UND dance team in Orlando, Fla., at Universal Dance Association national championships.
The University of North Dakota competition dance team turned some heads with a Top 10 finish at the Universal Dance Association national championships Jan. 13-15 in Orlando, Fla., after only its second year competing in the tournament.
Last year, according to Amber Eberhardt, UND cheer/dance team adviser, the team didn't even qualify for the final round of judging. But, this year; hard work, practice, an infusion of new talent and dedication to the art helped UND surge to 10th place out of 27 college teams in the "Jazz" category of UDA's Football Championship Series (FCS) division. Only the Top 12 teams in each category are ranked.
"The team has come such a long way in two short years since we began competing at nationals," Eberhardt said. "The girls fundraise all summer and fall to afford the $1,500 plus price tag that goes along with competing at nationals, as well as remain full time students and members of the regular dance team which means lots of practices, games, fundraising and events.
"It is a very big time commitment but well worth it when they are preforming on that stage at nationals."
College dance teams compete in one of three divisions at nationals. Those divisions correspond with the level of college football that is played at each competing dance team's school. For instance, dance teams from many of the bigger colleges compete in the Football Bowl Series (FBS) division, because their football teams play at that level. The UND dance team competes in the FCS division, because UND football plays at the FSC level. All other non-FBS or FCS schools compete in the "Open" division.
There are three categories of dance styles in which teams can compete: Pom, Hip Hop and Jazz. Teams can compete in all three if they choose, but UND decided to focus on the Jazz category this year.
The UDA national championships, the best of the best among college dance competitions, take place each year in early January at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando. This year UND competed against schools such as North Dakota State, Harvard, Missouri State, University of Northern Iowa, University of California-Fullerton, Delaware and Northern Arizona.
To qualify for nationals, teams must send in a tape of their competition routine, and based on that performance, the teams are assigned a ranking. Last year, UND's ranking was 25th out of 26 teams. This year, on the strength of UND's new performance tape, the team rocketed to 5th out of 27 teams in the FCS level.
There are 20 women on the UND dance team, and 12 of those members participate in competitions. UND is led by Eberhardt and assistant coach Brittney Weber. Team members who competed in Orlando comprise Leigha Wallin, Alexandra Wald, Jennifer Britz, Elizabeth Hoskins, Michala Tillemans, Hayley Berg-Lefebvre, Macy Seehafer, Lauren Moug, Monika Sziron, Laura Elsbernd, Kenzie Pichetti and Julia Robbie.
The team begins learning their routine over the summer months and work on it through December when competition season starts. UND does 3-5 competitions in December and January in North Dakota and Minnesota.
The UND dance team started doing local competitions in the mid-to-late 90's, every year trying to attract more talent and get better to qualify for nationals.
"In 2011, we were finally able to make it happen with our first trip to Orlando," Eberhardt said.
The success of just going to nationals had a ripple effect for the UND team the following spring when it came time for tryouts.
"After we made that appearance, the talent at spring tryouts was greater than anything we had seen in the past and we were able to put together a really talented team for this season," Eberhardt said. "We went back this year and made it to finals and into the Top 10! I am just so proud of them and all that they accomplished this season!"