As nine dancers spin, kick and snap their fingers to a fast-paced remix of songs by Lil’ Wayne, Britney Spears and The Pussycat Dolls, the two captains watch from the front of the aerobics room in the Ithaca College Fitness Center. They call out counts and reminders to the girls, and when the music stops they critique the performance, just like coaches. But as the dancers begin to grasp the moves of the jazz routine, the duo joins them.
Watching the IC Dance Team practice on a Saturday afternoon, one could mistake captains junior Ashley Angello and senior Christie Parlamas as coaches — until they hop into position on the floor with the other dancers.
The team competed in the 2009 Universal Cheerleading Association/Universal Dance Association College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship
Jan. 17 in Orlando, Fla., and placed 18th out of the 31 teams in its division, without the help of a coach.
The IC Dance Team was created as a club in 1995 by alumnae Christine Sisto Mertes ’95 and Alicia Leet ’96, and unlike most dance teams, it has never had a coach. The captains are responsible for things that a coach would normally take care of, such as paperwork, choreography and scheduling practices and fundraisers.
“We’re trying to be students, be dance team captains, be dance team coaches and be dancers all at the same time,” Parlamas said.
Sophomore Natalie Gola said the team is run much like a varsity sport, in that there are rules and selective auditions. Most members have been dancing for as long as they’ve been able to read and have competed on teams from dance studios. Gola said at auditions, held every September, two or three girls typically make the team for every 30 who try out. She said practices follow a rigid format so the dancers can fine-tune the routines as quickly as possible.
“Everybody looks up to us to being the best group on campus, and it’s a really competitive process,” she said.
IC Dance Team members said this causes the team to have a slightly different dynamic than other dance groups on campus. Gola said it is sometimes difficult to have Angello and Parlamas as coaches when the team members also see them as friends. Though the captains agreed it is difficult to balance their dual-role situation, sophomore Stephanie Cicalese said they create an environment the dancers enjoy.
“All the girls on the team are good friends, but when it comes time to practice, Christie and Ashley are there to help us all to improve individually and as a team,” Cicalese said.
Gola said from the first practice in the fall, team members are forced to get to know each other quickly while rushing to learn the dance for football season. The week of the national competition is spent doing everything together, from eating to sleeping to practicing.
Aside from practicing three times a week for the IC Dance Team, many of the members practice a few hours a week for IC Unbound, a campus dance group that allows members to perform student-choreographed dances of any style, from swing to jazz to ballet. Unlike the dance team — which has a short amount of time to learn and perfect routines for football season, the national competition and basketball season — Gola said IC Unbound is much more
relaxed, because members rehearse for only one performance at the end of each semester.
Usually the IC Dance Team competes nationally every other year because of the cost, but the dancers managed to raise roughly $7,000 last semester through a car wash, T-shirt and candy bar sales and donations from friends and family to fund the trip for the second consecutive year. At first, team members were skeptical they could raise the money in time, but those who competed in 2008 were motivated by their dissatisfaction with that year’s performance.
“We were far less prepared then we should have been,” Parlamas said. “So this year we kind of wanted to make up for it.”
When they arrived Jan. 15 in Orlando, Parlamas, Angello and team president Kelly Webb had to go to the coaches’ meeting to figure out who would turn their music on — typically a coach’s duty. Though the team was one of the only teams at the competition without the help of one or more coaches, the members reached their goal, which was to surpass their 22nd place standing in the 2008 competition.
“We’re supposed to be as good as those teams,” Gola said. “When we go to nationals and beat teams that do have a coach, it’s impressive.”