Ramapo's dance team won the National Dance Alliance (NDA) Collegiate Division III Dance National Championship for the second straight year.
A 9.460 score in the finals earned the Roadrunners another first-place trophy in Daytona Beach, Fla. on Saturday. In the tournament featuring competitors from Texas, Kansas, Iowa and California, Ramapo trounced the rest of the pack, finishing 0.129 of a point higher than runner-up Blinn College.
Senior Chervene Aminian, one of the team's three captains, said the victory established Ramapo as the event's top dog.
"This is our second year winning first, so now it's official–we're the team to beat in D-III down there," Aminian said.
The program has transformed dramatically in its eight years. During the inaugural season, the team failed to make the cut past preliminaries. Now the Roadrunners are a mainstay atop of the leader board. Senior and captain Jessica Courtney thought she was at her pinnacle as a dancer entering college, but she marveled at how much progress she and her teammates made in four years under the tutelage of head coach Michelle Jaworski.
"When we were down [in Florida] I looked at videos from our freshman year. I feel like a completely different dancer," Courtney said. "[The coaches] really fine-tuned everything. They pushed me and broke through my own expectations of myself."
It's a monumental feat for a program that receives little recognition throughout the campus. For them, the old saying "dance like nobody is watching" has become more of an actuality than a motivational clichÃ©. As a side activity, the team performs at basketball games, which causes the basketball teams' success to hold more bearing over the dance team's acknowledgment on campus than their own output.
"Even when we won last year, people didn't even realize it," senior and captain Jonica Williams said. "It's weird to be at the basketball game and people are clapping without any enthusiasm. We're like, 'We were champs last year and you don't know.'"
The dance team is not listed as an official sport, but instead classified as a "competitive club." Yet Williams said their routines require a tremendous amount of athleticism, and her teammates agreed that they exert more than enough effort and energy to be considered a sport.
"That's just another area where we're not appreciated, and we're not treated as a sport," Courtney said. "We really are. The amount of strength it takes to get through one of our routines is incredible."
"I'd like to see them try to get through what we get through," Aminian added.
Ultimately, the girls are all fine with being their own biggest fans as long as they can keep dancing.
"In general, it's not about the recognition," Williams said. "We don't dance to be known on campus. We dance because we love to dance."
Unlike other sports teams, the dance squad's seasons revolves around this one main event. However, that doesn't mean they're allotted off time in the interim, as summer and winter breaks are filled with practices. The team also hosts two high school competitions as fundraisers and perform there for practice.
While some of the team's members entered this year's National Championship with more experience from last year's win, nine members of the group were fresh faces. According to Courtney, the neophytes remained poised on the grand stage.
"It was their first time for them going out on that stage," Courtney said. "It's a completely different experience, and I know our sophomore year when we performed out there our first time, we had no idea what we were doing. We were so scared, and that's why I was so proud of the new girls. They were so confident, and they didn't let anything tamper with their confidence levels."
If anything, their lack of experience alleviated the pressure of defending the title, according to Williams.
"Half of them haven't been down to Daytona to compete," Williams said. "For them to defend the title, it didn't mean much to them yet."
While the three seniors closed off their Ramapo careers on top, they know that the other dancers are already setting their sights on a possible three-peat.
"As soon as we were announced as winners and were basking in our own glory, already I think everyone's minds were thinking about next year," Williams said. "I think the class underneath us has a lot of strengths. They can definitely do it again."
Courtney is also excited to watch the returning undergraduates flourish next year in hopes of maintaining Ramapo's stronghold at the Florida competition.
"I think each one of them brings something different to the table. I think that they are willing and ready to help bring in the newbies and make them an even stronger team," Courtney said. "They are so passionate about the program, which is so great to see. I feel we are passing the reigns down to really strong individuals."
As for the three seniors who spent four years competing for a team they described as more of a family, their days dancing in a Ramapo uniform have met its swan song, but not before putting the College on the map with two titles. They all paused briefly in reflection before Courtney broke the silence with a sentiment that Williams and Aminian quickly echoed.
"It feels pretty good," she said.