by, Pete Janny, Sports and Managing Editor
The repercussions of the coronavirus have been earth-shattering as everything from graduations to weddings to sporting events have been impacted. Sadly, many of those events have been cancelled, and the best-case scenario for many others is a diminished version of the original thing. Above all else, lives have been lost and the health of many others has been compromised; those are the ultimate tragedies. But through it all, in a strangely beautiful way, we have been reminded of the things we love most in this life.
For the Jasper Dancers, this time apart from one another has made them double down in their commitment to spreading love through the symbolism of dancing. A team mantra throughout the season, “remember your why,” was put to the ultimate test as the Jasper Dancers’ season was cut short, and their road to Nationals ended three weeks before getting on the plane to the NDA Nationals competition.
This past season was one full of hype and anticipation for the Jasper Dancers as they set out to defend their National Title in the D1 Hip-Hop Category at the 2019 NDA Nationals. Having set the bar extraordinarily high for themselves with that historic accomplishment, the team faced higher expectations than ever before during their championship defense this past season. Beginning back in August, they began a journey that entailed months of practice and countless memories made in the process. The arrival of March ushered in what should have been the most exciting stretch of their season, starting with an excursion to the annual MAAC Basketball Tournament in mid-March and ending with a trip to Daytona for the NDA Nationals in April.
But given the pandemic, the season ended much differently than anyone could have expected just a few months earlier.
On March 13, the Jasper Dancers were in Atlantic City for the MAAC tournament. Despite the elimination of the men’s team that night, the team and the rest of the spirit squad were due at least one more day in AC to cheer on the women’s basketball team in their quarterfinals game the next day.
But unfortunately, only less than 12 hours later, they were on a bus back to the Bronx as the whole country braced for a lockdown. At that point, it was natural for the team to wonder if they would ever get another chance to perform alongside one another.
A few weeks later, the biggest domino fell with the cancellation of the NDA Nationals. It became official: the season was over.
In trying to process their new reality, the Jasper Dancers could have reacted in a number of different ways. They could have let the disappointment of the shortened season define them. Or, just as conveniently, they could have gone their separate ways to wait for the renewed hope of next season. But instead, they stayed true to themselves and persevered.
To commemorate the season they had, the team produced a virtual dance routine that simulated the performance they would have done in hopes of defending their title at the NDA Nationals. The song chosen for the routine is “Seasons of Love” by Jonathan Larson. This song and its associated choreography encapsulates the team’s genuine and infectious passion for dancing.
“Our shared love is most evident in the strength and unity that we built together throughout the season,” rising sophomore Samantha Miraglia said. “The dance ‘Seasons of Love’ itself was choreographed to showcase the love we have for dance and for each other, to spread a powerful message and to represent who we are as Jasper Dancers. The dance is so extremely unique and powerful. We had a story to share and there was no way we weren’t going to share that with the world.”
The video opens with a brief message from head coach Kaitlyn Marquette that reflects on her team’s journey and describes the motivation for going public with the routine. Marquette closes her remarks with a reminder for viewers to “always measure your life in love.” The video then cuts to the start of the performance, which gives the audience a powerful and personal look at the dancers performing from their respective homes.
Despite the rave reviews the video received, it almost never happened. It took a lot of careful deliberation before Marquette felt comfortable enough to film the routine for the world to see. The decision came with its fair share of risks.
“I went back and forth for weeks deciding whether or not to redo the routine next season,” Marquette said. “This dance was very meaningful to all of us, it had a message. Not just dance for entertainment purposes. As much as I wanted this dance to be showcased on the Nationals stage, holding on to it would mean never being able to let go. The [2020-2021] Jasper Dancers deserve a new dance, new challenges and new risks. It would hold them back as well as our program if we kept this dance for another season.”
“Many schools are holding on to their dances for next year, or are still not sure what to do. We still had three weeks of practicing before we were set to head to nationals. So our routine, and the videos we had from the season were nowhere near perfect or performance ready. It takes a lot of courage to post a dance that is ‘imperfect’. I was willing to take that risk to share our story, and even if it touched just one or two people, we accomplished what we set out to do.”
The lead-up to nationals every year is a long process. The team has to first qualify for the competition the previous summer before they can start preparing during the fall semester. The “Seasons of Love” routine figured to be a risky choice for the Hip-Hop Category, given its origins in the 1996 Broadway musical “Rent.” In order to make it work, the dancers needed to tap into their psyches to relate the meaning of the song to their own life journeys. Additionally, they had to take the song’s message of love to heart and manifest it as a team.
“It was definitely a risk because no one would think of such a powerful Broadway song as a hip hop routine, but my coach had a vision and we stood behind her in that,” senior captain Megan Dreher said. “The process was very unique, because it’s a different type of connection we had to build while we danced. We had to find our personal reasons for telling this story, while also having a team connection to make sure we were in sync. That was our biggest challenge…making sure the movement and the emotion matched, and helped to build one another.”
Recent events have made the team more reflective on the reasons why they dance. It is times like these when competitive results look a lot less important in the grand scheme of things.
“This year especially with our theme of ‘measure your life in love’ we realized that being on this team is not about winning,” rising senior captain Madeline Donohue said. “Because there comes a point where we put in all of our literal blood, sweat, and tears, but it’s really possible that the judges just don’t like your dance no matter how flawlessly you execute it and that’s a story the Jasper Dancers know all too well. If we put too much pressure on our end results, it takes away from how we got here and why we continue to dance.
Given everything they had been through together, having to say goodbye to the seniors so soon was hard to accept. Their contributions to the team both on and off the dance floor will never be forgotten.
“The 2020 Jasper Dancer Graduates are quite literally indescribable,” Donohue said. “This program each year that I have been here gets pushed past any point we thought was possible and these seniors exude exactly that. They gave all of us the confidence to conquer what we thought was the impossible. Their legacy will live on for all generations of the future Jasper Dancers, because they are all just that great. The talent, the passion, the love, I will miss absolutely everything about these girls but I am beyond excited to see what they conquer in life.”
Going into next season there will be no shortage of motivation to prove they have the mental and physical stamina to compete for a championship. These past few months worth of challenges have shown they have the toughness and composure to achieve their future goals.
“The last couple of months have definitely been disappointing and I can’t help but feel like there’s unfinished business but at the same time I’ve tried to stay positive and think that this next season is just a continuation of all the hard work,” rising junior captain Imogene Donovan said. “Our team also has a chance like no other that we get to defend our title two whole years in a row. That’s an opportunity like no other.”
Under the direction of coach Marquette, the future is bright for the program. Marquette has been a constant source of inspiration and comfort to her team throughout the years. And during this pandemic, she has continued to amaze her team with her creativity and proactivity.
“Our coach [Marquette] means so much to this team,” Donohue said. “Her dedication has not wavered once through this pandemic and it was just as much a loss for her as it was to us, if not more. Being the coach of this team requires so much dedication and she’s proven her passion for us throughout the pandemic… She has been such a strong leader for us throughout such an uncertain time. She’s laughed and cried with us about our season countless times, but most importantly given us hope for what the future has for us.”
2020 has been a wild ride for everyone in the world, especially for us Americans. With that in mind, the Jasper Dancers felt it was necessary to use their talents to spread love. By doing so, they are doing their small part to help heal society.
“I think the motivation for putting this video out of our hip hop routine was twofold,” Dreher said. “The first was that we wanted people to see this dance that we worked so incredibly hard on for months on end. It was unfortunate to think that this dance could just be scrapped because a pandemic prevented us from showcasing it to the world. But our second motivator was much more powerful, and that was the fact that we knew how pertinent our message was. It told a story of community and compassion. I think that everyone needs to be reminded of those elements of life every so often, especially in the midst of all that is happening. Sharing our dance by coming together while apart was meant to show the power of dance, of music, and of community.”