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.

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Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

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