Think for a moment of a young adult proudly wearing a university’s colors while performing out on a court in front of more than 15,000 screaming fans. The spotlights are focused squarely on their every move, and they fear they will not be in sync with their teammates. Any mistakes they make are scrutinized.
You’re correct if you pictured an athlete. But it isn’t a basketball player. It is a different type of athlete. It is a member of the Creighton Dance Team.
The members of Creighton’s dance team are an integral part of promoting Bluejays athletics. They show up to the school’s sporting events wearing bright smiles and White and Blue uniforms, often performing from the opening tip, through game time, during timeouts, and even halftime and intermission. And these student-athletes commit even more time and preparation outside the fields and courts of play to put the best possible dance team together each year. Here’s an inside look at the Creighton Dance Team.
While cheerleaders and pep squads inspiring school spirit at college campuses is a long-standing tradition in collegiate athletics, the modern iteration of Creighton’s cheer squad dates back to 1979. That’s when longtime Creighton Education Department employee Judy Streitz organized the dance team, which isn’t to be confused with the co-ed cheerleading squad that the school disbanded in the early 1990s due to liability issues. The dance team is separate, has survived through the years, and is a University-sponsored spirit team.
The squad consists of 12-18 young women who work throughout the season at all home events, starting with volleyball games and a select number of men’s and women’s soccer matches in the fall. They perform at all home men’s and women’s basketball games, they travel to both the Men’s and Women’s Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournaments, and then end the school year performing at some baseball and softball home games. That adds up to roughly more than 100 sporting events as well as other appearances on campus and throughout the community.
The Dance Team is registered as a student activity on campus. They are partially supported by the Athletic Department and the Creighton Student Union, but they still seek outside sponsorship. Currently, Superberries is their major sponsor and the team helps find minor sponsors for the basketball programs. The dance team holds several fund raising events to help pay for their uniforms — the most expensive part of being on the team. The captains receive a plethora of catalogs to piece together uniforms. Then they meet with the moderator to narrow down some appropriate choices, taking cost into consideration. Then it is up to the team as a whole to approve the outfits.
Putting the Team Together
But forget about putting together the clothing; how does the team come together? It all starts with Alynne Wize who serves as moderator for the dance team. In her role, she oversee tryouts (recruiting, securing location/date/time, hiring judges, tallying scores, and posting the final team selections), elections for officers, guiding the officers in their roles, ordering uniforms for the team, scheduling appearances in the public, and the team’s in-game management.
That’s right, tryouts. Wize works with Creighton’s Admissions Department every year and speaks to any incoming freshmen about their interest in the team. She’ll speak to interested students’ parents and answer any questions they might have about Creighton’s dance team.
There are audition guidelines, which include the tryouts in early April. Members already on the squad have to tryout from year to year and are not guaranteed a spot on the next year’s team. There are stringent requirements as defined in their bylaws to stay on the team as well, including maintaining a certain grade point average and completing a strength and conditioning program. In fact, the dance team works with the same strength and conditioning staff as the other Creighton student-athletes, and separate circuits are developed for the team and then altered as needed.
A lot of the women on the dance team participate simply because they enjoy the performances and have danced all their lives. There is not a scholarship system in place to help the dancers with financial aid. However, there is a small pool of money members can earn from based on the team’s Constitution:
Monies provided by CU Athletics will be distributed fairly amongst members. The distribution will be based on the following criteria, in order:
- The member’s need
- The member’s eligibility
- The member’s attendance record
- The member’s grade point average
Often the biggest challenge the dancers face is juggling their participation in the dance team with other opportunities. Dance team practice and performance takes priority over any other university or non-university event (other than classes or class-related activities). Thus, the team must work around academic schedules and the spring tryouts to organize practice time before and between the squad’s actual appearances.
The Jays Dancers practice in the Old Gym or sometimes at the Kiewit Fitness Center. They get together over the summer to practice one day each month, but then also spend several hours in the fall and in the spring practicing. This doesn’t include, of course, the hours they spend together during the events at which they perform. The music, the choreography, and the practices are organized by the different officers in the group. They work with the CU Pep Band and the Blue Crew to coordinate in-game operations. A lot of effort on behalf of these groups goes in to providing Bluejays fans the best possible atmosphere at Creighton sporting events.
To get ready for each event, the team arrives one hour before the game. So in most cases, each sporting event they participate in, they dedicate about 4 hours of their day to be a part of the group. Everything sounds pretty serious about the dancers, but they do have a lot of fun and get a little crazy at times. Team Fundraising Officer, Abbie, says:
“The dance team shares many crazy moments, but some of my favorites are all the funny things that happen in the locker rooms at games. We all get each other and our senses of humor, so if people from the outside would hear about it they wouldn’t get it.”
There is a big difference between doing some dance activities in high school compared to doing the same in college. “Although it is somewhat similar to high school dance team, there are certain differences. For one, we are more involved in the games. Also the amount of time we spend together as a team practicing and attending games and events is much more involved and a larger time commitment,” Abbie says.
They need all that practice because each night the dance team performs, fans see a different routine. Some dance teams across the nation perform the same number over and over, but Creighton’s squad brings a different performance each game. Still, the dancers have their favorite routines. “The team’s best dance would have been from last season, Bridget and Catherine’s routine, Calabria,” Abbie says. “We got many compliments not only from fans but also from those who work for Creighton.”
Playing up the Crowd
As much as the dancers enjoy performing for crowds at Creighton sporting events and getting everyone involved in the action, they also want to help create the future of the Creighton Dance Team. Every year the team hosts the Lil’ Jays Dance Clinic, which brings anywhere between 75 and 150 kids the chance to learn some dances and routines from the dancers they idolize.
This year’s clinic is Saturday, February 13, from 8:00-10:30 a.m. The clinic is open to little dancers ages 3 through the 8th grade. For a $25 fee, the kids get:
- Instruction from current Creighton Dance Team members
- A Lil’ Jays Dancer T-Shirt
- A Valentine’s Day treat bag
- The opportunity to show off their new skills during a halftime dance at that afternoon’s Creighton women’s basketball game vs. Evansville (It is a “Pink Out” game, so wear your pink!)
- Complimentary tickets for their parents to watch them perform at halftime of the 11 a.m. game
The deadline to register for the Lil’ Jays Dance Clinic is February 5.
But the dance team doesn’t pick Lil’ Jays Dancers just once a year; the dance team and the Creighton Promotions team offer fans at men’s and women’s basketball games the chance to sign up to be selected as the Lil’ Jays Dancer of the Game. You can see how much fun these kids have by the size of their smiles on the big screens at the Qwest Center and Sokol Arena.
The Creighton Dance Team has continued its long tradition thanks to the talented young people that come to CU and give their effort and time to represent the school so well. The current Jays Dancers hope to see more talented, fabulous young women continue the team in the future.