Start Strong, Finish Stronger: Dance Team Takes 5th in Nationals

The Manhattan College Jasper Dancers traveled to Nationals during the first weekend of April three weeks ago. and after moving onto the final round, placed fifth in the Division 1 Hip Hop category. This is the Dancers highest placement at Nationals in the team’s history.

The Jasper Dancers have been an integral part of the spirit squads that are found on the sidelines during the basketball season, along with the Manhattan Cheerleaders and Pep Band. The Dancers compete annually at the National Dance Association Collegiate competition. Coached by Kaitlyn Marquette, the team of twelve grew together throughout the season under the leadership of captains junior Alexa Iaquinto and junior Sydney Furboter.

The team welcomed eight new members this season, adding to the group dynamic from last year. First-year students came in strong with six dancers from the class of 2020 joining the squad.

“Eight of the twelve dancers were rookies; six freshman, one sophomore and one junior, all new to the program. They brought a freshness and passion that was needed in order for this team to succeed […] This particular group of women worked very well together and became a fast family. Their personalities meshed and you could see it on and off stage. I believe that is what makes a successful team: One that is bonded and supportive of one another,” said Coach Kaitlyn Marquette.

Bonding was certainly a strong suit for the team, who would post the passing of a team spirit stick or birthday wishes to teammates on their social media throughout the season. Practicing for many hours also allows the team to grow closer. The focus at the beginning of the season is mostly on game and sideline routines. As Nationals looms closer, the team begins to choreograph their routines that they will perform in competition. Once the basketball season ends, it’s a constant attention on National routines.

The Dancers are visible at the basketball games, where they dance along to the Pep Band’s songs or perform on the court during breaks. By doing these tiny dances so many times, it becomes a part of their muscle memory. Once their competition dances are added into their repertoire, it’s a matter of getting into the mindset of either games or competition.

Technical skills for Pom and Hip Hop, the types of dances the team performs at competition, are practiced starting at the very beginning of the season. The team doesn’t learn the dances until October, when Marquette begins choreographing the Pom dance using the music mix created specifically for the team. Marquette’s friend, David Maczkiewicz of Hofstra University’s dance team, choreographed the Hip Hop routine on the spot during a ten-hour practice in the fall semester. That routine would land the team fifth place a few months after.

“Our goal is to have both dances finished before winter break. Once the team learns the entire dance, we drill the routine in small sections, sometimes spending two hours on just ten seconds of movement. The dance is broken down count by count, and each detail is refined and perfected over and over again until it is ingrained in their muscle memory. Practices can range from two to five hours, three to five days a week,” said Marquette.

The goal after learning the routines and perfecting them is for the team to do their best. A main goal for the team has always been to move onto the finals, after the preliminary round. Many teams only get the chance to dance at the preliminary round but once a team moves onto finals, they have the opportunity to take home a trophy.

“It’s been a goal throughout our three years on the team. This year we had more potential in the team as a whole and that was in the back of our minds. Once we got down there with the team and everybody saw the competition, it was something everyone wanted so much more,” said Furboter.

The NDA Collegiate competition has been held at Daytona Beach in Daytona, Florida for many years and welcomes dance teams from all around the country. The National Cheerleading Association also has their competition during the same weekend, so it is a charged atmosphere with every team eyeing the same prize.

“Everyone is on the same page. Everyone is down there for the same reason: to do well and to do better than they did last year. Teams are practicing anywhere they can, like on the side of the street. There’s always music playing and there’s people screaming and running around. There’s glitter everywhere—it’s exactly what you’d think when you think ‘dance competition’,” said Iaquinto.

“The atmosphere at Nationals is insane. We say it all the time, kind of like a joke but it’s basically like the Bring It On movies and those competition movies. But [competition’s] not a joke, you get down there and see colleges everywhere, cheerleaders and dancers are practicing all over the place. Everyone is so supportive down there,” said Furboter.

Although the Pom routine didn’t move onto finals, the girls on the team had a good feeling about their Hip Hop routine. Dressed in black sweatpants, white t-shirts with the Jasper logo, Kelly green varsity jackets, brown boots and their hair pulled back tight in a high braid, the dancers looked their best as they performed their best.

Finals is a chance to perform for a larger crowd at the infamous bandshell on Daytona Beach. As team after team performed, it soon became time for the Jasper Dancers chance. Their confidence and excitement was raising as they took to the mat and gave it their all.

“I couldn’t have been more proud. There was nothing I would’ve changed. Like, at all. We did good for ourselves. We set our goal, reached our goal and eventually surpassed it. I don’t think anyone could’ve done anything differently, everyone on the team pushed themselves and had a positive attitude. We were all encouraging each other… Walking off of the mat, I knew I didn’t have to ask anyone ‘how’d it go?’ because I knew everyone’s energy was positive and we were so excited,” said Iaquinto.

Weber State University from Ogden, Utah received first place in the Division 1 Hip Hop competition. Only four spots after them were the Jasper Dancers, placing the highest in the team’s history. The team received an official NDA trophy that they all took pictures with on Daytona Beach, hugging and smiling with their teammates they have spent practicing with for almost an entire year.

Now that the team is nationally ranked, Marquette spoke of their future goals, stating that no much will change, as long as they have the continuous support of the school. The coach said, “there is no measurable goal for us. We want to be the best versions of ourselves, to be better than we were last season, a month ago, a week ago. That’s our goal. We are not out to beat other teams, we simply want to start strong, finish stronger. This year was the start […] Having the support and resources of our Student Engagement department to compete nationally set the foundation for our team to succeed, and we are very thankful for all that they do for us.”

The captains also expressed how much their team loves their coach and all the effort and love she gives to each and every girl. One thing is clear: the Jasper Dancers are a group full of support and teamwork.

Their season will start back up in the fall, welcoming brand new members to the team and work towards their goals yet again in the new year.

“National recognition proves that this team is worth the time, funds, and respect not only within the dance team community but in the Manhattan College community. High school dancers around the country will add Manhattan College to their prospect list as a school that allows them to excel academically and continue to dance competitively, elevating our talent and the future of this program and our school spirit community,” said Marquette.