In part two of BU Today’s photo essay “BU Dance Team: The Road to Nationals,” photographer Cydney Scott tagged along with the 23-member squad on their way to Daytona Beach, Fla., to compete in the annual National Dance Alliance Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship, held this year from April 5 to 7.
The team headed to the competition with high hopes. They had finished in the top 10 every year since 2007 and won national titles in 2014 (hip-hop) and 2016 (team performance). Last year, they brought home second place in hip-hop and fourth in team dance.
On April 3, team members boarded a plane to Orlando, then loaded onto a bus for the 90-minute drive to Daytona Beach. Once they arrived, the schedule was nonstop, round after round of preparing for, and competing in, preliminary and finals rounds.
Dancers practiced in tight quarters throughout the weekend. Ballrooms in the Hilton Daytona were available on a first-come, first-served basis, and during their five-hour practice sessions, they had to share space with other dance teams.
The end of the season and extra-long practices had taken a toll on many of the dancers. Injuries, like sprained ankles and knees and pulled muscles, had plagued the team all season. Katherine “Katie” Chandler (CAS’20, Sargent’20), who had had two labral shoulder tears earlier in the season, delayed the surgery she needed on her shoulder so she could compete with her team.
The team was scheduled to compete in two categories at the championship: Team Dance (a combination of jazz, pom-pom, and hip-hop styles) and Hip-Hop. The Team Dance preliminaries were Thursday, the Hip-Hop preliminaries Friday. They placed fourth in both, securing spots in the finals. Despite that, they were disappointed: they had expected to do better.
After each preliminary performance, the dancers met with their coaches to review the judges’ notes. They knew that if they followed the judges’ suggestions, they stood a better chance of scoring well in the final judging round.
They especially wanted to nail their Team Dance routine, a choreographed number performed to the operatic-techno song “Millennia,” by Hi-Finesse. The costumes were a nod to Roman gladiators, underscoring the idea that they were warriors. They went over and over the dance, paying special attention to gestures and expressions.
After a final five-hour practice on Thursday, the team met sans coaches for a pep talk before bed. Armed with a portable speaker they carried everywhere, they kept playing their gladiator song and visualizing the movements. “Live this moment,” Noelle Fallacara (COM’19) urged her teammates. “Most teams don’t even make it to the bandshell. Enjoy it and remember it.” (The Team Dance finals are held in the Daytona Beach Bandshell.)
Hair and makeup began at 5:30 the next morning. The dancers helped one another apply full foundation, blush, lipstick, eyeliner, eyeshadow, fake eyelashes. Judges pay special attention to uniformity, so members with tattoos had to cover them with KT tape and bandages. Once they were stage-ready, they had about 40 minutes for stretching and last-minute rehearsing.
The team walked together from the Hilton to the Daytona Beach Bandshell for the final performance in the Team Dance category. The BU team was one of the nine teams that had advanced to the final. The women rolled a portable speaker with them to play songs that had sentimental or superstitious connotations. Hailey Rachko (Sargent’19) said that the Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up to Boston,” Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” Fall Out Boy’s “Thnks fr th Mmrs,” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” will always remind her of the BU Dance Team.
At 11 am, the BU dancers took the stage for the final round of Team Dance. They were judged on aspects like uniformity, quality of movement, technical elements, visual effects, gracefulness and interpretation of the movement, and choreography. Despite the sweltering temperature on stage (the thermostat hovered near 90 degrees), the women nailed their routine.
Pleased with their final performance in Team Dance, the dancers celebrated in the bandshell wings. The result: a tie for third place with Sam Houston State University Orange Pride Dance Team.
The dancers returned to the Daytona Beach Bandshell on Saturday to compete in the Hip-Hop final round. The BU women again placed third, this time competing against seven other teams.
At the end of the day, cocaptain Tiina Lugus (Sargent’18), Sam Sanpietro (Sargent’19), and Noelle Fallacara (COM’19) shared an emotional moment, the last competition the two underclassmen would be in with their graduating teammate. “They lived in Warren as freshmen and I lived in South Campus as a transfer,” Lugus says, “so we spent a lot of time walking to and from practices together. They would come over to my apartment a lot to do schoolwork on the weekends. The three of us just sort of clicked. They’re both incredible friends.”
The team spent the rest of Saturday afternoon enjoying Daytona Beach and relaxing for the first time in weeks. It was back to Boston the next morning.
See Part I of “BU Dance Team: The Road to Nationals” here.
Cydney Scott can be reached at email@example.com.