Sisters Alexandra and Danielle Fabiilli grew up in Queens, NY. Only 14 months apart, they’ve always danced at the same studio, often on the same team. But when their paths led them to two different colleges, everything changed. Alexandra joined the dance team at the University of Delaware, and the following year, little sister Danielle joined their rival team at Hofstra University. This year, the girls went head-to-head, competing for the top spot at Universal Dance Association’s College Dance Team National Championship. Here, junior Alexandra and sophomore Danielle share their journey to Nationals and how they handle the intensity of dancing on opposing teams—while still being each other’s number-one fans.
Dance teams were a big factor for me when choosing a college. University of Delaware’s dance team was a three-time national champion, and I knew it was the right fit for me.
In 2011, when I was a freshman, our team won the Division I Hip-Hop National Championship at UDA College Dance Team Nationals. It was such an exciting experience.
I wasn’t too worried about the competition the next year, even though my sister had just joined the Hofstra team, one of our competitors. However, I may have underestimated my sister’s team, because they bumped us to second place and took the win! I was so shocked and upset that it was hard to be happy for Danielle. The thought of congratulating her didn’t even cross my mind.
This year, we returned to the competition ready to take first place. We practiced extra hard, frequently going over our scheduled rehearsal time to perfect our routine. The day we arrived in Orlando for UDA Nationals, I went to Danielle’s room to catch up, but we didn’t talk about the competition. Instead we kept the conversation to clothes, parties and boys, ignoring what was happening the next day. Because our teams are such close rivals, it’s understood that we shouldn’t talk about our routines. In fact, I didn’t know anything about Hofstra’s routine. I saw it for the first time at Semifinals.
Our routine was old-school swag hip hop, with lots of intricate choreography. After our performance, we knew we’d made a few mistakes—some trick errors and timing issues—but the crowd seemed to have loved it, and after Semifinals we were second to Hofstra by only 1.5 points. We knew if we fixed those little mistakes before Finals we could move into that first-place spot. We were so determined that we spent that night practicing headsprings outside on the turf and pumping each other up.
After our Finals performance, we walked offstage hugging and screaming because we felt so great. We’d given our best and left it all on the floor. Then they announced us—as the fourth-place team. I was stunned, and it seemed like the whole arena went silent. We were upset but did our best to be good sports and accept the trophy with smiles.
I didn’t look at my sister while they announced the rest of the awards—even when Hofstra was awarded the national title for the second year in a row. But I made a point to give her a hug afterward and congratulate her. She congratulated me back and we went our separate ways. It hurt to lose, but I was proud of my sister. We both love to dance, but more importantly, we love each other.
Growing up I loved dance, but I wasn’t as serious about it as Alexandra. I juggled dance classes with basketball and softball practices. Then in high school, I quit sports to focus on dance.
After watching Alexandra dance with University of Delaware, I knew I also wanted the sisterhood and passion of a college dance team. I applied to Delaware, but deep down I knew it wasn’t right for me. I wanted to take my own path—not my sister’s. While researching schools, I came across Hofstra. Its dance team had been the national champion in 2007, but I had no idea it competed against Delaware.
My senior year of high school, I watched my sister compete at Nationals. That’s when I realized Hofstra and Delaware were in the same division. But my mind was made up—Hofstra was the place for me.
In 2012, my first year on the team, we surprised everyone by taking the hip-hop championship trophy. We were a new team (half of us were freshmen), but we were strong. I know it must have been tough for Delaware to be pushed to second place, because my sister didn’t even talk to me after the awards ceremony. I’d always looked up to my big sister, and this was the first time I’d beat her at anything. It was awkward, but strangely gratifying at the same time.
There’s a lot of pressure when you’re defending a national title, so we were excited and nervous coming into this year’s competition. But when we saw dancers from Delaware’s team posting tweets like “We’re coming for you!” it felt like we were at war.
Alexandra and I try to stay out of the drama. Our tradition is that the night before competition, I sleep in a Delaware shirt and she wears a Hofstra shirt. We send photos of ourselves to each other for support.
Since we don’t talk about our routines, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Delaware. During Semifinals, I ran to the front of the auditorium with my mom to watch Alexandra perform. Delaware’s routine was strong and clean, and I was nervous.
Our routine was very in-your-face. When we spelled out “H-A-T-E-R-S” on our T-shirts, everyone went wild. It made a statement about us as reigning champions, and we felt great about our performance.
We were in first place after Semifinals, but we were careful not to get cocky because Delaware was close behind. When the final results were announced, Delaware placed fourth. I couldn’t believe it. I looked across the stage and saw my sister crying. I could almost feel her pain and disappointment. I thought they’d definitely be in the top three. Knowing they’d dropped two places since Semifinals made me even more anxious to hear where Hofstra would place. My teammates and I held hands so tightly we were cutting off the circulation in our fingers. When they announced us as the winners, we went crazy, jumping and screaming.
I was so happy, but I still hated seeing my sister disappointed. It reminded me of times when we were younger, when I watched her win trophies at solo competitions and wanted to be in her place. I know it was hard for Alexandra, but she gave me a hug and congratulated my whole team afterward. There’s no way around it—it’s hard to compete against my sister. I’m her biggest fan, but I also want to win.
“I don’t know how she does it, but our mom manages to cheer for both teams. She makes T-shirts that are half Delaware and half Hofstra, rushes to the front to watch both teams perform and yells like crazy. I love her for it.” —Alexandra Fabiilli