The Road to Nationals

How did the dance team fight for their spot in a national competition?

Keene State College’s dance team ranked ninth in the nation in the open hip-hop category at the Universal Dance Association (UDA) National Competition. The competition took place from Friday, January 14 to Sunday, January 16 in Disney World, Florida. 

Olivia (Liv) Dusoe, senior and captain of the team, explained the process of deciding whether the team makes it to nationals or not. “So, with the national competition that we go to, there are no regionals beforehand, so we just have to be full-time students in order to sign up to go to the competition. The biggest factor if we can go or not is the fundraising, and whether or not we raise enough money to go.” she said. 

Annika Stone, junior and manager of the team, discussed the financial logistics of getting the team to the competition. “Our trip is around $25,000, that’s including all of our costumes, our shoes we perform in, our flights, our registration, our lodging, so that’s like everything all together. The school helps us out a little bit, but I think this year we raised, ourselves, around $17,000-18,000,” she said. 

Stone continued, “Our biggest fundraiser is our pie fundraiser, so we sell five different kinds of pie and we take two days, a full weekend, like 12-hour days, and we just bake pie all day. We made over 200 pies this year, and gave those to people who wanted them and we also donated some… Another big one is, we do a calendar fundraiser, so it’s like a raffle and you can win gift cards throughout the week.”

Larissa Rodrigues, senior and co-captain of the team, added, “We do some apparel fundraisers and our car wash. Our car washes were very successful this year, the best they’ve ever been…”

The process of preparing for nationals can be a rigorous one. Rodrigues said, “In reality, we do kind of start right away. We have a spring tryout and a fall tryout, so if we take girls in the spring, we kind of already start in the summer. We like to make sure that we keep up with our tricks because we have some cool tricks that we usually put into our nationals dance, and do a lot of workouts and stuff, but as the fall semester begins, we’ll have practice Sunday through Wednesday, around two hours, sometimes longer, and we basically just grind from there until January.”

Rodrigues continued, “We get a choreographer and she comes in for about three days and teaches all of our nationals dance throughout those three days. We clean it and try our best to perfect it, and even when we go home for Christmas break we still make sure everyone sends in videos of them practicing. We come back a week before nationals and we practice every single day leading up to getting to the airport, getting onto that flight.”

The thing not mentioned when it comes to success is the obstacles that can occur behind the scenes. Dusoe said, “In less than one week’s time we had to rearrange our routine four times, the last [time] being the day before we flew out, all due to COVID. This was one of the many obstacles we had to face in our preparation to go to nationals.”

With the now two-year long COVID-19 pandemic not going away anytime soon, traveling can be a difficult experience. When asked if they were nervous to go down to Florida to compete, Dusoe responded, “Definitely. We had meetings with the school, especially [Senior Program Support Assistant] Heather [Kinsler], [Director of Student Involvement] Jess [-ica Gagne Cloutier], and [Senior Business Services Assistant] Janet [Stevenson]. They were our people, they helped us through every step of the way, with creating protocols and plans and back-up plans… just working with us to be as safe as possible but also to continue living our lives and experience this as a team one more time, especially before the seniors graduate this year. It was very nerve wracking, but…”

Rodrigues picked up where Dusoe left off, “We took every precaution we possibly could… Before anyone came back to Keene we required extra tests than the school did, so we knew that when we were coming back together we didn’t have to wait, we already knew that we were negative. We tried to wear as safe and strong of masks as we could, leading up to Florida and going and being in Florida, we took a lot of precautions.” 

Ranking ninth in the nation, the dance team members described their performance as unforgettable. Dusoe said, “It was amazing. We really challenged ourselves as a team this year, especially with last year not being able to go in-person. The feeling of nationals last year was still very exciting and intense, but it was nowhere comparable to what it actually feels like to go down to Florida and walk through the ESPN center, see all the other teams, up on the stage, like it’s the real deal and it really is a lot of pressure and intense, so finally getting back there, especially with a very challenging routine this year, more than we’ve ever attempted before, especially with the trick difficulty that we had.”

Rodrigues continued Dusoe’s train of thought, adding, “It was amazing. It felt like the best we had ever done before, and we left the stage and we got to rewatch it right away, and we all just like fell to the floor, crying, excited, like, ‘We made it, we finally got back.’”

These dancers were impressed that, after 12 years, Louisiana State University ranked first in the Division IA hip-hop category with a piece that made a statement. Stone said, “It was like a message, to colleges and women, especially young girls…that once you get to college – I think their piece was specifically pointed towards dancers and cheerleaders – saying that, well the title of their song was called ‘Like A Boy’, so it was saying that ‘if I act like a male athlete, can I do this?’ Because women dancers and cheerleaders don’t get the same treatment as male athletes, so it was just a huge statement and message to the world that, women dancers and cheerleaders, ‘We do this, this is hard, and this is really cool, and we won nationals after 12 years of not winning nationals by proving a point that we’re just as important as male athletes.’”

What’s next for the dance team? “…the biggest thing we do in spring is our Senior Night performance. We try to plan it to be at the biggest basketball game of the semester, and the captains will choreograph one more routine for us to perform, and celebrate our seniors. But it’s definitely more of a low-key semester for us…” said Dusoe.

Rodrigues added, “…but we do a lot of team bonding. This is where we do a lot more team connection and stuff, and we start a few fundraisers too for the next year.”


Piper Pavelich can be contacted 


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