By: Beth Casteel
It was a cool Saturday morning as the ladies of the Cleveland State University dance team walked into the Wolstein Center for their pre-game practice.
The mood in the room was light as they met at the Annex entrance of the building. After going downstairs to one of their practice areas, the girls immediately started to go over the choreography of the performance for that day’s game.
Doing anywhere between 16 to 20 games per school year — depending on the season — the girls take a huge time commitment to participate in the team. According to Alicia Millard, one of the head coaches from the team, there’s a lot that goes into being on the team — especially on game days.
“It’s a huge time commitment. They practice between 9 to 10 hours every week,” Millard said. “Depending on the week, we attend pretty much every game except for the games over winter break.”
Having to be at the Wolstein Center about two hours before the game, the girls have to go over warm-ups and other pregame logistics. Often times, some of the girls will come in a little early to practice the choreography of that day’s performance.
Originally known as the Vikettes, the Cleveland State Dance Team was picked up by the university’s dance department in 2007. Starting off as a student organization, the girls would have to fundraise to get uniforms and other gameday necessities.
With the team being picked up by the school’s dance program, it has allowed them to focus on other aspects of being a part of the community.
Going to events hosted by the Campus Activities Board (CAB), the homecoming parade and spending time in the Student Center passing out flyers, the girls are involved in a lot of aspects of the university. They also have close relations with the other spirit squads — the pep band and cheerleaders — and they will often go out to perform other dances alongside the cheerleaders during the men’s and women’s basketball games.
While they only perform at home games, gameday performances usually see the girls staying at the Wolstein Center for nearly six hours. Coming in early to do their warm ups and stretching for the day, they usually only have 15 minutes prior to the game to get ready before it’s show time.
It may be a time crunch for the girls, but the practices on non-game days allow them to have more time to perfect their craft. Joining the team, they are required to take a class that meets two times a week in order to develop their technique and make the girls performance ready.
Even though the girls have to take a dance class, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be dance majors or come from a dance background. While most of them take on a minor in dance, the girls range from communication majors to nursing students.
The team is currently comprised of 11 girls, all of whom have different backgrounds when it comes to their dance experience, major choice and year. Open to anyone who has a passion for dancing, the team holds tryouts every semester. While they have more people trying out in the fall terms, they see a good amount of people coming in to audition for the team.
For the girls that are currently on the team, hearing about the dance team was welcomed news. According to Kayla Ball and Kayleigh Hurst, one of the biggest factors that played into them wanting to join the team was the experience behind it.
“I saw the auditions [for the team] on the team’s Facebook page. I’ve been dancing for 15 years prior to coming to Cleveland State,” Ball said. “I’m a freshman this year [and I chose this] to get engaged. I joined the dance team because I knew it was something that I loved to do.”
With the diverse background from members of the team, they try to take time at practice for other things that could be beneficial for game day performances. Choosing a leader, the girl’s follow along with every choreographed move.
Practice also lets the girls work on their ability to adapt to any changes in the routine. During the practices, Millard will often change the songs mid-play for the girls to adjust to the quick change in beat.
While they have to condition themselves for any gameday changes, the most important aspect of their training is the choreography.
The girls choreograph most of the dances, but sometimes they have outside choreographers come in to show them new moves. While they haven’t had any outside people come in this year, the girls and the coaches have taken the opportunity to make up dances together.
Back at the Wolstein Center, the girls finished up their warm-ups for the women’s basketball game happening later that afternoon.
Prior to leaving the building so they could begin to get ready to go out to the stadium, the girls shared their thanks and made sure they left with a parting note for the next semester’s dance team.
“I think a lot of people, when they look at dance teams, have a certain perception that you have to be able to do certain tricks or you have to be able to do all kinds of splits and leaps, but with the [Cleveland State] Dance Team, we really adapt to who we have on our team,” Millard said. “We encourage people to come and try out even if they don’t have the experience from the studio. [Some of the girls] grew up and had a different experience with dance, and that’s fine. It makes it fun, and it makes the team unique.”