Rutgers Dance, Cheerleading teams represent U. at national championships
While the dance and cheerleading teams are a staple of University sporting events, Rutgers teams took a break from their classes this past weekend to head down to Orlando, Florida to compete in the UCA & UDA College National Cheerleading and Dance Team Championships hosted by Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Last weekend, the Rutgers University Spirit Program Dance Team competed against 30 universities to earn fifth place in the Pom competition and sixth in Jazz, while the All Girls Cheerleading Team placed 13th in Division 1A-All Girl, according to cheerdaily.com.
Christine Zoffinger, director of the Rutgers Spirit Program and head coach of the dance team, said the competition is very tough.
“There are over 100 dance teams across three divisions and the teams are made up of some of the best dancers from each state,” Zoffinger said.
Each routine is two minutes long and judged on technical skills, synchronization and performance. Every team competes in the semi-finals the first day of the competition, but only teams with a sufficient number of points qualify for the final competition the next day.
For the cheerleading division, All Girls cheerleading coach Lauren Louis said each routine includes a variety of partner stunts, pyramids, basket tosses and tumbling sections.
“Each routine also includes a crowd cheer where all of the spectators get to cheer along with your school traditions," Louis said. "With hundreds of different colleges and universities being represented at this competition, it is a pretty cool experience to see all of the different ways each team shows their school spirit and skills."
While the UCA & UDA Nationals is a highly anticipated event for college dance and cheer teams, preparation for the event causes team members to experience a range of emotions.
“Almost every school works on the same practice schedule as we do, and when you’ve spent three solid weeks with one group of people working toward one set of goals, the atmosphere runs the gamut of emotion and excitement from electric to exhaustion, to relief, to happiness, to, well, everything,” Zoffinger said. “And it’s all heightened, which makes each year’s event so memorable for the competitors.”
The dance team started choreography for nationals in October. During football season in the fall, practice for the competition is fitted into practice for game days. Winter is the team’s “crunch time,” as practice is held every day, and twice a day beginning right after Christmas, Zoffinger said.
Louis said the season for the cheerleading team is year-round.
“We start to work on new skills over the summer and early fall and put sections together of our best and most consistent elements around October," Louis said. "This year on top of practices three times a week, games and marketing events, the team also attended conditioning sessions twice a week to increase their stamina and strength."
Since first qualifying in 1993, the team has traveled to Florida to compete every year, so qualifying this year is not unexpected, Zoffinger said. While the team’s primary focus is supporting the Rutgers community, the girls were eager to start practicing for nationals.
“The competition for the dance team is in addition to all of the other commitments we have with the University,” Zoffinger said. “Our first priority is performing at athletic events here at Rutgers, representing the University at campus events and Rutgers events across the state, and performing community service. (The dance team members) really wanted to get everything under way so we would be ready to start our nationals routines.”
Zoffinger said success is comprised of dancers who have trained technically in ballet, jazz and acrobatics combined with a strong work ethic, a love of performing and most importantly, a bond with Rutgers and their team.
“When you put all of that together with an inordinate amount of hard work and commitment, you end up being successful. Whether you’re Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State, Kentucky, Arizona, Alabama, LSU or any of the 31 teams in our division, you’ll find that this recipe is pretty common,” Zoffinger said.
Zoffinger said although the Dance and Cheerleading team are significant to the sidelines of football and basketball games, the UCA & UCD Nationals are an important event to them.
Other than family and friends, fans come to watch the football and basketball games and the teams love being a part of that and adding to the game atmosphere. This competition provides the team with the one time each year when the teams take center stage, Zoffinger said.
“These athletes commit to a lot of responsibilities to be a part of the Rutgers Spirit Program, and its great to be recognized for their achievements,” Louis said.
Victoria Nazarov is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.