As the Elon University Dance Team began its warmup at its last weekend practice in Schar Center, a banner displaying its 2022 nationals win hangs over the members and serves as both a reminder of the history the team made last year and motivation for the end of the season.

On April 6 and 7, the team will compete at the national level in Daytona Beach, Florida in the first round of the National Dance Alliance College National Championship. The team will enter this year’s competition with its second-ever gold bid, which was earned in August at NDA Camp. The bid provides the team with perks like priority hotel registration and discounted registration fees. It is also looking to defend its Division I Hip Hop championship and improve on its third place result in this year’s pom competition

For Elon junior Phoebe Gamponia, the preparation for another nationals competition is about training mentally just as much as it is physically. Now that she knows what to expect, she said she’s focusing on trusting herself and building self-confidence about her dancing.

“I'm just really hoping to stay present and just take it all in,” Gamponia said. “It's just the most insane environment I have ever experienced in my entire life.”

Gamponia said the intricacies of the choreography and transition steps are both elements that the team as a whole has improved upon since last year. Team cohesion is something that Gamponia said everyone values because it determines the team’s potential for success. 

“I think the level of competition at nationals is easily some of the highest caliber of competition all of us will experience in our entire lives,” Gamponia said. “I know every member on the team cares so much and just wants our team to succeed so much.”

Maintaining a balanced diet and getting enough rest are habits Gamponia said are important in preparing for a major competition. To hold each other accountable, members of the team who are of legal drinking age began a sobriety period following the end of spring break. All team members send a “sweaty selfie” if they’re doing something active on a day where the team doesn’t have practice and send selfies of themselves watching film and taking notes if they’re taking a rest day.

“Those things are just as productive as running our dances and fueling our body,” Gamponia said.

Elon junior Isabella Venziale said she was focused on being in the best shape possible for last year’s competition, but she said she knows what she needs to do this year.

“I've been there, I know what it's for, I know what I need to do,” Venziale said. “I know that busting your butt while we’re in the studio right now is so worth it because then it all pays off when you get there and I just feel a little bit stronger each time. I feel like that's probably a mindset change from last year.”

Venziale said a distinct switch comes after the team learns the choreography for its hip hop routine, which takes place in the winter, but the biggest switch comes after the Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball championship in early March.

“It’s the last time where we are focusing on multiple things at once,” Venziale said. “When we come back at that first Monday practice, there's no sidelines to worry about, no games, it's nationals.”

Venziale described the nationals competition as the team’s equivalent to March Madness. She said one of the biggest things you can do in collegiate dance is compete at this level. 

“It gets confusing because there's different divisions and things like that, but you're competing with the highest caliber of your division,” Venziale said. “It's very different from a sport where you have a full game to go back and make changes in different quarters and things like that. You have one shot to show them what you've been working for.”

The memories from last year’s competition are ones Venziale said are very distinct, and she is looking forward to that again this year. Elon freshman Olivia Ferranola will compete with the team for the first time this year, and said she is focusing on staying present.

“I really want to be in the moment, remembering each and every hardship and tough point and even like the laughs and the cries and all the hard work that goes into that moment,” Ferranola said. 

So far, Ferranola said she’s growing in different ways she’s never seen before and training at a caliber unlike anything she did as a competitive dancer in high school. Regardless of how the team performs at nationals, she said she’s excited to keep bonding with the team.

Venziale echoed excitement about bonding with the team, and said she’s looking forward to doing it again this year.

“Everyone really puts their best selves out there,” Venziale said. “It's awesome to be in that environment because we're growing together and working for each other. I think it's really one of the coolest weekends. I feel like that's what I'm really excited to do.”

Prior to departing for nationals, the team is having a send-off performance where it will showcase both routines it will be competing. It is set to begin at 7 p.m. in Schar Center on April 3. At nationals, the team is scheduled to perform its pom routine at 6:53 p.m. on April 6 and its hip hop routine at 6:57 p.m. on April 7. To watch the competition live stream, click here. Viewers need to make an account with the provider in order to watch.