Occidental Dance Team Places 16th in Nationals

With no coach, little official school funding, and $13 bejeweled leotards going up against $500 costumes, the three-time nationally ranked Occidental Dance Team managed to place 16th in hip hop and 18th in jazz in their division in the UDA/UCA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., held Jan. 14-16.


It was the 4-year-old team's fourth appearance at the competition, a face-off for qualifying teams from across the country. Finalists appeared on ESPN.

"We do everything on our own. We don't have a coach. We have to pay for our choreographers. It takes a lot of work," says team member Mackenzie Tucker '14, from San Diego. "We've been practicing our dances since August. It's been nonstop."

For the first time, the Occidental team competed in both hip hop and jazz dance, performing the pieces that won them first place in those categories at the regional dance competition at UC Irvine in November. The jazz routine was professionally choreographed, and the hip hop routine arranged by Chris Monteath '13, a diplomacy and world affairs major from Franklin, Tenn.

"Going to nationals made me very optimistic for next year. We received a lot of great feedback from the judging panel," said team captain Alyssa Cuervo '11. "There is a lot of work that we need to do in order to better our team for next year, but as a team I think we are all ready to get better and stronger."

The team, which performs at all of the College's football and basketball games, intensified their practice in the last week before competition, laboring from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the College's dance studio.

Tucker describes the troupe's hip hop routine, "Dancing Shoes," as "super upbeat and very fast." The jazz dance, "B-Line," has a birds-of-prey theme. "We're wearing red, orange, and yellow feathers on our costumes and it's like we're attacking the judges. It's a lot slower than the hip hop but it's a lot more intense in our facial expressions and movements," says Tucker, whose mother Melinda helped purchase and make the costumes and also bought team members sweatshirts and duffel bags.

"Having simple things like duffel bags and actual costumes makes such a difference in our confidence level. It raises it by like a million," said Cuervo.

At the UDA/UCA national competition, teams are placed in four divisions based on size. Occidental's team, in Division III/Open, competed against 33 schools, such as Harvard University, Cal Lutheran, the University of Wisconsin at Au Clare, Orange Coast College, Queens College, and the University of St. Thomas. Teams that made it into the top 10 proceeded to the finals.

"The judges rate you based on overall effect, and then technique is huge," Cuervo says. "Turns and jumps and synchronization are the three biggest things."

Last year, the troupe placed 21st in Division III/Open, a big accomplishment for a small team of nine--which has since grown to 11 members. Since Occidental has no formal dance department, the Dance Team is considered a club sport and is given just $2,000 a year in school funds. The team did all of its own fundraising to compete in Florida. They raised about $10,000--for costumes, shoes, warm-up gear, travel, and competition registration--by holding fundraisers virtually every weekend since school started, including car washes, bake sales, and fundraisers at local restaurants. After the team gave her a persuasive PowerPoint presentation, Dean of Students Barbara Avery approved giving the troupe an additional $2,000.

The Dance Team members are Cuervo, a mathematics major from La Canada; Chelsea Duncan '12 (vice president), a kinesiology major from Centennial, Colo.; Dayna Chikamoto '12, a psychology major from Honolulu; Michelle Morioka '12, a cognitive science major from Aiea, Hawaii; Chelsa Greene '13 (treasurer), from El Cerrito; Hillary Minich '13, a chemistry major from Scottsdale, Ariz.; Kimberly Lockwood '12, a psychology major from Portland, Ore.; Samantha Siegel '12, an economics major from Palo Alto; Courtney Smurdon '12, a DWA major from Los Angeles; Emily Hawkins '14, from Petaluma; and Tucker.