 ladies established a familial bond where each member encourages each other.
9. Grand Canyon University
The GCU Dance Team climbed its way to the top at this year’s nationals, winning their first national title as runner up in jazz. The team practices about 20 hours per week, perfecting their kip ups, aerial cartwheels and headsprings. “For the first time last year, we were able to compete in the Game Day Division at UDA Nationals, which includes a portion where you perform your fight song to be evaluated by judges,” second year member Paige Moss said. “We spent countless hours polishing and prepping the routine to give it the extra sparkle needed to do our school justice. Our hard work eventually led to winning a Game Day National Champion Title.” Aside from competing, they perform at men’s and women’s basketball games as well as baseball games. Madisyn Given, a third-year member, said she has learned to be an ambassador for a team. “It is important to represent yourself at all times in a way that would make the team proud.” Beyond the titles, this team remains humble and true to their sport.
8. University of Tennessee
Quadruple pirouettes, aerials, advanced turns and jumps, oh my! Mastering these moves has gotten the University of Tennessee Dance Team ranked at nationals in jazz for the past few years. The team stays ahead of the game by a semester, meaning they prep fall routines in the summer and they practice spring routines in the fall. “Each aspect in preparation not only overlaps between our athletic role and competition but also enhances the other simultaneously,” Coach Kelley Tafazzoli said. Upcoming senior Micaela Robinson said her favorite place to perform is at their home field, the Thompson-Boling Arena. “[Standing] in front of the thousands of fans and guests who chose to watch a sport we all love and are connected by is a tremendous privilege, and the opportunity to perform my art in that arena is something I am entirely grateful for,” Robinson said. Along with games and practices, dancers must maintain good academic standing and complete study hours based on their GPA. “Academics are a top priority for everyone on our team. All returning college dance team members were recognized for maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA this past fall at a football game,” upcoming senior dancer Laura Skipper said. This team brings their A-game on and off the field.
7. Rutgers University
RU ready for game day? These women guarantee a show stopping performance at each football and basketball game for the Scarlet Knights. You may have also seen them on ABC, ESPN and CBS while performing at UDA Nationals where they earned third place in pom. “The most rewarding part of being a dance team member is the opportunities we’ve received the past few years,” said Senior Captain Zoe Finkelstein. Finkelstein and another teammate competed in China and Poland last year, winning gold at both. The team also represents the U.S. National Pom Team where they compete at the International Cheer Union (ICU) World Championships, accomplishing more than fouette turns and pirouettes. And these ladies hit the books as much as they turn on the dance floor. The team had a cumulative GPA of 3.55 in the Fall 2018 semester..
6. St. Joseph’s University
This Philly team proved their worth at this past Nationals ranking fourth in hip-hop and increasing their spot from last year to third in pom. Head coaches Brittany Hillman and Rachel Reese lead the way as coaches, encouraging members to dance for the team, not just themselves. “Our team dynamic has been a powerful and consistent motivator throughout the years,” said Reese. The SJU Dance Team requires members to have extensive competitive dance experience in ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and lyrical. “Every day that we are not practicing, we are in the gym. We often use 2.5 lbs. wrist weights while practicing our dances with arm placements in order to tighten and strengthen our movements. We work on all different parts of the body to improve in each dance so each workout is different,” said sophomore Giovanna Boscarino. Catch the dancers performing at Hawks basketball games and around the city.
5. Arizona State University
No rain can cover up the Sun Devils’ shine. The team consistently ranks in the top jazz and hip-hop categories, and they took third place this year. Members commit up to 20 hours a week of practice and workouts, which start in the summer. They also make over 10 appearances each semester at hospitals, community festivals, store openings and charity events. Team Captain Kelly Molera said she felt like it was destiny to go to ASU since both her parents did as well. “Running out of Tillman tunnel on game day knowing that I am part of such a huge legacy is the craziest feeling. I can always spot my parents in the crowd and know that I am making them and so many other ASU alumni proud,” Molera said. Many alumni continue to dance on professional cheer teams, like Carly Blaney, who competed on So You Think You Can Dance, and Logan Reginato, a former Radio City Rockette. The ASU dance team is only the starting point of success for aspiring dancers.
4. Orange Coast College
Orange Coast College founded its dance team long before most of its members were even born in 1995. Since then, OCC’s dance team brought home over 20 national titles. They fly across the country to compete in UDA’s open division. In 2001, they were the only community college team to compete in D1A category. They continue to rank each year in pom and jazz at Nationals and took home second and seventh respectively this year. “Most of us aren’t from Costa Mesa, but we go to OCC primarily for the team. We have one girl who moved from Wisconsin, another girl who drives an hour and a half from Riverside and I personally drive 45 minutes because we all are extremely devoted to being on the team,” said second-year dancer Alexis Nakahiro. The bond and recognition this team earned has inspired the community around them. “One day I walked into work wearing an OCC dance team shirt and one of my little dancers came up to me in excitement exclaiming, ‘You’re on OCC dance team? I want to go there!’ and the joy in her eyes was everything that made me proud to be on this team,” said Nakahiro, who also teaches dance. This team make an impact on and off the stage, inspiring young dancers to strive for the best.
3. University of Wisconsin, Madison
Who needs Bucky Badger to hype up the crowd when you have the UW-Madison Dance Team to cheer you on? For the past 19 years, the team has ranked at nationals and recently took sixth in their pom category. During the school year, the team practices about eight hours a week with two one-hour lifting sessions plus two three-hour practices, including Sundays. “My favorite place to perform is Camp Randall stadium. I love our Wisconsin football traditions like Jump Around and 5th quarter,” third year captain Gabi Kim said. The excitement continues during “5th Quarter” which happens after each home football game. Even though the clock runs out of time, the band continues to play for the crowd and the college dance team keeps moving. To perfect these killer moves, the dancers must also train their bodies for the intense moves. “We have 6 a.m. lifting sessions twice a week on days we don’t practice with athletic trainers that definitely push us to be in our best possible shape. We also do a lot of different events around campus that are outside of just performing at games, and those can happen pretty much any day of the week,” third year member Claudia Koch said. That’s what it takes to place for almost two decades in competition.
2. University of Memphis
Members of the Memphis Pom Squad truly grow on and off the stage. They’ve won over 14 national titles, taking second in their hip-hop category this past UDA championship. “I continue to bring my all each year by trying to live up to the expectations of the generations beforehand by pushing myself daily to improve my skills and body movement. It is always in the back of my mind of what this legacy holds,” said third-year dancer Taylor Boswell. With all this excitement, the team doesn’t forget their studies. This past fall semester, 17 members received a 3.0 or above GPA. “Being on a college dance team, you acquire things you didn’t even know you would need later in life. Everything I have learned by being on this team will help me in life after dance team,” said fourth-year senior dancer LeAnna Sides. This team’s dedication to each other definitely makes them #squadgoals.
1. University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Las Vegas’ Rebel Girls and Company rely on everything but luck. Their time commitment to the sport landed them first place in hip-hop and fourth in pom in the 2019 UDA Nationals. “By carrying that trust and compassion throughout the season, we [were] able to enter nationals knowing we put our best efforts forward and no matter what we will come home a team,” second-year dancer Gage Johnson said. Practices start in the summer but become more intense around competition time. Outside of practices, dancers complete study hours, attend four workouts per week and take dance technique classes at local studios. “Having these standards makes practices and performances more enjoyable. All team members hold each other accountable and push each other to be their best,” fourth-year dancer Ashton Gammarano said. They’ve also received international recognition from their first place performance at the 2014 China Open International Competition. Whether they represent their university or country, this team achieves greatness on and off the stage.