The Cougarettes Take Prague
The Cougarettes at Prague Castle
While most college dance teams spent the summer taking a much-needed break, the 20 members of the Brigham Young University Cougarettes did just the opposite. The 2012 National Dance Alliance National Champions received an anonymous—and very generous—donation that allowed the team to travel to the Czech Republic and compete at this year’s New Prague Dance Festival. Kaitlyn Swenson, a four-year member of the Cougarettes and a BYU senior, documented the team’s experience for DS. —Alison Feller
Friday, June 29
We arrived at Salt Lake City International Airport to see “Welcome BYU Cougarettes” displayed on a large screen over the check-in counter. Despite it being 6 am, each of my 19 teammates walked into the airport with a smile. We flew to NYC and then on to Prague, Czech Republic.
Saturday, June 30
Kaitlyn (right) with teammate Megan Gee Phillips on the Charles Bridge in Prague
Our first day in Prague! We took a tour of the city’s Old Town, and I fell in love with the historic center of the city and the quaint buildings. As we explored the winding cobblestone streets I felt like pinching myself: After dreaming of Prague for almost a year, we’re finally here.
Sunday, July 1
This morning we woke up tired, but excited to see where we’d be competing. Nová Scéna, the concert hall, held a stage larger than any I’d ever been on. We had a brief rehearsal to space our numbers: a contemporary piece, a jazz routine, a lyrical number, our team dance from NDA College Nationals and our first-place hip-hop routine from NDA.
Monday, July 2
Today we started early with classes led by teachers from the Czech Republic. There were dancers from all over the world in each class.
In character before the hip-hop routine
Jiri Horak from the National Theatre Ballet taught an incredible ballet class. Each time we did a lunge he would say “like Swan Lake” and the pianist would break into music from Swan Lake. Next we took hip hop with Tomas Protivinsky, which was challenging but fun. Finally, in the theater makeup class, we learned ways to create different characters onstage.
After a break for lunch we returned to the theater to prepare for the evening competition. The festival officially opened with a pas de deux performed by dancers from the National Theatre Ballet. The NPDF director, David Pospísˇil, welcomed us, and then we went backstage to get ready for our first number.
As we took the stage, the hot lights flashed on and the energy was tangible. In one section, we do fouetté turns in silence, which made the crowd erupt in cheers. As soon as we finished, we ran up six flights of stairs to our changing area to prepare for our next number. Again when we executed our turns, the crowd went wild, and even other dancers backstage applauded. It felt good to be recognized by our fellow competitors.
While we rehearsed our third routine backstage, we were approached by dancers from Turkey who said they were excited to see us. Their youngest dancer kept clapping her hands, screaming, “I love USA!”
The Cougarettes performing Come Thou Fount
As we began our final number of the night, the audience fell silent when we appeared dressed all in white. This routine, “Come Thou Fount,” is special to us because it represents our religious beliefs.
Tuesday, July 3
Today, we took classes all morning and then competed in the evening. It was exhausting, but rewarding.
Wednesday, July 4
We had today off, so we explored. We visited Karlsˇtejn Castle and the historic Prague Castle. At night, NPDF hosted a dinner cruise along the Vltava River.
Thursday, July 5
Kaitlyn (right) and Victoria Heaton holding the Grand Prix and Most Friendly trophies
We’re all exhausted, but as we took the stage for our final performance, it was like we were breathing and moving as one. We closed the evening with our hip-hop routine. We had so much fun dancing that number, knowing it was our last time this year being together as a team.
Afterward, we joined the other dancers in the auditorium for the awards ceremony. We felt honored when we received the “Most Friendly” award, which is voted on by all dancers.
Finally, it was time for the most prestigious award: the “Grand Prix.” We were ecstatic to hear BYU announced. We hugged and cried while the entire audience cheered for us. We felt overwhelming support from the other dancers as we held up our hands in hearts and “I Love You” symbols to show our appreciation. After celebrating onstage, we attended the dinner gala and celebration party where we ate delicious food and danced the night away with our new international friends.
Journeying to Prague was a wonderful adventure that showed how dance truly functions as a universal language. We were able to communicate by sharing the one thing we have in common: a love for dance in all its forms.
Well, this brings class videos to a whole new level! Choreographer Phil Wright and dancer Ashley Liai have been together eight-plus years, but she was still in total shock when he proposed to her mid-dance at Millennium Dance Complex earlier this week. Why? Well, the whole thing was unbelievably perfect.
In the dance industry, dancers don't always have a say in what they wear on their bodies. This can get tricky if you're asked to wear something that compromises your own personal values. So what should you do if you find yourself in this sticky situation? We sat down for a Q&A with "Dancing with the Stars" alumn Ashly Costa to answer that very question. Here's what she had to say about the options dancers have surrounding questionable costumes.
The groundwork for Erin Carpenter's company, Nude Barre, began when she was a teenager. At 16, she earned a spot in the residency program at The Kennedy Center in partnership with Dance Theatre of Harlem. "We were required to wear nude—as in, our actual skin tone—tights and shoes," she remembers. Carpenter brought her "sun tan" tights and a pair of pink ballet shoes with her, because that was all she could find. But she wasn't allowed in class because her dancewear didn't match her skin. "I was so embarrassed," she says. "I looked unprepared. I just didn't have the right nudes." Her teacher explained that the dancers dyed their tights and pancaked their shoes.
There are dancers and then there are DANCERS! Whitney Jensen, soloist at Norwegian National Ballet, is the latter. The former Boston Ballet principal can do it all. From contemporary to the classics this prima has the technical talent most bunheads dream about. Need proof? Look no further.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's dance inducing hit, "Despacito," is so catchy it should probably come with a disclaimer that warns people of an uncontrollable itch to tap your feet or bob your head. Some might even feel inclined to go all out and break it down. Niana Guerrero is a prime example of "Despacito's" uncanny ability to unleash the red dressed emoji dancer within. 💃🏽 💃🏽