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Dance Team Does It All

By Lande A. Spottswood, Crimson Staff Writer

A week after the crescendo of a season that never ends, the captains of the Crimson Dance Team lounge together in their Lowell common room, casually and clearly at home.

Megan Cameron is sprawled across a futon and Thea Daniels leans forward in a chair, both blondes talking above the din of their roommates and each other.

As they speak of the Dance Team and its recent sixth-place finish in the National Dance Alliance (NDA) Cheer and Dance Championships, they exude polish, enthusiasm and, well, sparkle—some of the same qualities their squad is known for.

And the squad is definitely known.

There’s the running joke around campus that the best reason to go to a basketball game is to watch the halftime show. There’s the Lampoon’s comp poster that featured the squad. There’s the newest simile to enter the Harvard lexicon—“she looks like a dance teamer.”

And oh yeah, there’s the nearly 10 percent of freshmen girls who tried out for the squad during freshmen week this fall.

“[The turnout] was really, really impressive,” Daniels says. “We could have easily taken twice as many as we did and still have had a competitive team. But we really had to hone it down.”

Final tally?

16 girls—a mix of former competitive gymnasts, All-American cheerleaders and pre-professional ballerinas—with the only common thread being extensive dance training.

“You had to be on top of your game to make this team this year,” Cameron says. “On the team now, there’s no one who hasn’t danced all their life. It’s been their sport throughout high school, throughout childhood.”

And it’s that talent, coupled with year-round practice, that has propelled the team back onto the national competition scene.

NATIONAL HOLIDAY

Like many college kids, the members of the Crimson Dance Team spent their spring break in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Unlike most other students, though, they were competing in the NDA Chick-Fil-A Cheer and Dance Championships.

The two-round competition—the equivalent of a national championship for collegiate dance teams—featured 80 teams separated into three divisions, with Harvard competing against 26 teams in Division I, which includes all schools with Division I-AA football teams.

The Crimson—wearing Marilyn Monroe-pink, form-fitting leotards—performed a diamond-themed routine, dancing to songs like Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby,” Moulin Rouge’s “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend,” and the DeBeer’s theme song.

“A lot of teams think it’s more important to be up-to-the-minute with their music, and they end up having the same songs as everyone else,” Cameron says. “So I think that [songs like “Ice, Ice Baby”] set us apart a little bit.”

During the preliminary round on April 1, Harvard posted a 9.13 score—tied for sixth-best with George Washington—to advance to the final round. 13 of 26 teams advanced.

In the finals the next day—where all teams perform the same 2:15 compilation of jazz, funk and pom as they did in the prelims—the Crimson improved its final standing slightly, beating out George Washington for sole possession of sixth and falling only one-tenth of a point behind Wright State of Ohio for fifth.

AN UPHILL FIGHT

Though not the squad’s top performance at nationals—it finished fourth in 2002—it was a material improvement over last year’s 12th place showing and the highest finish of any non-scholarship squad in the division.

Yes, you read that correctly. Most nationally-competitive dance programs—such as perennial Division I national champion Towson—offer stipends and partial scholarship to their members, who they also recruit while in high school.

They have corporate sponsors, coaches on salary and professional choreographers.

In comparison, the Crimson Dance team sometimes doesn’t even have a place to practice.

“We are pretty much a club as far as Harvard is concerned,” Cameron says. “We get as much funding as the Texas Club. We have to fight with the people who play Aikido for fun for money. So we have entirely different circumstances than the teams we compete against, and we still completely held our own.”

With its limited budget—derived from small UC grants, club sport funding and squad-organized fundraising—the team did hire a coach this year, Meli Currie, who the captains credit with adding structure to their practices and call “instrumental” to this season’s success.

However, much of the burden of running the team still falls on the shoulders of Daniels and Cameron. The pair usually decides on routines, formations and personnel, does much of the administrative work, organizes fundraising—the trip to nationals alone cost about $2000 per girl—and Daniels is even the squad’s new web master.

And due to budget constraints, the duo was left with the task of choreographing much of this year’s competition routine, which requires much more effort than you might imagine.

“I’d say this year was the only year we’ve researched in terms of choreography,” Daniels says. “This year we actually watched lots of videos from other competitions and really adopted some of the elements we liked from other routines. A lot of the choreography was original, but some of the more technical aspects—the formations and things—were borrowed.”

No one can argue with the final results, though.

“Everyone at the competition was super impressed that we are a student-run squad,” Cameron says. “That is basically unheard of.”

EMBRACING THE STEREOTYPE

Another thing that is basically unheard of is a group of girls that looks straight out of “Bring It On” at Harvard.

These women do not fit a stereotype, but have to face them whether they are at competition—where they are “the Harvard girls”—or Cambridge, where they are “the dance team girls.”

But the skeptical look and occasional off-hand comment don’t seem to bother the girls in either place, even though sometimes when other squads see them wearing shirts emblazoned with “Harvard” they think it’s a joke.

“I love being from Harvard when we go to competition,” Daniels says, “because it kind of gives you a little consolation prize. You know, if you don’t dance well, at least you’re smart.”

And on campus?

“The stereotype I have here doesn’t bother me either,” Daniels says with a smile. “I think it kind of complicates who I am a little bit. It really isn’t something I think about.”

There probably isn’t time.

The Crimson Dance Team—part performance group, part spirit squad and part nationally-competitive dance troupe—has a schedule that never stops and a season that never ends.

They cheer at both men’s and women’s basketball games. They perform at on-campus events about as often as a cappella groups. And oh yeah, have their own competition season, which begins with the recording of a national qualifying tape in December.

When Cameron—who rooms with several varsity athletes—is asked to compare the time commitment to that of a varsity sport, she hedges before her roommate Kim Gould jumps in.

Gould—the setter for the women’s volleyball team and a member of the Crimson Dance Team her freshman season—claims that during season, volleyball practices more. But then, the dance season never stops.

“They’re both just as hard, I’ll say that,” Gould says.

So with so much to do, how do they prioritize?

Easily.

“We definitely see ourselves as a spirit squad,” Cameron says. “We gladly cheer at all the basketball games. But at the same time we can’t help but see the entire season leading up to nationals in April as our practice time. Because when it comes down to it, we are a competitive squad.”

--Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at spottsw@fas.harvard.edu.

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