The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Dance and Cheer compete at nationals for first time

Lafayette cheer celebrates outside the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fl. (Photo courtesy of @lafayettecollegecheer on Instagram)

Two weeks ago, the Lafayette dance and cheer teams traveled to Orlando, Fl. to compete in the UDA (Universal Dance Association) and UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association) national championships. It was the first time the teams went to the event. 

“It kind of just felt like this like crazy idea, and I never thought it would actually come true,” junior cheer co-captain Devin Croake said. “It didn’t even feel real until we got there. It really just felt like such a full circle moment.”

In the days leading up to the competition, both the dance and cheer teams returned to Lafayette during winter break to practice. Senior dance co-captain Steph Davidson said that the dance team did “two-a-days,” practicing in both the morning and evening to solidify their routines. Some of Coach Melissa Diehl’s former teammates from Penn State came to give advice as they have nationals experience.

Davidson said that the national routines have improved dramatically since they showcased them to friends and family in early December. “It’s like night and day,” she said. “With all the long days of practices, we were able to perfect them.”

Croake explained that the cheer team had been working on skills for nationals since the beginning of the year. The cheer team had Coach Billie Weiss’s niece, who coaches an All-Star team, come to campus to critique their stunts. Weiss said that she started to prepare the team for this competition over the last couple of years by doing more crowd cheers with stunts, rather than dance style routines.

“I planned for this to be our transition year at nationals to ensure we would be competitive for the future,” she wrote in an email.

When the cheer team arrived on Thursday, they were able to practice at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, which was where they would be performing that Friday. Croake said that it was amazing to be surrounded by such well-known and successful teams and even have them cheer them on while they were practicing.

Croake said that the national cheer routine is made of three components: their “fight song,” “situational sidelines,” which involves a cue for offense or defense, and then “timeout,” which includes execution of skills as well as crowd involvement.

The dance team performed a hip-hop routine in the morning on Saturday and a pom routine that evening. Davidson explained that the schedule was very jam-packed, as they had to be in hair and makeup and on the bus by 7 a.m. Upon arrival, they then had to find space to stretch and had the option to run their routine before going on stage.

“You’re surrounded by all the teams you’re competing against,” Davidson said. “You have to be listening to your coach while you’re hearing other people’s coaches, other teams yelling, and hearing their music, and you have to be able to focus.”

The dance team competes in the pom routine at UDA Nationals over winter break. (Photo courtesy of @lafayettecollegedanceteam on Instagram)

After performing their routines, the dancers went to a big TV where they watched a video of their performance. They then returned to the hotel to change for their second routine.

“We were up for 18, 19 hours that day. It was crazy,” Davidson said.

Despite not making it to finals, the dance team members were extremely proud of their performances. They finished numerically very close to their opponents and landed all of their tricks and lifts. They ended the day as 16th in the nation for D1 hip hop, and 14th in the nation for D1 pom, making Lafayette history. This was a great accomplishment for a team of just 10 members in their first time participating, especially against Division I schools that have teams of 20-30 members and even alternates in the case of an injury.

Weiss said that the team’s scores reflected well on their routines despite two major falls that lowered their score. “As a coach, I had some self-reflection on what is needed regarding use of signs and flags which is new for us,” she wrote.

Being that it was both teams’ first time at the competition, jitters were to be expected. Luckily, they were able to cheer each other on since their performances did not overlap.

“You feed off each other’s energy, and when it’s your first year there you need all the support,” Davidson said. “When you’re there you can literally see everybody in front of you, and, like, seeing them clapping and cheering is definitely something that helped us get through our routines.”

After the excitement and stress of the competition, both teams were awarded the opportunity to visit the Disney parks with their team. Davidson said that they shut down Hollywood Studios and opened the rides past closing time to allow dancers to enjoy the park.

“[It was] really awesome team bonding … especially because the lines are so long, you can just stand there and just talk to everyone … I learned stuff about these people that I’d never known before,” Croake said.

Both teams plan to take what they learned from nationals into the future. Weiss and Croake plan to work their game day routine more into the football season to acclimate the team to it, and believe the judges’ feedback as well as the UCA camp over the summer can help them prepare for next year.

Since returning home from Orlando, Davidson said the dance team has a “post-nationals glow” after being inspired by the level of competition they experienced.

“We were surrounded by insanely talented dancers all weekend long and had the opportunity to witness performances that will leave an impact on us for years to come,” Diehl wrote. “We left feeling inspired to keep pushing ourselves to new levels and can’t wait to come back next year as we continue to learn and grow.”

Both Weiss and Diehl expressed gratitude to the college for supporting them as well as the donors who helped them get there.

“I think it’s important for people to understand the demands of a dance and cheer,” Diehl wrote. “Not once did I question anyone’s commitment to the team, and that is how we were able to perform like we did.”

Correction 1/27/22: A previous version of the article mislabeled Billie Weiss as the former cheer coach. She is the current cheer coach. 

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Caroline McParland
Caroline McParland, Sports Editor

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