The University of Tennessee dance team is one of the nation’s best: From 2007–2009, the team won consecutive Universal Dance Association (UDA) national titles and almost snagged a fourth in 2010, coming in second to the University of Minnesota by a mere point and a half. Each summer, as part of its preparation for the upcoming school year, the team attends a UDA camp, where members hone their skills, learn new routines and compete for awards. Senior and co-captain Sara Banks has been a member of the UT dance team since her freshman year. Last summer, she and her teammates attended a UDA camp held on their home campus, and Sara kept a diary of her weekend for DS. —Katie Rolnick

July 30, 2010

Even though this is my fourth year attending a UDA summer camp, I had butterflies in my stomach about this first day! After meeting the 12 other teams attending camp this weekend, we jumped right in. We began by learning our first routine—known as the “A routine”—which is usually jazz, hip hop or poms, and is one of two routines that will be evaluated by the UDA staff on the last day of camp. The teams divide up so that a few girls from each team learn each of the five different A routines. A different UDA instructor teaches each routine and we’re given about 90 minutes to learn and perfect it. Three of my teammates and I learned a jazz dance to a mix of Janet Jackson songs. The choreography included multiple pirouettes, a variety of leaps and a section of quick footwork with coordinating arms. It was hard!

Later, we had the home routine evaluation. It’s not mandatory, but teams that choose to participate perform a dance they’ve worked on prior to arriving at camp. Every year our team creates a new routine. This year we did a jazz dance to “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney. For two weeks in June, we spent 12 hours a day learning the routine, which was choreographed by two UT dance team alums (with some team collaboration). We had a two-week break and then practiced for another week and a half in July, making final changes and polishing the routine.

There were only about five teams competing and we were fourth on the lineup. We waited off to the side of the floor in the Thompson-Boling Arena, where UT’s basketball team plays. We watched the other teams perform and cheered them on until it was our turn. I think we did a great job, but we won’t find out how we placed until the awards ceremony on the last day of camp.

At the end of the day we learned a routine for the fight song competition tomorrow. Teams can perform a dance to their school’s fight song or they can learn the UDA fight song. Because UT doesn’t have a set fight song, we learned the UDA routine. Teams can add 16 counts of their own material, which we did. Plus, we added some creative formations and ripples to the UDA choreography. We only had a couple hours to prepare, but we’re ready for the competition tomorrow. 

July 31, 2010

This morning, we split into groups again to learn “B routines” (the second dance that will be evaluated tomorrow). I learned a hip-hop dance to the song “Girls on the Dance Floor” by Far East Movement.

Next up was the fight song competition. Even though we only had one night to learn the choreography and perfect it, I think we performed really well. But we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out the results.

At the end of the day I was exhausted, but I got a burst of energy when we got back to the hotel. (Though the camp takes place on our campus, it’s a team tradition to stay at a hotel.) Every year, the night before evaluations, we put on a team “recital.” We trekked up to the top level of the hotel’s parking garage and performed the A and B routines for each other. As I watched everyone dance, I realized what an amazing group of girls I had surrounding me.

August 1, 2010

I woke up today feeling anxious about evaluations. Everyone at camp performed the A and B routines. When we were done, the judges gave us individual feedback. They told me I had excellent technical execution, but that I could work on grounding my hip-hop movements more. After they gave comments, they handed each of us a blue, red or white ribbon. Every UT dancer earned a blue ribbon, the highest award, on both the A and B routines, which earned us a team superior trophy. We also won two distinctions that were selected by all of the teams at camp: The leadership award and the most collegiate team award, which means we showed good sportsmanship and were excellent representatives for our school. And, to top it all off, we found out that we placed first in the home routine competition and second in the fight song competition!

This summer’s camp has been an amazing experience. As a senior captain, I got a glimpse of what will be expected of me and experienced what it’s like to be the team motivator. But I learned the most about leadership from the other dance teams. There were a number of groups, including those from Milligan College and East Tennessee State University, that had just recently started their teams from scratch. Seeing their dedication and excitement inspired me.

At the end of camp, our team set a goal to push for greatness during the school year. We’re focusing on making our dancing more about helping others, whether by performing at charity events or serving as volunteers. I have no doubt that our passion and commitment will help us achieve that goal.

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