Fake eyelashes: check. 260 rhinestones: check. Minnie Mouse ears for the parks: check. Running through the castle onto the competition floor: not guaranteed.
Standing in the wings of the competition floor, 17 members of the Stony Brook Dance Team are huddled anxiously, with millions of microscopic mountains forming on their skin and the uncomfortable feeling of what seems like a hundred bobby pins holding their buns in place. Fingers in the sky, the team yells, “Earn it.”
For the preliminary round of the Universal Dance Association National Championships in Orlando, Florida, the teams perform on a raised stage without the Disney castle behind them. For finals, organizers puts up a “castle” for teams to enter the stage through on the ground level with the audience.
“It feels so special that you got to make it there,” junior Anneliese Marcojohn, one of the captains of the SBDT, said.
The Universal Dance Association has three categories: pom, jazz and hip-hop. The competition rules indicate that a team can only participate in two out the three categories. The SBDT participated in jazz and pom, not to be confused with cheerleading, which uses pom-poms as well.
The team ended up making the finals for jazz but not pom, whereas the previous year the team made it to the finals for pom and not jazz. The team placed tenth in pom in the preliminary round, while placing eighth out of twenty-two teams in the jazz finals. SBDT was up against teams like University of Delaware, Cal State Fullerton and Hofstra, which continually place in the top three.
“There was a big shift because Hofstra moved into pom and they are a big competitor,” senior captain Zoë Mahan said of the team that took first place in the pom category.
“Before we went on for prelims and before we went on for finals, our attitudes were completely different,” Marcojohn said. “For prelims, we kind of had an expectation to meet because we made finals last year.”
According to Marcojohn, the goal for next season is to make it to the finals for both categories.
Originally, the Stony Brook Dance Team was a recreational club, until four years ago when the team brought in a coach and raised the team to a competitive level. The first year was a trial run, and for the past two competitions SBDT has made it into the finals at nationals.
With that in mind, president and captain Mahan has seen the team grow immensely since she was a freshman.
“We have the most talent and the most number of girls on the team that we have ever had,” Mahan said. “We usually have around 12 or 13 people and this year we had 18 girls. It wasn’t just more bodies, we had more talent,” Mahan said.
The team gained nine new members this year alone.
“My freshman year […] we put a single turn on the floor and we were excited about it,” Mahan said. “This year we put triple turns on the floor.”
Turns refer to pirouettes, which in non-dance terms is a turn done on the balls of one’s feet. In addition, the team showcased four dancers with side aerials, which is essentially a cartwheel without hands.
In order to qualify for nationals, teams need to go to UDA dance camp and compete with teams there. This year, SBDT went to University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.
Teams bring what is known as a “home routine” to be critiqued by the UDA staff. In addition, the teammates individually learn choreography as well. They are then judged by the staff to see if they will receive either an excellent, outstanding or superior ribbon, superior being the most prestigious. Each ribbon correspond to number of points, and those points need to total a certain threshold for the team to qualify for nationals.
The entire team brought home superior ribbons this year.
During the semester, the team attends all basketball games and football games. They practice three days a week just for game days. They rehearse their competitive routines another two days a week, every week, until the end of the semester.
The team also goes to Scholastic local competitions at Nassau Community College in preparation for nationals.
The team learned its routines right away when the semester began. In order to remain competitive with other elite teams, the squad hires choreographers for nationals, which is expensive. Therefore, they fundraise through chocolate bar sales, t-shirt fundraisers, bake sales and car washes.
“We really don’t get a winter break like most people do,” Marcojohn said.
After all the hard work, the team had two days after the competition to enjoy the Disney parks. Now at practice, the team does only one thing a little differently.
“Our saying this year was ‘Earn it’,” Marcojohn said. “But now we say ‘Earned it’.”
Correction: February 1, 2016
A previous version of this article stated that the team finished in eighth place to reach the pom finals. The team finished in eighth place in the pom finals.