Towson U. dancers are on winning streak

Team takes 8th championship in a row at Chick-fil-A Cheer and Dance event in Fla.

May 19, 2006|By MARY SCOTT | MARY SCOTT,SUN REPORTER

After almost a year of planning, conditioning and rehearsing, the Towson University Dance Team's season came down to two minutes and 15 seconds. Two minutes and 15 seconds to wow the crowd, impress the judges and dance for a score high enough to win them another championship.

The team did just that last month in Daytona Beach, Fla., where it netted its eighth consecutive win at the Chick-fil-A Cheer and Dance Collegiate Championship, which draws teams from across the country. Its title was in Dance Division I.

The Towson team's winning streak appears to be unmatched at the competition.

"I don't know of anyone at any division level that's done that," said Bill Boggs, an official with the National Spirit Group, which organizes the event.

The winning routine, performed to the songs "Another Opening, Another Show," "We Run This" and "There's No Business Like Show Business," had been in the making since January.

"Going into nationals, I felt confident about our chances, but we still had so much work to do, it was just like another step," said co-captain Mikki Bresnahan, a senior.

The work was the seven hours they practiced every day while in Florida, where they competed against about two dozen teams.

At the Chick-fil-A competition, one of several national dance contests for college students, each dance must have a jazz section, a hip-hop section and a pom dance section, along with a section emphasizing technical skills such as leaps and turns.

"I don't know if I've ever been so nervous in my life," said assistant coach Laura Blank of the team's finals performance. "You know each girl's flaw, who the best leapers are, who the best turners are. I was watching every single part that I was nervous about and had no control."

The team collectively choreographs all of its routines rather than hiring a professional choreographer.

"We love the fact that there's input from everybody on the team; it makes it a more personal experience," said co-captain Taylor Walker, a senior.

Tom Cascella, a professor in the department of theatre arts since 1977, began coaching the team five years after his daughter Kimberly died at age 2.

Cascella was good friends with the university's dean of students, who needed a coach for a new student dance group called the Tigerettes. The university official suggested that Cascella get involved.

"Working with them fills a dark place in my heart," said Cascella. "It's kind of a part of my heart and soul. It's a very personal part of me."

Boggs, the National Spirit Group official, said Cascella deserves a lot of credit for Towson's unusual winning streak.

"I think it's probably a combination of things, but if I had to put a finger on one, it would probably be their director in terms of recruiting the right caliber of students they want to get involved in their program," Boggs said.

Cascella began coaching the team 13 years ago, with no dance experience. He said that when he took over, half of the team quit because they did not want a male coach. The other half quit after he changed their name from the Tigerettes.

"When we first started, we had cheerleaders with some dance experience, and now we have dancers with some cheer experience," said Cascella.

While none of the young women on the team is a dance major, most of them have been dancing for at least 12 years.

The team practices about four days a week all year. Team members say they feed off each other for motivation.

"There is such a sisterhood here," said Bresnahan. "At different times, I look back and realize how much dedication and hard work is involved in this. The reason I'm still here is because of the girls."

Walker agrees with Bresnahan that the team members are a motivating force.

"When I wake up in the morning and am feeling completely exhausted, I think of the girls to get me to practice," she said. "Even when we're just running during conditioning, I can hear the girls in the back yelling at us to keep going."

Sun reporter Kristi Funderburk contributed to this article.

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