Back to the work that made them win

The University Dance Team returns to the hard work that led it to first place at the national level in January.

Just weeks after winning a national championship, the University Dance Team was back in practice Feb. 2. With graceful leaps and twirls the girls executed perfectly synchronized movements across the Williams Arena floor.

The team took first in the Division 1A dance competition at the 2006 College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships, marking its fourth-consecutive national title.

The championship was decided Jan. 13 and 14 in Kissimmee, Fla.

The team won its first competition in 2003, and again in 2004. It was the first team in 10 years to achieve repeat championships.

Senior captains Casey Horton and Tara Peckskamp credit the team’s success to experience, dedication and teamwork. Both said they started dancing when they were 3 years old.

Horton said the team as a whole has more than 100 years of dance experience.

“We really are a team and work at everything together,” Horton said.

This year’s dance team has 17 members, but only 14 could dance at nationals because of size stipulations at the competition. About 60 students try out for the team each year.

Being on the team is a year-round commitment requiring two or three days a week of weight lifting and cardiovascular workouts along with long practices that focus on choreography and form.

“I have never worked so hard for anything in my life,” Peckskamp said.

In addition to preparing for competition, the dance team performs at University sporting events, including football and basketball games. The team also danced at a wrestling match this year.

University sporting events, however, are not the only place the team members showcase their talents.

The team often volunteers to perform at charitable events such as the AIDS Walk and the Wheelchair Games.

Some on the team said they get overlooked because they aren’t considered student-athletes by the University.

“We don’t get the recognition from our peers that other sports do,” said communications junior Gina Becchetti.

But Peckskamp, who has been a member of all four championship teams, said University support has improved over the past four years.

Coach Amber Struzyk said the spirit squad, which includes the dance team, cheerleading squad and mascots, is among the best in the Big Ten for University-assisted financial support.

Routines are judged on technique, choreography, overall effect, group execution, projection and communication.

The success of their title-winning jazz routine not only was achieved by technique, but also by bringing the audience on a “spiritual journey,” Horton said.

Becchetti said the winning routine was fierce and passionate and involved the audience in the story of the music through body movements.

“We know that we can’t hold anything back when we’re out there, which is a huge risk, but it’s what makes us stand out and makes us champions,” Becchetti said.

” Freelance Editor Emily Kaiser welcomes comments at [email protected].