A Winning Streak

By Feller, Alison | Dance Spirit, April 2010 | Go to article overview

A Winning Streak


Feller, Alison, Dance Spirit


WITH 11 NATIONAL TITLES UNDER ITS BELT, THE TOWSON UNIVERSITY DANCE TEAM IS FEELING THE PRESSURE TO TAKE 12.

The 30 young women on the Towson University Dance Team are good at a lot of things, like nailing lightning-fast fouetté turn combinations in unison, executing sky-high split leaps - and wirming national trophies. In fact, for the past 11 years, the team hasn't done anything but win. In the Division I dance category at the National Dance Alliance (NDA) collegiate Nationals, Towson is the team to beat. Last year, to broaden their competitive reach, Towson entered in the open division (where a routine can be performed in any style), rather than the dance division, and still came out victorious.

But with 11 consecutive wins - some of which were by less than a tenth of a point- comes a whole lot of pressure. "We always have to be better than the year before," says Jennifer Maletto, a senior and four-year member.

Towson is known for utilizing tight formations and hard-hitting athletic moves to achieve a polished, precise style. Despite how easy the dancers make their routines look, the team works hard. This month, the Towson dancers will put their perseverance to the test as they return to the dance category in hopes of taking a 12th straight national title.

MAKING THE TEAM

At Towson, dance team hopefuls can actually make the team before they've even enrolled at the university. Cocoaches Tom Cascella and Laura King created a unique audition process for aspiring team members so they can begin grooming potential dancers before the season officially begins. Dancers can observe a rehearsal during the school year and, if they like what they see, can contact Cascella for a private audition at the school's Towson, MD, campus. After the dancers perform a solo, Cascella notifies each girl, letting her know whether or not she's been accepted for the group callback later in the semester. Each year, approximately 75 dancers audition, and 20 are invited to the callback. Only 6 to 10 make the final cut. And all of this happens before incoming freshmen have even been accepted by the university. (Of course, if you don't end up getting accepted to be one of the university's 21,000 students, you'll forgo your place on the team.)

Once you've made the team, you don't have to reaudition each year- but that doesn't mean you're safe. "You're always being evaluated," says Jennifer, the team's only dance major. "At any point, if you're not pulling your weight, you can be cut. The number of girls who make the team each year is never the same as the number who are left four years later, at graduation. It's cutthroat."

"GETTING TOWSONIZED"

Think your ballet, tap and jazz classes are enough to get you ready for Towson's high-energy choreography? Think again. According to senior Erin Ragan, nothing can totally prepare you. "Dancing at Towson is a whole new realm for the incoming freshmen," she says. "When you come from a studio, you're not used to doing the toe touches and sharp pom choreography we do. You have to be molded; we call it 'getting Towsonized.' "

To achieve their renowned athletic stamina, Towson dancers train "as hard as the football team," Erin says. Summer rehearsals- which take place outside in the heat- include runs that conclude with "the hill": After running three miles, the dancers sprint up and down one of the campus' steep inclines at least three Then, they jog to a parking garage where they up and down the stairs. "Many freshmen consider the team after their first day of rehearsal," says. "One of our current freshmen told me that had never worked as hard in her entire dance career she worked that first day."

Because each NDA dance routine must include 30 of jazz choreography, 30 seconds of hip hop and seconds of pom, the dancers must master all three "We push the freshmen like crazy until they up to the level of the rest of the team," says Laura, Towson Dance Team alum who also serves as the team's Then, once the semester starts, the dancers settle into a regular rehearsal schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30-6:30 pm and weekends as needed. …

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