Jasper Dancers: Fighting For More Than a National Title

by August Kissel, Web Editor

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does not recognize dance or cheer teams in their division as a sport. The NCAA defines a sport as “an institutional activity, sponsored at the varsity or club level, involving physical exertion for the purpose of competition against teams or individuals within an intercollegiate competition structure and operate under standardized rules with rating/scoring systems ratified by at least one official regulatory agency and/or governing body.”

Under this rule the sports teams must compete in at five events or games that constitute as a competition, the Manhattan College Jaspers Dancers only compete in the National Dance Alliance (NDA) along with performing, but not competing, at the Men’s Basketball Games and Tournaments during their season.

The NCAA also calls for a regulatory body to check the academic eligibility of the student athletes. This is done at Manhattan College through our athletics and Title IX Office.

As a result of the lack of recognition by the NCAA, dance teams all over the country like the Jasper Dancers are not screened under this process, and not regulated or supported financially under their college’s Athletic Department. This status holds the Jaspers Dancers to their own standards and that of Student Engagement as a club on campus.

“The dance team, and all 3 of our spirit teams really, cheer, dance, and the pep band, are unique. While they are technically clubs, they are more than that. There are tryouts, they are very competitive, and they have many time requirements with game schedules and ancillary events that make them all operate more like an athletic team than not,” said Director of Student Engagement, John Bennett.

The Jasper Dancers have tryouts each fall where all students are encouraged to tryout despite previous dance experience. Upon the end of tryouts the new team begins practice for their Manhattan Madness routine, which is their debut to the college for the year. Following Madness, the team begins rehearsing their choreography for the NDA.

“During basketball season we’ll typically practice 3-4 times a week for 3-4 hours depending on the day, with a few 8 hour practices to learn our Nationals choreography. Then we have separate workouts on days we don’t have practice. During practice we spend about 15 mins warming up, another 15-20 mins working on technique, and the rest of the time we work on choreography,” said four-year dance team member Draya Fletcher.

Due to club status these practices are not added to the athletics schedule. This leaves the Dancers to have to rehearse around the schedules of the other athletic teams on campus. Often times late in the evening after classes and after the other teams are finished with their practices and workouts.

“That does not take away from any of the hard work that we put in,” added Fletcher

This past April, the Jasper Dancers took home the National Championship title from the NDA competition. This year they hope to beat themselves and take home a back-to-back championship title.

“As far as expectations for my team (and myself) that’s a different story. My expectations are sky high. I want nothing but their absolute best at every practice to ensure we hold on to our championship status, and they know that. Not only do they know that, they want that. They have a fire in them and are determined to be back to back champions. We will stop at nothing to ensure that happens,” said Jasper Dancers Head Coach Kaitlyn Marquette.

Student Engagement has been supportive of the Dancers and their efforts thus far and going forward, doing their best to make sure the team succeeds. Beyond this support, the Dancers do hold their own fundraisers to support their travels and other expenses they need to succeed going forward into their season and Nationals.

The Nationals trophy and banner were just moved from the Student Engagement Office in Kelly Commons to Draddy Gymnasium. The status of the trophy and banner display is still unconfirmed by the Athletics Department.

“At the end of the day we recognize that we are our biggest fans. No ones going to cheer us on like we will. No ones going to fight for our success like we will. And no one knows the work that goes into becoming a champion team like we do. As a team, we don’t ask or look for much from others because being a Jasper Dancer is a very special thing. It’s a very personal experience for those who get the chance to be part of it. The love and passion we have for this team isn’t measured in the credibility or acknowledgment we receive from others. Not having a banner hung or a trophy displayed doesn’t make us any less of a National Champion team. We still have rings. Granted, would it be nice to be able to walk through Draddy and see our accomplishments proudly showcased beside the other teams who are positively representing, and have positively represented, Manhattan College as well? Yes. But at the end of the day we’re still proud of ourselves, we still keep our heads high, and we still do what we have to do to hopefully win another title next year,” said Fletcher.

The Championship Rings will be distributed to the Dancers and displayed at Manhattan Madness, where the Dancers will perform a Hip Hop routine for the student body.

“As we will see by their performance at Madness, I think this year’s team looks great, and knowing their returning student leadership on the team, I know they’re expecting the same results. What am I looking forward to? The discussion on what their back-to-back national championship rings should look like,” said Bennett.