A bus waited early in the morning for the Manhattan College Jasper Dancers to depart towards Daytona Beach and compete in the National Dance Alliance Collegiate Championship on Apr. 3.
After an intense year of training, and balancing their time between schoolwork, rehearsals and each of their personal lives, for three days their minds would be thinking of only one thing: Dance.
The team, led by their coach Kaitlyn Marquette and their three captains Alexa Iaquinto, Sydney Furboter and Sharilyn Uyehara, put their hearts and souls into the preparation for the competition. Even if they all agreed that their performance was the best one in the history of the program, the judges didn’t concur and the team did not go through the finals.
“Nationals is difficult because you never know what [the judges] are looking for,” said Marquette, who has been coaching the team for almost five years. “I believe there are a lot of subjective opinions. It’s not like we go to a basketball game and shoot some hoops and hope to get the highest score. This is very: The judges like you or the judges don’t like you, and you just have to go down there and hope that… they’ll like you.”
After four years of leading the team towards a very successful path, Marquette believes that the only formula there is for her success as a coach is to look back at last year’s competition, analyze what went wrong and replicate what went well. She has also discovered that athletic ability has as much importance to their performances as their skills to dance, so she has invested more time to develop strength and conditioning with the members of the team.
However, this is only a small portion of what has led the team to become more and more successful over the past two years. For Alexa Iaquinto, senior and veteran captain of the team, the program is completely different to what it was when she started four years ago.
“Our dynamic has changed mentally, physically and emotionally compared to freshman year,” said Iaquinto.“We didn’t have the same work ethic, we weren’t pushing ourselves as hard. Now, we’ve gotten to the point where we can see what we’re capable of and we always want to push pass that.”
One of the main difficulties for Marquette as a coach, is to receive new dancers that come from completely different backgrounds and schools, and help them become a cohesive unit that work and think as one. Compared to last year, this year’s team had more veterans, which allowed them to be more confident and supportive amongst each other.
“The thing I enjoyed the most was definitely the girls and the relationship I have with all of them,” said Veronica Valerio, senior member of the team. “I say it all the time, it’s so fulfilling to do something that you love with people that you love, and they just make everything so much easier and so much more fun.”
As a result of all the time they spend together, their companionship exceeds the boundaries of the practice time, and the members usually share more time of their days with the other members than anyone else.
As every cycle, it has an end, and some of the members of the team are graduating in May. After four years of being on the team and sharing so many memories, some of the members will take home invaluable experiences and learnings.
“The biggest thing I’m taking away from this experience is learning how to work with different people that have different personalities,” said Sharilyn Uyehara, one of the senior captains of the team.
For Furboter, the biggest thing she’s taking home is what her experience as a captain and leader of the team for the past two years taught her.
“I’d never experienced a type of leadership in anything I had done, so being able to take a roll in something like that shaped me into a potential leader,” said Furboter. “I don’t know where dance is going to take me, if I will ever be a coach or anything like that. But Kait has changed every aspect of dance for me, I have such a greater passion and love behind it that I hadn’t before.”
Even if many of the seniors are leaving, and the team has to reinvent itself, the current members and their coach are confident about the program and how successful it will be in the next couple of years.
“Like one of our teammates said when we were coming back from the competition: ‘The Jasper Dancers are a force to be reckoned with,’” said Furboter. “Maybe this year didn’t go as planned, but that just proves how much more next year’s team is going to want it, and fight for it, and give their all. I see a lot of success in the future and that’s exciting”
For their coach, her mindset is similar, and she believes that this year was just the start of a great legacy of dancers.
“This year, my expectations are through the roof,” Marquette said. “These girls are hungry, they are fueled by not doing as well as we have hoped, so my expectations for them are, from day one, to get in there with that mindset: we did not do as well as we wanted last year, and we are not letting that happen again.
“I think we danced great, and we are not going to give up. We are not looking at this as a failure or that we lost in any way. Just because the judges didn’t give us a trophy doesn’t mean we weren’t successful. We are not giving up. And you can put that in writing: Jasper Dancers will be the best they have ever been 2018-2019.”