Beyond the Sidelines: Three Perspectives on UDA Nationals

Jan. 17, 2014

Periodically throughout the season, members of the Michigan dance team will offer their behind-the-scenes views on the squad. This weekend (Jan. 18-19), the team is at the Universal Dance Association College Dance Team Nationals in Orlando, Fla. Three bloggers -- sophomore Jordan Haag, junior Cassidy Lawlor and senior Melissa Rich -- provide this edition of the "Beyond the Sidelines" blog with some reflections on approaching nationals.

Melissa Rich
Melissa Rich

My competitive dance career began at about six years of age and it will end in just a few days. Since I don't think this information will date myself, that's 15 years of competitive dancing. I have been fortunate to compete with the Michigan dance team at nationals for all three years I have been on this team and wouldn't rather take the stage one last time with any other group than this one.

This year feels very different. On one hand, I think it is partly because I know this is my last time competing on this level. On the other hand, I feel more ready to compete with this team as compared to the previous two years. There is an air of confidence in this year's team that I have never witnessed before. Instead of nerves, we are all just ready to perform. We have been working our hardest to proudly represent the University of Michigan, and we promise not to let you, our supporters, down.

The support we have received this year in preparation for nationals has completely blown all of us away and has amped up our confidence tremendously. Be on the lookout for updates from our performances! Now it's time to board the plane one last time for the Universal Dance Association National Competition.

Go Blue!
- Mel

Cassidy Lawlor
Cassidy Lawlor

Hello! It's Cass reporting from seat 35F (window seat). I've been shaking in my boots waiting for my first blog opportunity. My reason for blogging today is because we're on our way to the UDA Dance Team National Championship in Orlando. In English, it's the largest and most prestigious college dance and cheer competition in the world. We compete in the highest division (1A) and we prepare a jazz and a hip-hop routine.

In the summer, all 26 of us audition to become one of the 15 selected to perform the jazz routine and the hip-hop routine. Since freshman year I have been fortunate enough to be selected for both nationals teams. Bless my coaches and choreographers for believing in my 5-foot-11 frame and flying limbs.

Being in both the jazz and hip-hop competitions gives our team a chance to completely switch gears and transform into two entirely different characters. Jazz elicits the need for flawless technique and grace, while hip-hop calls for forceful and aggressive movements. Both involve immense strength and synchronization.

The six-month preparation and effort that goes into a pair of two-minute routines (yes, you read that correctly) goes to show the level of competition of the college dance team world. It is all about the details: which way our left big toe is pointing on count six, the careful choice of music and choreographers, and the hours of our mothers rhinestoning our costumes with toxic glue are just a few examples. But each of those ingredients are vital to the four minutes of performance time we get in semifinals (hopefully we get to do it again in finals).

Call us crazy, but we love it. But those brief moments of our team being together on that nationals stage are the moments we have waited for all year, and I cannot wait to leave it all on the floor with my best friends. My second favorite part of nationals is seeing what the other teams bring. Last year, UNLV's hip-hop costume included airbrushed tattoo sleeves! Each team finds a way to inspire.

I've never been more proud of this team, and I'm really enjoying being a junior and hopefully a decent role model to the underclassmen. I've probably put way too much pressure on myself as a first-year co-captain, but every droplet of blood, sweat, and tears is worth it for these brilliantly talented girls and this program. And especially for Michigan. I know our work is about to pay off. See you in a couple days AA.

Go Blue!
- Cass

Jordan Haag
Jordan Haag

A wise man once said, "You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go. You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime." Perhaps you've recognized that's the chorus from Eminem's "Lose Yourself." But if you didn't, I suggest you listen to it while reading this blog. It is arguably the anthem to UDA nationals and what it is like to perform a two-minute dance that you spent six months working on.

I've been trying to think of the right words to explain what it's like to be at UDA nationals, but it's an amazing experience I really can't put into words. Also going on during UDA nationals is UCA (Universal Cheer Association) nationals, so it's an environment filled with an overwhelming amount of energy, school pride and noise. I keep picturing the competition scenes from Bring It On in my head with every team giving it their all on the floor.

I was a freshman last year at nationals and I was overwhelmed from the moment that I walked into ESPN Wide World of Sports. Every team is matching from clothing down to their hair and makeup. We walk off the bus focused, with our headphones on, and not saying a word to those around us or paying attention to the other teams (who are probably doing the exact same thing).

The casual and friendly interaction takes place after we've competed or if we are getting ready in the same area as another team. Some of us have friends on different dance teams, like Michigan State. It is always great being able to talk to other teams who have worked just as hard as you have.

Semifinals take place on Saturday and finals take place on Sunday. Semifinals are definitely more high stakes and nerve-wracking than finals. You dance on an elevated stage and all eyes are on you as you give it your all. If you don't do well in semis, you won't make it into finals. If you do earn a spot in the finals, you're excited and motivated to do the dance one last time with your best friends. The cool thing about finals is that the dance floor is at ground level and our fans, teammates and parents are right there in front of us pumping us up. Finals are when you feel so happy to be representing your school and knowing that all the hard work paid off.

The biggest thing you learn from nationals is how to focus your energy into a two-minute dance that you spent half a year working on. The amount of concentration you need to block out external distractions and focus on your routine and technique is extraordinary. Mental preparation is just as important as physical training at practice. Another thing I learned is how much I appreciate the art of dance. Every team brings incredible routines and it makes me proud to be a dancer.

I'm so happy to be in Orlando with my teammates. We've worked our butts off and we've got one shot, just like Eminem said.

As always, Go Blue!
- Jordan