Collegiate Dance Teams Dazzle at UDA Nationals

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The Universal Dance Association (UDA) Nationals, one of the largest events in the world of collegiate dance, took place over the weekend of January 12. At Nationals, hundreds of college teams competed with dance performances they had prepared for months.  

Due to the increased participation this year, the competition featured a two-cut round system: the preliminary rounds on Friday and the semifinal rounds on Saturday. The final round on Sunday dictated the outcome of each team.

This outstanding show of talent brought huge crowds of supporting students, families, and alumni to Orlando, Florida where the competition was being held. Called the “Dancer Superbowl” by many social media users, the buzz of this competition reached audiences beyond dancers and was definitely one for the books.  

This year, the D1A Jazz competition caused the largest divide. Two of the most notable teams, the University of Minnesota and Ohio State University, fought long and hard to secure the first place medal. 

As the reigning champs, Minnesota had a lot riding on their backs. They performed a beautiful, heartfelt self-choreographed number to Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” a tribute to their performance 20 years prior to the same song. This dance featured an abundance of perfectly-executed technical tricks. The most impressive trick had to be the group aerial (a cartwheel with no hands—yes that’s right) straight into turns. Ultimately, Minnesota ended with a final score of 96.33, which fell just shy of Ohio. 

For their routine, the Ohio State University danced to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” choreographed by Travis Wall. This routine beautifully captured the pristine artistry of the dancers without sacrificing any advanced skill. Every part of this dance was filled with soul and emotion, touching the hearts of audiences nationwide. While some may say it was not as technically difficult as Minnesota’s dance, their dedication to storytelling set them apart from every other team. Ohio State ultimately won with a final score of 97 points.

Ultimately, OSU and UofM’s performance’s highlight one of the most prominent questions in the world of dance: which is more important—artistry or athleticism? Dance, which originally started as an art form, has evolved to demand more athletic and skill-based moves. Furthermore, the boom of the competitive dance world, which funnels all top collegiate dancers, rewards difficulty and tricks more than ever. Scoring details encourage dancers to push the limits with higher legs, more turns, and other strenuous moves all within a two-minute dance. 

OSU and UofM’s groundbreaking dances reached further than their typical audience of dancers through TikTok, where non-dancers’ “for-you pages” overflowed with videos and opinions surrounding the two pieces. Soon, the conversation expanded, and many people flooded the comments section with their perspectives on who should have come out on top. Emotionally-invested viewers sat at the edge of their seats watching each round, hoping that their favorite team would hit their turn section or nail a lift. 

Saturday’s semi-finals brought uncertainty when both Minnesota and Ohio State made costly mistakes in their jazz dances. An OSU dancer dropped their tie, which was the main focus of their routine, and in the middle of UofM’s main turn section, a dancer fell to the ground, interrupting the perfect unison of their a la seconde turns. Dedicated viewers were floored to see such noticeable mistakes from the two teams vying for first place.

While Ohio State ended up winning the competition (after not placing first last year), many believed the reliable Minnesota dancers were more deserving, and these disagreements have continued flaring up across the Internet.

D1A Jazz wasn’t the only category where previous winners regained their throne after a year off. Louisiana State University’s “Tiger Girls” had their claim to fame in 2022 with their hip-hop routine to “Like a Boy” by Ciara, choreographed by Carsen Rowe and Sammy McFadden, leading choreographers in the dance industry. Their winning performance took over the internet, leaving high expectations for their 2023 routine, which ended up falling short and ending up in fourth place. First place was awarded to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who surprised us all with their athletic and dynamic routine. 

This year, LSU and UNLV came hungry for the 2024 title of D1A Hip Hop champions, and both routines were extremely different from the year before. While not the reigning champions, LSU had a large gathering of fans eager for them to take the win and regain their throne.

UNLV’s fiery and intense routine left dancers (and viewers) breathless, but it was not enough to take the top spot over LSU’s performance. The Tiger Girls danced to “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson, pairing classic hip-hop choreography to an iconic, flashy song. Incorporating hats into the dance proved an effective addition to the team’s clean and sharp dancing.

Winning first place meant more than just a title to the Tiger Girls and their reliable choreographers. Rowe and McFadden have spent many years choreographing for LSU, and McFadden acknowledged on her Instagram, “This piece feels like a turning point for not just us as choreographers, but for this team.” Bringing a style of hip-hop that isn’t typically seen in the competition is a huge risk for a choreographer, but it paid off for the two.

The 2024 UDA Nationals were revolutionary and emotional for the teams and their dedicated supporters. Now, inspired dancers and choreographers head back to the studio to plan for next year’s competition.

Tessa is a junior at M-A and in her first year of journalism. She hopes to write about school events and athletics. When not in school, she enjoys dancing and is Captain of the M-A dance team.

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