Alumni Marina Kimzey, Angel Waller and Alexa Beaty perform at half time during the 2022 football season. Past their high school career, the three have moved on to perform at a collegiate level.
Alumni Marina Kimzey, Angel Waller and Alexa Beaty perform at half time during the 2022 football season. Past their high school career, the three have moved on to perform at a collegiate level.
Ashanti Riccardo

NEWS: The Superbowl of the Dance Community – UDA Nationals

Spirit programs do more than just cheer on the sidelines

During sporting events, we always see the usual. The players working hard and their fans cheering loud. But what if someone told you there is another team at almost every game that often goes unnoticed? 

The team that leads cheers and chants, who often perform at halftime, with the stand out uniforms called the dance team. Although a lot of sports fans think they are just there to “spirit and look pretty,” that isn’t the case. Free State Dance Team alum Angel Waller now dances for Texas Tech University’s dance team. 

“We cheer at multiple sports across the year,” Waller said. “I just feel like we go unnoticed for how much hard work we put into our season as well.”

The Universal Dance Association is a program hosted by the company Varsity Spirit, founded by Jeff Webb and Kris Shepherd. UDA began in 1980 and has grown tremendously since. The process to compete at their Nationals is lengthy and competitive, but competing isn’t the only thing that makes UDA special. UDA gives teams an opportunity to connect with their teammates and support other dancers also competing. 

“This year was unlike any other.” University of Minnesota Dance Team member Sophia Hedlund said. “The environment at nationals is crazy because everyone is down there to compete and put out their best performance but at the same time every team has so much respect for each other and is constantly supportive no matter what.”

Many overlook the vigorous practices and preparation that go into the halftime performances and dances seen all over their TikTok For You Page. Many college dance teams practice multiple times per week, including during school sanctioned breaks. Leading up to State and Nationals, teams spend up to 56 hours ensuring their jazz, pom and hip hop dances are practically perfect. 

“We typically practice three days a week for four hours and lift two times a week for an hour,” Hedlund said. “During winter break we start ‘two a days’ where we are practicing twice a day every single day until we leave for nationals.”

With the rise of cheer and dance being grouped together, there is debate over whether they are the same for both high school and college levels. Since both teams look and dress the same, most sports fans can’t tell the difference. Although they are on the sidelines together, dance and cheer are very different.

“Cheer does stunting, tumbling and they call chants and dance performs at halftime and does more of the dancing,” sophomore and Free State Dance Team member Jacie Butler said. “They have similarities, we do the first part of practice together and then we split to learn our halftime routine.”

The hard work that teams across the country put into a three day event proves how difficult and intricate being on a college dance team is. Although there is an ongoing debate on whether dancers should be considered athletes because it’s often considered a hobby, Waller disagrees. 

“People should step in our shoes for one day,” Waller said. “Fans just see us as pretty girls, and not girls that are athletes. We are athletes.”

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