While they are usually only seen on the sidelines at Rhodes Stadium or at halftime on the court at Alumni Gym, it was time for the Elon dance team to take the spotlight at the National Dance Association (NDA) national competition this past weekend in Daytona Beach, Florida.
In the team’s second year competing at nationals, the team qualified for the finals for hip hop, placing them in the top seven in the country automatically in their division, Division I. With their entire season coming down to just a two-minute routine, the Phoenix placed sixth in the nation.
“There’s a lot riding on the performance… We didn’t do as well as we wanted to last year, which was a bummer, so coming back into it this year,” junior Kristin Sicari said. “We know that last year it didn’t work out; those two minutes we had, we just didn’t perform as well as we had wanted to, so coming back this year, we had the idea that we needed to make it to [finals].”
While it may not be a sport in the spotlight much, and at times not even recognized by some as a sport, the training that goes into the team getting into shape may say otherwise.
“We have three- to four-hour practices about three to four times a week, and then especially when it got close to nationals, we had to dance every day,” freshman Brielle Ricciardi said. “And then we condition; we run around campus; we do stadium stairs; we work out our arms and our abs and legs, so it’s a full-body workout.”
While nationals is not the only thing on the minds of the dancers all year, Ricciardi summed up the weekend simply.
“This is our equivalent to the Super Bowl.”
The team began their time at the NDA competition this weekend on Thursday with their jazz routine. Although they didn’t qualify for nationals in that discipline, they were still pleased with their performance.
“Even though we didn’t qualify for finals, we did well regardless,” Ricciardi said.
From there, on Friday the team set out on their quest for hip-hop greatness. Even though they were confident in their abilities, the background of the team may have convinced some otherwise.
“One of our team’s strengths is hip hop,” freshman Hana Sedivy said. “It’s different than what a lot of us have done in the past, but we came to Elon’s dance team, and that’s what we practice, and that’s what we’re strong at.”
“As freshmen, we don’t have as much experience on the team, but we’ve worked hard all year, and we know that this is just the second year that we’ve gone to nationals, so to get to finals was a really big deal, and we were really excited,” Sedivy said.
While some have seen the team’s routines at basketball and football games, they don’t compare to what the team pulls off at nationals.
“This dance we did [for nationals] had a lot more tricks that we’ve been putting an emphasis on this year because tricks are what make a dance really hard but also really impressive,” Ricciardi said.
But while the routine they do for nationals may be more involved, it doesn’t mean they get any more time to pull it all off. They are allotted the same two minutes at nationals that they get to perform at halftime of the basketball games. They have two minutes to make eight months of work all pay off.
For head coach Hanna Wentz, it was a major accomplishment in a career that began on Elon’s campus as a dancer herself. The class of 2014 graduate has taken the program from not competing at all in the NDA nationals to becoming a top performer in the country.
“This year was about picking ourselves back up and going in fighting for a space at finals, which is exactly what we did,” Wentz said. “I say to the girls all the time: it’s about moving forward with progress and building the program up each year, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
With a triumph this year, the team has set the bar even higher for next year.
“Next year, I will hope that we make it to top five," Wentz said. "I think each year, we need to set a new expectation. We made it in the top six this year, so I think top five is a good expectation for next year."