The University of St. Thomas Dance Team finished in first place in the Open Jazz Division at the Universal Dance Association College Nationals in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 19 and 20, earning its sixth national championship since 2006 and its first back-to-back win in the jazz category. The team also finished second in the Open Hip Hop Division behind Lindenwood University.
The UDA competition is the largest national collegiate championship in the United States and is attended annually by teams from around the nation and Puerto Rico. The Open Division includes Division II and III, and smaller schools. Schools are limited to competition in two categories. Prior to this year, the Tommies placed first in jazz in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012, and in hip hop in 2011.
Watch the Tommies’ jazz performance:
Watch the Tommies’ hip hop performance:
The team began its season in August when the dancers attended the largest collegiate dance and cheer summer camp in the nation at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The season began with high expectations as the dancers earned the “Most Improved” award and took first place in the camp’s home routine competition.
Watch the Tommies’ first-place camp routine:
In preparing for nationals, the dancers received an additional boost when they learned they could bypass the typical video audition process. Because of its first place finish at UDA nationals in 2012, the team received a fully paid bid to attend the competition in 2013.
In her ninth year with the Tommies, coach Alysia Ulfers knew early on that this year’s team was something special soon after team auditions were held in the spring. “They clicked from the start, and they all have the same goals, drive, work ethic, commitment and passion,” she said. “We always have high expectations for ourselves, so going into the competition with a full-paid bid has helped boost our confidence from the start.”
The team maintains a rigorous schedule to prepare for nationals. Dancers commit to three-hour practices three days a week, ballet and gymnastics classes once a week, and working out with a trainer once a week. They also have an important role in school spirit, performing at all Tommie home football games and several men’s and women’s basketball games.
Dance team members are Ellie Wood (captain), Bethany Laiti, Sam Maroney (captain), Jackie Schneider, Kristen Olson (captain), Ari Vazquez, Kelly Olson, Eve Byron, Alex Brown, Annie Lindberg, Whitney Nelson, Hanna Brown, Chloe Setter, Morgan McGowan, Sam Grover, Jessica Danner, Allix Lowell and Julia Randall.