UDA College Nationals: The Super Bowl of dance

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No matter what side of social media you’re on, you’ve likely seen at least one video about the 2024 Universal Dance Association College Nationals that took place this past weekend. Before diving into the history made this year, let’s review what this competition is and how it’s done.  

UDA was founded in 1980 by Jeff Webb and Kris Shepherd to host competitions and clinics for high school and college dancers. All college dance teams in the United States can enter to compete in the College Nationals competition. College dance teams may enter themselves to perform in a maximum of two out of three categories: hip-hop, jazz and pom. The performances must adhere to strict requirements to avoid point deductions regarding components such as time length, costume and tricks.  

Look up videos of this competition and you will notice trends in each performance: intense facial expressions, impressive synchronicity, gorgeous jazz costumes that sparkle, hip-hop costumes that make you want to become a part of the team you’re watching perform, exceptionally enthusiastic audience participation, the list goes on. These characteristics make this particular competition so special to the dance community, for it is no easy feat to become part of a college dance team. Many of these dancers grew up with the dream of joining reputable dance teams and having the opportunity to dance at UDA. These are just a few of the reasons why you may hear current or former dancers call this their “Super Bowl.”  

Now let’s get into the performances. I’ll start with the “Big 3”  that the internet can’t stop talking about: 

First, the University of Minnesota Dance Team capitivated the attention and stole the hearts of many with their jazz performance to “Dream On” by Aerosmith. The jaw-dropping element of their performance showcased the group of 20 dancers simultaneously executing a turn sequence that went straight into a side aerial (essentially a cartwheel with no hands) and landed back into the same turn sequence. Since this competition was a weekend-long event, teams had to perform their numbers multiple times if they continued on through the following rounds. The Minnesota Dance Team made it all the way to the finals, meaning they had to complete this stunt three times, and they did so (almost) flawlessly each time.  

Next to the scene was the Ohio State University Dance Team who performed their heartfelt jazz number to “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. This performance intersected athleticism and artistry through the traditional tricks, turns and musicality, but also through elements such as using the costumes as props and thinking of less as more. The dancers used their ties as bands to extend their legs and used their vests to translate emotion and add an extra visual component to the piece. It was also clear that the choreographer did not try to fill every second of the song with intricate choreography. At UDA College Nationals, many schools do this, which, while challenging to execute and exciting to watch, can pave the way for repetition. Moments of stillness in a dance that conveys profound emotion can separate it from the rest, therefore making it all the more memorable. 

Finally, the Louisiana State University Dance Team once again broke the internet with another one of their iconic hip-hop performances. This year, the Tiger Girls brought a Michael Jackson tribute performance in which they executed traditional and modernized versions of some of the late singer’s most iconic movements. One thing LSU dancers are known for is their groove, and they did not miss a single opportunity to use it in this dance. The most memorable moment of their performance was when the entire team formed a diagonal line and all together did the renowned Michael Jackson hip thrusts. Both the crowd and myself audibly screamed when this happened.  

As you could probably guess from my descriptions of the performances, these teams scored extremely well in the competition. Minnesota took second place in the jazz division while Ohio State swept first (a controversial outcome) and Louisiana State took first place in the hip-hop category.  

I’d like to close out this article by giving some recognition to some teams that, while not holding the power over the internet that the above three teams did, still had exceptional performances.  

The Washington State Dance Team performed an emotional jazz routine to “Leave Me Slowly” by Lewis Capaldi. At some points, almost every syllable Capaldi sang had its own move assigned to it. At others, the dancers took time to execute near-flawless techniques in leg extensions and tricks. The eye-catching moment for me was when all the dancers did a turn on a single knee with the other leg extended out behind them. Again, viewers see a crossover between athleticism and artistry. 

Another impressive piece came from the University of Central Florida Dance Team’s performance to “The Search” by NF. Many may categorize NF’s music in a hip-hop genre, but this execution created an enticing show. The elements worthy of appreciation in this number were the intricacy of the movements and the use of formations and the body to create interesting visuals for the audience. It was like watching a picture create a picture.  

Finally, I must give praise to our very own UConn Dance Team who entered a hip-hop performance. As usual, our Huskies took control of the stage with high energy that made audiences smile and want to join them in their show. Fortunately, we get to see more of their talent as the basketball season continues! 

Many of this year’s UDA College Nationals performances can be found on YouTube and other social media platforms if you, like me, are not off the high of the weekend.  

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