Overcoming Obstacles: Jasper Dancers Place Fourth for D1 Jazz in 2021 NDA Virtual Nationals

by, Nicole Rodriguez, Production Editor

The Jasper Dancers have once again broken Manhattan College Jasper Dancer history. Following their 2019 National Championship title in Division 1 Hip-Hop and the cancellation of the 2020 championship due to COVID-19, this year the Jasper Dancers received their highest score to date for Division 1 Jazz placing 4th in the nation in the 2021 NDA Virtual Nationals.

After a physically and emotionally challenging season, this achievement serves as a testament to what the team is able to accomplish with their dedication, ambition, and perseverance. After COVID-19 deprived them from trying to defend their national championship title last year, the Jasper Dancers entered this new year hopeful.

“With no basketball games to attend, the Jasper Dancers kept dancing, and kept working behind closed doors,” Madeline Donahue said. “Working on our technique, our social media presence, publishing some ‘game day dances’ to be posted on our pages to cheer on the basketball teams, and two showcase dances to show that we were still working on ourselves.”

Despite having limited practices, face masks, positive COVID-19 cases, and new rules and regulations for the virtual competition format, the team was still able to overcome these challenges and compete on the highest stage at the 2021 NDA Virtual Nationals.

“All girls had to wear face masks while practicing which influenced the way in which they breathe while dancing,” said Quad alum former Jasper Dancer Megan Dreher’ 20 who now serves as coach for the team alongside Taylor Malangone’ 20. “It also limited the times we were able to practice in Draddy due to how many teams were allowed in the gym at any given time. It affected how we competed because the school was not allowing any overnight travel, which meant there was almost no possibility of us competing in person at Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida.”

She continued.

“It also affected our practice time because we had a few COVID scares as well with some girls testing positive, meaning we couldn’t practice in person. Not to mention the mental toll this pandemic took on the girls. We were short on time and definitely burnt out, but the girls were able to over- come these challenges for the success of the team and I am so proud of them for that.”

Preparation for the competition itself differed from years past seeing as the team was under a time crunch. In a typical year, routines for Nationals are started in November, whereas this year, the team began working on their jazz routine in January.

“Because of girls having to quarantine as well as the limited time we had, we unfortunately had to make the tough decision to not compete in the Hip Hop category to defend our title,” Dreher said. “It was a very hard decision to make, but we wanted to make sure we put our best out there for the world to see, and we didn’t feel that could happen with only a month to learn, clean, and perfect a routine. The deadlines for virtual submission of routines were also about two weeks prior to the actual in person event, so we had less time than normal.”

Even with limited preparation time, the team still made the most of every practice in order to best perfect and display their routine on video.

“Although our practice time was a fraction of what it normally would have been, each practice was definitely action packed,” Donahue said. “We would do our dance in small groups to analyze how each person looks to aim to achieve uniformity. We would sit and watch our videos on a projector after practices to see what looks strong and what needs work.”

Manhattan College Jasper Dancer made history by receiving their highest score ever in the NDA D1 Jazz Division. @MANHATTANCOLLEGEDANCETEAM / COURTESY

In the process of creating their video submission for the virtual competition, the team was met with additional factors to keep in mind, such as having to keep their masks on for the performance.

“We had to practice performing with our masks on because your performance quality is something that is judged, so with a mask on it’s hard to give 100 percent of your performance, and have it read through a video,” said Donahue.

Similarly, the team was not allowed to edit their video submission at all and was not allowed to dub the music over the video in order to prevent cheating.

“The main rule enforced for the virtual competition was that you can only submit an unedited video,” Donahue said. “This means it has to be a super strong version of the dance, where you can hear the music adequately. It was definitely tough having to redo the dance five plus times to be comfortable with a video.”

Senior Kimberly Heller was grateful for the experience to compete virtually as it presented the opportunity for friends and family to watch their performance which otherwise would not have been possible.

“One thing I loved about the virtual competition experience was the way our friends and family were able to watch our performance, unlike any other year,” Heller said. “Seeing my best friends sitting in Draddy and my parents on Zoom watch some of my last dance performances would not have been possible if we went to Daytona, unless they hopped on a plane to see the competition, and in that way I am grateful for this experience.”

While there exists certain advantages to performing their routine on video, nothing compares to the in-person experience of competing in Nationals at Daytona Beach.

“One advantage was the ability to take multiple videos of the routine and pick the best one, but you really do miss the adrenaline rush from performing live and for an audience,” Dreher said.

When faced with obstacles and adversity, the Jasper Dancers continuously grow and improve. They are fueled and ready to compete next year where they hope to return back in-person.

“I think the best thing to focus on is significant improvement from year to year,” Dreher said. “As long as we are showing consistent growth, then that’s a win for me. I am so proud of their humility and their passion. They know what it takes to win, and I think a program like this will continue to set records and turn heads for years to come.”