The Jasper Dancers Make History at Nationals

By Megan LaCreta, Arts & Entertainment Editor

The Jasper Dancers made history at the NDA Nationals Competition in Daytona Beach. Fl., making the D1 Jazz finals for the first time in program history.

The team also ranked fourth in the nation for D1 Hip Hop, continuing a legacy of success in the genre since winning first place at their most recent Nationals competition in 2019.

Despite facing a team inexperienced on the Nationals stage and pressure to match their previous victory, the Dancers pulled off a performance they were more than proud of, as senior co-captain Imogene Donovan described.

“In the past, we counted ourselves out for Jazz, saying we just don’t have the technique when we had very strong like jazz dancers, but it just wasn’t our time yet,” Donovan said. “I think this year really set a standard. I don’t see this team placing anything below finals for the future, and I’m just very proud that it just finally happened, especially being the first time dancing in three years.”

Co-captain Madeline Donohue, agreed.

“We obviously were hoping with everything in us to come back with another title, and I will say that myself and every single person on that team and our two coaches prepared in every right way and did everything that we could,” said Donohue. “You just really don’t know who’s gonna go down there and compete or what crazy teams from across the country are going to be there or what team has been practicing tirelessly, just as we did in 2019 when we jumped from 11th place in the previous year up to first place.”

The team certainly puts in the effort, attending late night and weekend practices in the lead up to Nationals. They start learning choreography for the competition in the Fall semester, while also learning routines they perform at Jasper Basketball games as a part of the Spirit Squad.

As part of the Spirit Squad, the Jasper Dancers fall under Student Engagement rather than the Athletics department, a distinction that has led to occasional challenges for the team. They don’t have access to the department’s athletic trainers. They also don’t have priority class registration, like members of teams under Athletics have, and struggle to find a time to practice where members don’t have to show up late or leave early due to class. 

Donovan noted that the team also struggled with scheduling spaces to practice, and even had to compete with intramural basketball games while preparing for Nationals. 

“It is very hard to stay focused, no matter what’s going on around you, but especially when a ball is rolling into the middle of our practice area while we’re dancing,” Donavan said. “And on top of that, like sometimes they would ask us to leave the court and go on the D ring, which then we don’t have full space… We are not at the top of the list at all.”

Athletics Director Marianne Reilly explained why the Jasper Dancers are not a part of Athletics at Manhattan in an email to The Quadrangle, emphasizing the school’s respect for the team as athletes.

“The structure [of Athletics] is different at many institutions – some [dance] programs are included in athletics, others in Student Engagement/Activities.  We do respectfully look at these programs as student-athletes and they are as committed to their specialty as many of our varsity program members. The NCAA does not include Dance or Cheer as part of its NCAA sponsored sports, but like I said before some institutions house spirit teams in areas outside of athletics,” Reilly wrote. 

The co-captains explained that while they are proud members of the Spirit Squad, not being considered an athletic team also resulted in a lack of enthusiasm and support from peers, as Donohue described.

“It’s frustrating that there are still people at our school who don’t even know that we won a national championship or don’t even know that we compete,” Donohue said. “They’re like, ‘Where are you guys going, basketball season’s over. What are you guys up to?’ It’s like, oh my goodness, the biggest part of our season. Getting that recognition and getting the support from our school would feel incredible and obviously that’s not something that we’ll see in our time.”

They also noted that support feels lacking from the men’s basketball team. Before Nationals, the dancers held a showcase to perform their competition routines for the school. While the women’s team, who Donovan described as the dancers “number one fans,” could be seen in the stands, the men’s team was notably largely absent, which Donohue addressed.

“It’s disheartening and frustrating to not see any members or a few members there supporting you when you would have to leave your job early or leave class early or do these things just so you could be a part of your team and do what you love,” Donahue said. “It is really frustrating to not see that when we’re putting our whole lives aside just to support them to try and get other people to support them, that they can’t take a little bit of time to also be on our side of the ring supporting.”

Despite the many struggles the Jasper Dancers have faced, the co-Captains are deeply grateful for their time spent on the team, Donohue for five years and Donovan for four. 

“You just grow so much being part of this team, and getting to watch the people around you grow and the team grow over these past five years has been like nothing short of… gratifying, but like that that word doesn’t even have enough magnitude to explain what I’m saying,” Donohue said. “It has honestly been the utmost pleasure to be a part of this team and to be captain of this team for the past two years.”

“I love that these people are my family, like my home away from home, and I’m just so incredibly grateful for all of them,” Donovan said. “Truly, my college experience is the Jasper Dancers.”

For those looking to join the Jasper Dancer family, the team is holding open workshops on April 24th and May 4th to dance with them and learn more about the program.