Laker Dance Team takes home first-place at nationals

Courtesy / Laker Dance Team

Courtesy / Laker Dance Team

Mary Mattingly

After yet another successful year, Grand Valley State University’s Laker Dance Team has finished the semester off strong. The team recently celebrated a victory at the NCA/NDA Collegiate Dance Competition, an event that took place April 11-12 in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The team took home first place in the competition’s Division II Hip Hop category, which gives it two national wins in three years. It also placed third in this year’s Open Division category, performing a jazz routine.

“The win was unexpected,” Alexandria Steele, co-caption of the team, said. “Eighteen teams were competing; you didn’t know where you placed. Knowing you placed first is a feeling you’ll never forget.”

The National Dance Alliance sponsors cheer and dance competitions across the country, including some of the largest competitions in the U.S.

“It’s kind of like a ‘Bring It On’ movie,” co-captain Jillian Zygmontowicz said of the competition.”Wherever you’re walking, people are stunting, practicing. Everyone’s focused.”

While at the competition, the dance team received support from other teams, including local Grand Rapids universities like Davenport University and Aquinas College. The GVSU cheer team was also there competing.

“The GVSU cheer team was there to support us, and we watched them compete too,” Zygmontowicz said.

Preparation for the competition has been a year-long endeavor. The dance team has been busy both fall and winter semesters performing at home football and basketball games. The team also performed at President’s Ball, dancing with GVSU President Thomas Haas, Dean Bart Merkle and Student Senate President Jack Iott to “Gangnam Style.”

In November, the dancers learned the choreography that the team performed at April’s competition. The routines that the team performs at the competition are designed by two choreographers not affiliated with GVSU. The team only gets two days with the choreographers, so learning the movements are a rapid process. The coaches then spend time tweaking the dances: cleaning, adding lifts and setting up formations.

Steele said there was a lot of collaboration between coaches and choreographers.

“One [coach] was videotaping our routines, one was cleaning our choreography,” Zygmontowicz said. “It was nice to have someone there while we practiced choreography.”

The dancers practiced two days per week, but increased during the month preceding the competition to four times a week.

“Starting on St. Patrick’s Day, we did a month of sobriety,” Zygmontowicz said. “It helped us to be on our A-game.”

The team was fortunate to already have some degree of mental composure to carry to the competition.

“We were mentally prepared, there were a lot of returning members on the team,” Zygmontowicz said. “The freshmen knew what to expect.”

The future looks bright for the dance team. For the past five years, it has ranked in the top five of the Open Division and Hip Hop categories, and it is not ready to give up its title.

“We want to not only keep our National Championship, but win another one,” Steele said. “Two years running would be cool.”

Zygmontowicz said the victories are not just for the team, but for the entire GVSU community.

“The fact that the dance team and the cheer team placed in the top five is a huge accomplishment,” Zygmontowicz added. “We really do a great job of getting (GVSU’s) name out there. It’s really rare for a team to go out and place in the top five for both categories. We work hard, we know what we’re doing.”

Overall, the entire competition was a positive experience, with teams supporting one another.

“Everyone’s happy with you,” Zygmontowicz said. “Once awards are given out everyone is saying congratulations. Everyone works really hard, other teams relate to how much work [competing] takes.”

For more information about the Laker Dance Team, visit its website at or send it an email at [email protected].
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