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Dance team takes 7th at first national competition

By Tina Ou     3/17/11 7:00pm

For the first time since the creation of the Rice Owls Dance Team, the dance team attended a competition to showcase their talent. From Feb. 18-20, six dance team members - Hanszen College junior Gracelyn Tan, Duncan College sophomore Shakiera Mosby, Jones College freshman Monica Barrera, Jones junior Raquel Kahn, Wiess College senior Stephanie Dunlop, and Hanszen senior Ashley Broadus - competed at the National Cheerleading and Dance Championship in Atlanta, Ga. The team placed seventh in the College Open Hip-Hop Division.

Broadus, captain of the dance team, said that the only teams that placed above the Rice team were those made up of college-age students who were performing with private dance studios. According to Broadus, all other college teams placed below the Rice Owls Dance Team.

Kahn said she had previously competed at a few national competitions with a studio, but her experience with the Rice Owls Dance Team was nothing like her previous experiences.

"It was different from anything I was expecting or that I had experienced," Kahn said. "It was huge, and it was very impressive. There was a lot of amazing and surprising talent from all over the country."

Broadus said the dance team performed twice for the judges - the first was on Saturday, after which the judges gave the dance team recommendations on how to improve their dance.

On Sunday, the dance team gave their second performance. The scores from Sunday's performance were used to determine the final placing of the teams. Broadus said the Rice Owls Dance Team increased their score by 11 points from Saturday to Sunday.

According to Braodus, the judges wanted to see more energy from the team, as well as more modern moves, since the dance routine included many '90s-style dance moves.

"We didn't really have time to incorporate a lot of new choreography in one day, but we did work a lot to improve on energy and sharpness and moving in unison," Broadus said.

Kahn said that although the dance team may have been a little ambitious this year by competing at a national-level competition, she believes competing is not only fun but also motivates dancers to reach a goal. She said attending the competition this year taught the dance team a lot both dance-wise and organizationally.

Kahn said the dance team is a big commitment, especially for students at Rice who are serious about academics, but she encourages those who enjoy dancing and are ready to dedicate themselves to the team to try out for the team during the coming fall semester.

"People underestimate what they're capable of doing," Kahn said. "If you love something or are passionate about something, you shouldn't let academics stand in your way."

Co-Captain Dunlop said she hopes the team will continue to be able to participate in dance competitions.

"I hope the dance team continues to compete in the future," Dunlop said. "The best thing was being able to take the trip as a team together. We had a great bonding experience, and we were able to see what we needed to improve in the future."

Broadus said she began choreographing the dance in October with Dunlop and Volunteer Coach Emily Smith. They finished the dance routine before winter break, and the dance team began practicing the competition piece at the beginning of spring semester. She said occasional additional practices were needed, but mostly, the team rehearsed the routine during their regular practices and even performed the competition piece at basketball games. Performing at the competition was not required for the dance team members.

Broadus said issues facing the dance team include publicity and funding. Because the dance team is relatively new to Rice, she said, there are few resources and alumni available to help the dance team. Broadus said the dance team has been working a lot more closely with the Athletics department recently and received a budget for the first time this year.

"In the future, I would love to be able to recruit people for dance," Broadus said. "If we have an established, nationally-recognized, award-winning dance team, we could have more dancers come to Rice."

Smith said she is very proud of the dance team's progress and considers the members of the dance team to be like an extended family. She said her goal is for the dance team to become one of the best teams in the country. She began volunteering as a coach for the Rice Owls Dance Team during fall of 2010. It is the first time the dance team has had a coach.

"We hope to continue entertaining spectators at Rice sporting events and representing the University with integrity and pride," Smith said. "I predict the dance team will bring home a first place trophy very soon. We will make Rice proud. Watch out, here we come."

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