Seventeen University of Toledo students will leap, kick and plié as the Dancing Rockettes compete in the College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship this weekend.
The team arrived early Thursday in Orlando, Fla., and practiced at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney Resort in Bay Lake.“What’s really exciting for us this year is they built a new arena specifically for cheer and dance competitions, and college nationals is the first competition they’re having at this complex,” Devon Hays, coach of the Rockettes, said.
UT qualified to hit the floor at nationals by attending a four-day camp last summer at East Tennessee State University.
“Any college or university is welcome to register to compete at nationals,” Hays said. “We are in NCAA Division 1-A, so we compete against teams from across the country that are also Division 1-A schools.”
Presented by the Universal Cheerleaders Association and Universal Dance Association, the national competition will feature jazz, hip-hop and pom dance categories. In addition, cheer and mascot contests will take place.
“Pom is what we compete; it’s a mixture of jazz dancing with cheer or pom motions,” Hays said.The Dancing Rockettes are scheduled to perform their two-minute routine Saturday, Jan. 13, at 7:42 a.m.
“It’s the most jam-packed two minutes that you can imagine,” Hays said and laughed.
“We have a couple skills we’ve really been working on, drilling down so we nail them at competition,” she said. “We have some aerial cartwheels — that’s a no-handed cartwheel that a handful of our girls do that they’ve really been working hard on. And we have a big team turn sequence that we’ve been spending a lot of time making sure everybody is hitting their spot exactly on time.”
Hays said the Rockettes will be among some 20 teams in their Division 1-A category.
“We’re the third team to go in the prelims Saturday morning, so there’ll be a lot of teams after us that we’ll be able to watch and see our competition,” she said.
Teams will find out Saturday afternoon if they advance to the finals, which will take place Sunday.
Founded in 1961, the Rockettes were among the first recognized collegiate dance teams in the country.
“That’s a very cool piece of history we have. It’s crazy because we’ve been around so long, but we’re so new to the competition world. This is only our third year competing,” Hays said.
“I want the team to be proud of what they’re putting on the competition floor. Being on that competition floor is a chance for us to have fun and showcase everything we’ve worked really hard for this year,” she said. “We have so much talent. I want them to be proud of everything they’ve achieved. On top of that, I want them to understand they’re paving the way for the future and legacy of this program.”
In her third year as coach of the Rockettes, Hays graduated from UT in 2012 with a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing and entrepreneurship. The former UT cheerleader helps run her family’s Mini Motions Dance Center in Toledo.
“It’s been exciting for me to come back and grow the dance team,” she said.
Affiliated with the UT Rocket Marching Band, the Rockettes step it up at football games during fall semester and also perform at Mid-American Conference home basketball games in spring semester.