by Megan Dreher, Editor-in-Chief
Empower and Exceed. On January 10, I returned to school with my 10 teammates and coach as we prepared for the second leg of our season, and it was arguably the most rigorous preparation I’ve been through thus far in my time here at Manhattan College. Back to School Bootcamp is no stranger to the Jasper Dancers, but this year felt different. Upon our early return each spring semester, our team brings back one agreed upon phrase that will keep us motivated in the toughest of times, and this year we decided to keep it short and sweet. These two simple words packed quite the punch, reminding us to empower one another and exceed any and all expectations that we placed on ourselves, as well as the ones that might have been placed on us from others. We completely embodied these two words, knowing that if we just kept reminding ourselves of the story they told, we would have the fight to keep going. Boy, did it work in ways that I have yet to comprehend.
If you didn’t already know, I split my time between the two most important things in my life here at school: the Quadrangle and the Jasper Dancers. I took a bit of a hiatus from article writing these past few weeks in preparation for NDA Nationals, the biggest event of the year in the collegiate dance team world. From the time the Jasper Dancers return to campus in January for Bootcamp, until the minute we board our flight home, we are living and breathing dance. We practice upwards of 15 hours a week, six days a week. We test our endurance, our technical capabilities, our mental and physical strength. We laugh, we cry, we hurt, we ice our bodies. We push ourselves past each and every mental barrier for 4 days, and more specifically 4 minutes. Crazy.
But why? There is no scholarship for this. There is no athletic training for this. It’s simply eleven girls and one coach who have a love for the program, a love for one another, and a love of dance. We spend an entire season preparing for two dances to perform in Daytona Beach, Fl. Each dance, only two minutes long, is performed one time for a panel of judges. If you’re lucky, and the judges score you well, you move on to the final round of competition and are afforded the opportunity to perform again. How hard could it be? Extremely hard, to be frank. Eleven girls representing Manhattan College are up against Division 1 dance teams from some of the largest universities around the country. In our Hip Hop category alone, we saw competition from schools such as Weber State University (24,000 undergraduates), the University of Illinois at Chicago (19,000 undergraduates), Boston University (17,000 undergraduates), University at Albany (13,500 undergraduates), Wright State University (12,000 undergraduates), and Elon University (6,000 undergraduates). These are the teams that clearly have a much larger pool of prospective dancers to choose from, win titles year after year, and are essentially guaranteed a place in the finals round. It’s intimidating, but it’s also the most rewarding feeling in the world.
Back in 2017, my freshman year of college, the Jasper Dancers placed 5th in nation for Division 1 Hip Hop. This was the first time in the program’s history that we made it to finals and placed so highly. To this day, I will never forget the feeling of my first time dancing on the Daytona Beach Bandshell. It was something that wasn’t guaranteed, and I honestly had no idea if we would have this opportunity ever again. Last year, my hopes of getting back on the Bandshell were lessened, as we placed 11th and did not advance to finals. I questioned everything, but specifically if freshman year’s success was a fluke? I knew that as a rising junior and captain, things needed to change because more than ever before I was going to dance on that Bandshell again.
The reason Back to School Bootcamp felt so different this year is because there was a fire burning and a story brewing. We were hungry, we were motivated, we were determined to get back to where we belonged in this National competition. I am so incredibly proud of the work that this team had put in over the course of the past few months, because our drive never waivered. It was that same drive that carried us through until we arrived in Daytona Beach that won us our National title in the Division 1 Hip Hop category, the first team National Championship that Manhattan College has seen since 1973. Eleven girls and one coach crawled their way out of 11th place in 2018 to score a 94.97/100 just one year later…landing safely in first place.
I’ll tell you why we do this, day after day, month after month, year after year. Dance is so incredibly overlooked on a collegiate level across the country. It’s not just about the sporting events that we attend and practice for. It’s not just about the fun costumes and pom poms that we get to dance around with. It’s the blood, sweat and tears (often all three occurring at the same time) that make dancing at the collegiate level so worth it. It’s the love and dedication of each member of this team. It’s the countless hours of passion and labor, frustration and joy that my coach has spent building this program into what it is today. It’s the bonds that we share, knowing that each and every moment you are dancing, you’re giving your all for the girl next to you because you know that she’s doing the same. We dance, we fight, because a National Championship is worth all of that. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.