The Boston University Dance Team took Boston Strong — the city’s motto of resilience — to heart to win its first-ever national title at the National Dance Alliance (NDA) Collegiate Championships, held last week in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The elite dance team beat more than 300 competitors to take top honors in Division I Hip Hop, and second place in the top-tier team dance division — prizes that many of the girls never expected.
“It took a lot to get where we are today,” said senior Michaela Main. “We never imagined what would come of it.”
For the 20-year-old student from North Reading competing with the hometown theme was personal. The athletic training and physical therapy major was a wheelchair volunteer at the Boston Marathon finish line medical tent last year when the bombs went off.
“It took me a while to work through how I felt,” said Main, a senior who will begin her doctoral studies for physical therapy at BU next fall. “It was a complete mix of emotions, but afterward I realized how glad I was to be alive, and happy to be at school, and I felt so fortunate to be where I was and have the opportunities I do.”
She, along with her 16 teammates, channeled that energy into intense practices that rivaled any Division I athletic team sport. Practices, held four times a week starting in September, were three hours long, and ramped up considerably in the months leading up to the national championship. The women worked on technique as well as strength and cardio training, and, in January, began to learn the choreography.
“A lot of it had to do with our coaches. They pushed us to our absolute limits. We started to look like one dancer,” said Main, who had placed fifth place with the team in 2013.
Head coach Liz Stilwell said the second-place team finish was the more significant achievement. The routine featured three styles of dance — jazz, pom (drill team), and hip-hop — performed respectively to “Hometown Glory” by Adele, “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys, and “Can’t Hold Us Down” by Macklemore.
“The team was very much impacted by the events of last year, and they wanted to remember that and the strength,” said Stilwell. “We had always talked about doing a hometown routine, and thought this year, ‘Why not?’ ”
But captain Alyssa Marion initially worried “about striking a balance” in terms of appropriateness.
“I didn’t want the concept to come off as too in-your-face, or a pity thing,” said the 22-year-old senior from Albany, N.Y. “We wanted it to come across as a coming together.”
Marion, who cheered last year’s race at Audubon Circle with many of her teammates, said the team’s personal attachment to the routine probably gave them an edge.
“When we really had to give it that final push and put emotion behind it, we found the place in ourselves where it hit close to home,” she said.
The team’s second felt like first to Marion, who noted that they lost by only two/10ths of a point to Maryland’s Towson University, which won its 16th consecutive title.
“We knew how hard it was to get into the Top 5. It’s more than a dream come true,” she said. “Seeing the journey this team has gone through, I knew we’d get to an elite level, but I didn’t think I’d be on the team to see it.”
The hip-hop title, performed in “Run 617” T-shirts, was just as much a surprise for BU, which was competing in the dance category for the first time. It beat out two-time national champion Stephen F. Austin State University from Texas.
“When they had to perform, they were on cloud nine (from the team win). It was like doing an encore performance. They rushed the stage and tried to get the crowd to stand up,” said Stilwell. “They just went out there and danced.”Jill Radsken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.