It’s not just the basketball players that have to fight for minutes on the court. During halftime, two teams take the court to cheer and dance in a friendly competition with each other.
Dance and cheer may appear similar to the untrained eye, but routines, style and choreography set them apart, members from both teams said. The GW Cheer Team and GW First Ladies Dance Team find common ground not only in their commitment to the University’s teams, but also in their competitive nature and need for constant on-stage presence during games.
Mika Takahashi, a junior and co-captain of the First Ladies, said both teams have the same overall job – to incite spirit from the crowd. She said the teams do some numbers together – like their performances at Colonial Madness or during timeouts – just with different movements.
“Cheer and dance seem similar, but they’re essentially very different things. I would be scared to death to go up in a stunt,” Takahashi said. “They’re kind of hard to compare.”
Takahashi said the dance team strays into the cheer category when they pick up pom poms on the sidelines, cheering on each other and the basketball teams during games.
“Essentially, you’re performing the entire two hours of the game,” Takahashi said. “You’re always on the side, you’re always jumping up and down, you’re always cheering.”
The First Ladies and Cheer Team equally share the court about five or six times per game. They perform during timeouts, which last a minute or two, and halftime, during which the First Ladies take one side of the court and the cheer team performs on the other during a lengthier choreographed performance. They perform during both men’s and women’s basketball games, about twice a week.
Jackie Veatch, a junior who served as captain of the cheer team last year, said that in addition to it being coed, her team is different from the First Ladies because they incorporate complicated tumbling and stunts into their performances.
The cheer team has a multi-step audition process that includes open practices where the team members teach interested candidates cheer and dance choreography, tumbling series and stunting. Over two days, judges evaluate candidates on choreography and tumbling performed in groups of five, Veatch said.
Those who make the cut practice three days a week for two and a half hours at a time, while completing their own additional workouts outside of practice. Choreography for the stunt sequences is mostly determined by head coach Robert Bell, but he takes into consideration ideas from captains and experienced cheerleaders.
Tereese Smith, a senior and flyer who gets lifted into the air during stunts on the cheer team, said the team is competitive and requires hard work. Smith said more than 20 people typically try out for the team each season and this year’s team was about half returning members and half new cheerleaders, with about 12 new students joining.
“Our coaches want to ensure we put the best out there on the court, so during tryouts, they look for not only people who can do the skill but also people ready to make a big time commitment and constantly work on being a better athlete,” Smith said.
The audition process for the First Ladies is also fierce, Takahashi said. In addition to returning members, about 30 new girls try out each year to fill only five or six open spots. This year the team is made up of 17 dancers, 10 of whom are returning. The two-day process includes an open practice “clinic” for prospective dancers to attend, similar to what the cheer team hosts.
She said the style of dance the First Ladies practice is typically very different from what people have done in the past. Some girls have backgrounds in studio jazz, and Takahashi said their former captain did Bhangra – a traditional Indian dance.
“I personally was a classical ballerina,” Takahashi said. “I came here and had never held pom-poms, so it is very different.”
Veatch said while both teams share the court, they typically face opposite sides of the audience so they can see all of the fans around the Smith Center. While the dance team performs their moves on the court, the cheer team will be in the back building tall stunt pyramids, she said.
“The First Ladies are down on the court, we’re up in the air,” Veatch said.
Hannah Schwartz, a co-captain of the First Ladies, said that even though the two teams compete for the fans’ attention, performing “wouldn’t be the same” without having the GW Cheer Team beside them on the court.
“I think for both teams, there’s really a lot of respect for the amazing things the other team can do,” Schwartz said.