by ROSE BRENNAN, Editor
Excitement kicked off the Manhattan College Jasper Dancers’ season before it even officially started, with Jasper Dancer Sedraya “Draya” Fletcher winning the title of All-American Athlete.
Fletcher, a junior communication major, was the only member of the team to receive this distinction this year, though several other Jasper Dancers have won the title before her.
Team coach Kaitlyn Marquette was ecstatic for Fletcher.
“Draya is a huge asset to the Jasper Dancers. Not only because of her technical skill level, but because of her genuine love for her teammates and the program,” Marquette said.
Fletcher’s tenure with the team got off to a rough start when she did not make the team during her first tryout. But she tried again in the September of her freshman year, and this time, she was successful.
Once she made the team, she was expected to put all of her heart, soul and time into her team.
“Our season runs from early September to early April. This includes basketball season and nationals season. During the week, we’ll typically have two-to-three three hour practices, and on weekends, practices can go anywhere from five hours to ten hours during nationals seasons,” Fletcher said.
The rigorous training for the dance team begins before the school year even starts. Practices begin in August so the team is in top shape for NDA Camp, where they compete for a bid to nationals in April.
This was the first year Fletcher participated in NDA Camp. At the time, she had not given the idea of becoming an All-American much thought, especially since she was recovering from a torn meniscus.
“Being a Jasper Dancer is a time commitment, but it’s also a physical and mental commitment. So no matter how much I went to the gym, nothing could’ve prepared my body for the pressure of NDA camp,” Fletcher said.
“The night before we did our final performance, we were practicing and I […] burst into tears because my knee hurt so bad, and it was so swollen I couldn’t bend it all the way or straighten it all the way,” she said. “But I sucked it up because we had already worked so hard for so long.”
The next day, the Jasper Dancers presented their routine to the judges, who then selected standout dancers from each team to perform the routine again. After the second routine, the judges deliberated and selected the lucky few dancers who would become All-Americans.
According to Marquette, a number of factors are considered during the judges’ deliberation.
“They choose dancers based on attributes they notice throughout camp, some of which could include dance performance, leadership, teamwork and school spirit,” she said.
When Fletcher was selected to perform the routine again to vie for the title of “All-American,” her knee was still swollen and she had doubts that she could even perform the routine again because of the pain.
“I was so freaking nervous, but what I love about dancing is that both times I danced, during our final performance and during the audition for All-American, I forgot everything,” she said. “I forgot how nervous I was, I forgot how tired and sore my body was all over, I forgot about my fat knee and I just danced.”
Apparently, all of Fletcher’s hard work and perseverance paid off, because after the audition, her name was announced and she was selected as an All-American.
“I was shocked to hear them call my name to even dance again for the chance to be All-American, so you can only imagine how shocked I was when I heard them call my name,” she said.
“When she won the award, I was so excited, but not surprised,” said fellow Jasper Dancer Madelin Mule. “She brought confidence to the floor and killed the performance. It was a proud moment to see a Jasper standing up with the rest of the All-American team.”
Along with Fletcher’s All-American title, two Jasper Dancers received “Pin it Forward” Awards. The team also received a Superior Ribbon for their team dance performance and a bronze win to NDA Nationals.
Aside from the NDA Camp at the beginning of the Dancers’ season, the team also participates in a national competition in Daytona Beach, Fla. They placed fifth in the competition during Fletcher’s freshman year, but failed to advance to the final round last season.
In terms of looking forward to nationals, Fletcher has great expectations both for herself and for her team.
“My goal for the team and for myself this season is to just put in the work so that when we board the plane to come back to New York after nationals in April, there’s no regret,” Fletcher said. “There’s no ‘what if we practiced harder?’ There’s no ‘what if we pushed harder?’ There’s no ‘what if I just put in a little bit of extra work outside of practice?’ I want us to leave knowing we left everything we had on that stage.”
Marquette also has high hopes for the team’s upcoming season.
“My hope is that this opens Draya’s eyes to how much potential she has and that she can accomplish anything she pushes herself to do. As for the team, I hope the same,” Marquette said. “I hope they learn from this and their experience at camp, that they are capable of anything they set their minds to, and have confidence in themselves and each other that they can be greater than ever expected.”