Mason dance team showcases hard work at UDA National Championship

(left to right) Mia Baird, Abby Gentile, Kayla Calkins, Lexi Sweeney, and Joss Bumiller compete in the Game Day category at the 2023 UDA National Dance Team Championship.

Alisha Soni | The Chronicle

With high aerials and high energy, the Mason High School (MHS) Varsity Dance Team has made its way to Nationals.

The MHS Varsity Dance Team competed in the 2023 United Dance Association (UDA) National Dance Team Championship at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Dance teams from all over the country gathered to perform and compete.

This year, the Mason team competed in the Hip Hop and Game Day categories. Although they have competed in Hip Hop in the past, they are competing in Game Day for the first time in the history of the program. Hired choreographers came in to help prepare the Mason team’s Hip Hop routine, while the Game Day routine was choreographed by the middle school coach, assistant coaches, and head varsity dance team coach Christina Huetter.

“For many months, [the dancers] practice these routines,” Huetter said. “We change parts, we work on tricks, we clean sections of the dance relentlessly. The goal is for everybody to look the same as they [perform].”

The Mason dancers attend an overnight four-day UDA Camp prior to the competition and are in two individual dances. They have the summer to practice their group routine and the individual routine tailored to their specific skills. Based on their performance, the dancers can receive blue ribbons which qualify them for the UDA Nationals competition.

“I’ve been coaching for seven years and I’ve never had a single dancer not get a blue ribbon for one of their routines,” Huetter said. “I’m pretty hard on them when it comes to learning the [choreography] and performing it.”

The Mason dance team has three practices per week throughout the school year, but in January approaching the Nationals competition, the dancers have practice every day, Monday through Friday. Different choreographers, alumni or college dancers come in to look at their routines to help the dancers with corrections and prepare them for Nationals.

Senior Kendall Johnson is one of the dance captains for the team and has been a dancer on the Mason team for all four years of high school. Johnson said that the Mason team was very  excited when they found out that they advanced to the semifinal round in the Hip Hop category at the competition arena.

“I think people were crying, [but] I don’t remember if I cried,” Johnson said. “This could be my last time dancing right now, you never really know, so it was super stressful, but it was relieving when we made it.”

During the competition, junior Eileen Fan, who has been on the Mason team for two years, said that she has witnessed a supportive nature between their team and other competitors. Typically, after the Mason team competes at UDA Nationals, they support other teams that they met at UDA Camp or have built relationships with before.

“They cheer for us and we cheer them on,” Fan said. “I think it helps us during the dance because it feels like people are supporting you, so it’s easier to give it your all.”

As the Mason team looks toward next year to compete again at the UDA National Dance Team Championship, Huetter said that the team is looking to continue improving their skills.

“[The] goal would be to always play better and do better and make a name for Mason’s dance team,” Huetter said. “[And] to make it to finals is always a goal.”

Junior Abby Gentile is in her first year on the Mason Varsity Dance Team. She said that one important aspect of the team is the bonds that she has established with the other dancers and coaches.

“I have gotten closer with the dancers on the team,” Gentile said. “I was a little scared at first because I was new, but we’re definitely [close] because we spent basically every day together in January. The coaches are so welcoming; I feel like that bond definitely grew a lot more and we all became a lot closer.”

Dancers have to invest a lot of time into practicing, which can be difficult to manage with schoolwork. In previous years, Johnson was forced to juggle school work, dancing on the Mason team and at another studio. Johnson said it was stressful, especially when the dance team schedules overlapped with each other. Johnson said that she has had to make decisions on what to prioritize, so she quit her studio to have more time during her senior year and has found the hard work on the MHS dance team rewarding.

“[The time commitment] was definitely worth it,” Johnson said. “So many of my favorite high school memories have been on the dance team. I really can’t imagine my high school experience without being on the team.”

Photo contributed by Christina Huetter