The Stony Brook dance team placed in the top five at the Universal Cheerleaders Association and Universal Dance Association College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships on Jan. 17 and 18 in Orlando, Fla.
“It was like the best experience of my entire life,” Regina Zambrano, team captain, said.
It has been a long journey for the dance team to get where it is today.
The National Championship top-ranking team has completely evolved from where it was even just a few years ago.
Zambrano has been on the dance team since her freshman year. Now, as the only graduating senior on the team, she has watched the team transform.
“The growth we’ve had in three years is insane,” Zambrano said about the team.
She described the team she joined as a freshman as very different because it lacked a strict set of rules and it was more like a club than a team. The group did not have a coach. The team was run by the dancers themselves.
“The whole point of a dance team is that it’s supposed to be very uniform and we had like no uniformity to us,” she said.
However, during Zambrano’s sophomore year, Sarah Harrington, came into the picture as the team’s coach.
Harrington has a background in coaching dance and was a dancer herself at the University of Tennessee, which has one of the top ranking dance teams in the nation. Zambrano said that when Harrington approached the team about being its coach, it seemed to be out be out of nowhere.
Harrington gave the team more structure and with her help the team was able to become more unified and skilled.
“It completely changed my sophomore year and it’s only gone up since then,” Zambrano said about the change she saw in the team after Harrington took over as coach.
This change was able to drive the team to receive a top-ranking spot at this year’s National Championship. It was only the team’s second year attending.
When the team first went to the National Championships in 2014, Zambrano said that she was shocked that the team was in the Division I category.
Both Zambrano and Harrington stated that the first year going to Nationals was treated as a learning experience.
The team did not make it to the finals that year. The team came close to making the finals in pom and finished in the top 20 for jazz.
In order to improve for this year the team changed training habits and its technique.
Zambrano said that the team overtrained the previous year and by the time the competition came, the Seawolves were burnt out.
“Coming into nationals this year we really set our sights high and the whole team has pushed each other,” Harrington said.
This year to prepare for the National Championship, the team hired two different choreographers from out of state. Zambrano said that it cost the team a lot of money, but it was worth it.
The first time the team attempted to go to Nationals it did not use choreographers, this year it seemed to have paid off. The team also practiced every day from December to January from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“National season is eat, sleep, breathe dance,” Zambrano said.
The team came in the top five for its pom routine and did not place for its jazz routine.
Zambrano said that the jazz category is very difficult. However, she described how the crowd was going crazy for the girls while they performed their pom routine.
Harrington said that the way the team prepared was by working on technique and putting in extra hours and never settling.
“It was hard, but it was worth it because obviously it paid off and we came really far,” Vincenza Bartolillo, a freshman biology major and pre-med student said. “Hopefully next year we can improve even more.”
Zambrano gave a lot of the credit for doing so well at Nationals to Harrington. She described a closeness that the team all shares with her that Zambrano will miss next year after she graduates.
“I have been blessed to have absolutely fantastic leaders on this team,” Harrington said. “I have a fantastic group of dancers every single year that really work hard and they trust me to lead them in the right direction.”
The dance team raises all of its money on its own because it is not under Stony Brook Athletics, it is considered a club and is funded by the Undergraduate Student Government.
Although USG supplies them with money, it is not enough to support the team and the group fundraises often in order to afford its uniforms and to pay their coaches.
Harrington said that the team’s dedication is the biggest key to its success.
“They really do want to be ambassadors for the university and put a great show on the floor no matter where they are,” Harrington said.
Zambrano said that her hope for the future of the team is to one day be able to watch the UDA National Championships on her computer and have Stony Brook be the No. 1 Division I school.
“I’m leaving off comfortable now because I kind of like, helped everyone know what to do. It’s a good feeling,” Zambrano said. She also described how happy she was to have done so well at her last competition ever.
“It’s just been a part of me, like Stony Brook wouldn’t have been Stony Brook without [the] dance team,” she said.