by TAYLOR BRETHAUER & AUGUST KISSEL, Senior Writer & Web Editor
The Jasper Dancers are national champions in the division I hip hop category after competing at the National Dance Alliance college national championship in Daytona, Fla. last week.
The win, which comes after a season spent focusing on redemption and strength, was highly celebrated throughout the Manhattan College community.
“The Manhattan College @MCJasperDancers are NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!! They won the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP FOR DIVISION I HIP HOP! Not the MAAC Championship. Not a Northeast or Regional Championship. The 2019 NDA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!! Congratulations!!,” tweeted Student Engagement. Other well-wishes on Twitter came from Marianne Reilly, director of athletics and Heather Vulin, head coach of women’s basketball.
But the work put in throughout the entire season led them to the very title they now boast today.
With late-night practices, full-day run-throughs, visiting choreographers and constant fitness evaluations to make sure the team was healthy and in shape, the preparation process has evolved for the dance team, which co-captain Taylor Malagone has definitely noticed.
“The preparation process definitely varied from my previous years as a member of the team. It became a lot more intense and I felt like everyone had a different kind of drive. We also reached out to more resources for people to come to our practices to help clean the dances and make any necessary changes. It was nice to get feedback from different perspectives, which proved to be beneficial,” said Malagone.
This year was also a different process when it came to adding a brand new category the team had never competed in before: jazz.
In the words of coach Kaitlyn Marquette, it’s something she spent a lot of time thinking and planning out since last year’s nationals.
“The Jazz routine was my concept; an idea I had since nationals last year. The girls started to learn the routine in November, but it’s a process. The dance wasn’t complete until January with a few tweaks before nationals. I choreograph at home, in my head, on paper, and sometimes in person at practice. There is a lot of artistry that goes with choreographing which takes time,” said Marquette.
Another new thing they were trying out for their routine was a story behind the dance.
“We told a story rather than just dance to a mix of popular songs. It’s almost easier to dance when there’s real emotion and intention behind the movements,” said Malagone.
This year’s story was about an attempt at a triumphant return to nationals and “staying hungry.”
This proved true as the team traveled down to Florida early Wednesday morning to prepare for the two semi-final performances.
Unfortunately, the heavily-populated jazz category did not allow for the team to move on to finals. They finished in 17th place.
“I knew Jazz was going to be a tough category. Especially because we haven’t competed in Jazz before. All I wanted was for the girls to perform their best, regardless if we made finals or not. And that’s exactly what they did. I couldn’t be more proud of their performance and I wasn’t upset or disappointed one bit,” said Marquette.
But that didn’t mean the excitement and “hunger” ended there. The team soon earned a spot in hip hop finals, in which they were entering in the first place spot.
This was a drastic difference from last year, when they didn’t move on. That heartbreak from last year fueled the “hunger” that the dance team referenced throughout this entire season. Their hard work had paid off and they only had one more chance to secure the title.
As the team was about to take the bandshell stage in their khakis, black shirts with a big M for Manhattan on the chest and green plaid flannels, coach Marquette wished each of them luck.
“I told them was that I couldn’t be more proud already. We made our goal of making finals and now all I want is for you to dance better than the day before. Stronger, more confident. This is your last time ever performing this dance with this team; make it worth it and leave no regrets on the stage.”
Luckily, the team dynamic had been in place all year long, and the group of dancers knew everyone had each other’s backs.
“Having a good team dynamic is so important for success and it’s something that comes so easy for us. The long hours of practice are so much easier when you’re surrounded by people that you love to be around. When we’re on stage we dance for each other and trust that everyone’s going to do their part and be the best they can be,” said Malagone.
Marquette also gives them “good luck” cards to put in their pockets before competitions, knowing that their coach is always with them and supporting them.
This year’s card read: “You’ve got 2 minutes. Leave your mark. Embrace it. Cherish it. Conquer it. Make it count! And at the end, when your legs are tired and your arms are giving out, GET ANGRY. Get angry that you are tired then HIT IT HARDER! EMPOWER one another and EXCEED all expectations!”
Exceed expectations, they did. One by one, the other teams were called until only two teams were left to be awarded second or first place.
When second place was called, the dance team erupted into screams and tears, while Marquette ran up on stage to join them as they were handed the trophy and banner.
“It actually felt unreal. I immediately starting crying of happiness. I couldn’t believe it and I still sometimes don’t. It’s such a crazy experience to hear your team announced for first place,” said Malagone.
“I couldn’t breathe, it didn’t feel real! A literal dream come true,” said Marquette.
For Marquette, this is her fifth year coaching the team and proud might be an understatement for how she feels about the Jasper Dancers.
“I think since I’ve started coaching, year after year we have elevated in talent, dedication and professionalism. Every aspect of the team (practice schedules, team workouts, costumes, dances and everything in between) is taken very seriously with thought behind every decision to ensure this program continues to grow,” said Marquette.
She is also already brainstorming for next year.
“Just because we won once does not mean we are going to win again. We need to stay humble and fight throughout the entire season as if we are in last place. I plan to go above and beyond everything we accomplished this year,” said Marquette.
Tryouts are already planned for the incoming freshman class, being held during orientation dates in June on June 6, 13, and 20. Interested students are encouraged to reach out to coach Marquette via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I hope that in the near future we will stay at the top of our division, making a name for Manhattan College and have Manhattan be the ‘go to’ college in the Northeast if you want to be on a college dance team,” said Marquette.
When the team returned to campus, they were met with many congratulations. They even got to come up on stage at Spring Fest before 3OH!3 performed with their trophy. The crowd chanted “let’s go Jaspers” as coach Marquette took the mic.
“We’re so proud to bring this win back to Manhattan College for you guys.”
The win, which was a long-time coming, has filled the school with pride.
Just last year, in the article titled “Jasper Dancers Participate in 2018 Nationals,” Marquette promised that “Jasper Dancers will be the best they have ever been 2018-2019.”
And they were.