Dragons Dance Goes to Disney World

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By: Geneva Nodland, nodlandge@mnstate.edu 

MSUM’s dance team traveled to Orlando, Florida last month for the 2019 UCA & UDA College Cheerleading & Dance Team National Championship.

While the rest of Minnesota was experiencing below zero temperatures, the dance team was competing down in sunny Orlando Jan. 17-Jan. 21. They took twelfth place with their pom routine, among the rest of the nation’s teams. One of the four team captains, Erin Christenson, 20, said it was a great experience. Christenson is a junior majoring in elementary inclusive education and has been dancing her whole life, including the past three years with MSUM’s dance team.

Another member of the team, Abi Skinner, 20, agreed with her team captain about the trip. Skinner has also been dancing for her entire life, beginning at just three years old. She is a business administration major with an emphasis in marketing, and is in her second year at MSUM and with the dance team.

“It was so amazing … it’s such an indescribable experience,” Skinner said. “There’s no words to describe walking out on that floor knowing that there’s teams like the U of M (University of Minnesota) and Ohio State that are walking out, doing their thing and rocking it.”

Out of the 32 teams MSUM competed against, they fell just short of making finals.

“We really wanted to make finals, and we thought that we had it with our team. Our team is so skilled this year … but sadly we didn’t make finals,” Skinner said. “They have a cutoff … that can be a thousandth of a point. It can be down (to) the littlest thing that can get you to finals or not.”

Although they were only two points away in one dance, the competition was very close.

“Two points seems like not a lot, like it’s within reach, but within those two points there’s five teams so it’s tight,” Skinner said.

It’s because of that close competition that every move counts. Technique, difficulty level, choreography, use of floor and moving as a team are all influential to gaining points at this competition.

“Timing I think is the biggest thing … for dancing you want to be one person, you all want to dance as one person,” Skinner said, “so really the uniformity of it is a really big determining factor.”

This year the team received a surprise when they ran into their traveling fan group at Disney World. A group of MSUM alumni, who were on the dance team during their time at MSUM, traveled together to Florida to support MSUM’s dancers. The group tries to do one trip a year together, and this year they chose to take that vacation to nationals.

“It was the sweetest thing,” Christenson said. “We happened to be on the same bus, getting us from the airport to Disney.”

As exciting as nationals are for the team, they went through a lot of preparation to get there. Throughout the season, they have to fundraise for this adventure.

“We do bake sales during basketball and football games, we do push save coupons, we work the Scheels Arena concessions,” Christenson said. “We do personal donations, and we do have our own dues that we have to pay also.”

This year the team’s fundraising coordinator connected with the company Love Your Melon. They were given 200 hats to sell and have some left over, but hope to sell them again for future fundraising.

“It was a different fundraiser … the Love Your Melon hats were something that we could give to the students,” Skinner said. “They’re really cute little red hats with the dragon logo on it so anybody can buy it. They made awesome gifts, so I think that it was really cool to get to promote that and then wear them, too.”

They also ran a camp for young kids, and the turnout was very rewarding to both the team and the kids in attendance. The kids really look up to the dancers according to Skinner.

“It’s so cool seeing that we’re role models to them,” Skinner said. “… and knowing that we’re leaving our mark and impacting our community too.”

When the team isn’t raising money for nationals, they are entertaining and supporting MSUM athletics. Their season begins with MSUM football sideline and halftime shows, before competitions start later fall around October, according to Christenson.

“Then it’s hard practices from there on out through nationals in January,” she said, “and now we’re just doing a couple basketball performances here and there.”

The final routine may have been just two minutes long, but because of its difficulty the team endured hard workouts and went over it time and time again. Those hard workouts included 6:00 a.m. practices three days a week. 

“We do a lot of cardio endurance just because they’re such high energy routines, and this year was one of our hardest routines we’ve ever had,” Christenson said. “… it gets to be a lot, but that’s what you need to do to succeed.”

Nationals may be over, but, “our season never really ends,” Skinner said. Throughout the year the team is on the lookout for graduating seniors from the area, especially in their hometowns. They reach out to them on social media, introducing themselves and telling them about MSUM’s dance team.

Throughout the summer the team has three weekend-long practices at MSUM.

“We never stop training,” Skinner said. “We have at-home workouts that we have to do throughout the summer, which are hard, but it’s all worth it once you get here and the coaches tell you to run eight stair laps and you’re like ‘alright, I can do that.’”

Over the past two years the team has grown in number and skill. According to Christenson, there were only six or seven on the team her freshman year, and this year they’re at 21 dancers. Even with the bigger group, both dancers agreed that the team is like a family. Skinner said that last year, her first year here, being on the team helped her transition into college. She said it was nice having upperclassmen by her side through it all.

“I remember the first week, not knowing where I was going. I didn’t know anybody and I was freaking out, but it was cool having one group … and we just grew so close,” Skinner said.

With nationals under their belt, the team is now preparing for try-outs in the spring and anticipating more growth in their next season.

 

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