The UMKC dance team has undergone a major transformation since the arrival of Coach Michele Morgan in 2006. She coached the nationally ranked University of South Carolina dance team for six years before taking over a UMKC dance program that was practically nonexistent.
The UMKC dance team placed 2nd at the national competition in Daytona Beach, Fla., last year, and 4th in 2009 and 2010.
Morgan began recruiting dance majors from the Conservatory of Music and Dance. She said the dance program did not have scholarships available for these athletes before she moved to Kansas City, but because of her efforts, scholarships have been awarded to 16 of the 22 members of this year’s team.
Morgan has extensive experience as a coach, cheerleader and dancer. She cheered for the Cincinnati Bengals and danced for a nationally ranked University of Kentucky dance team before she turned to coaching.
Captain Erika Edwards said that competition for a dance team spot has intensified in the past two years as the program built its reputation and brought in dance majors.
About 50 percent of team members are dance majors, according to Morgan.
Edwards explained the audition process held each year in the spring.
“It [audition] is a one-day process that includes a pom section, a hip-hop section and a jazz section,” she said. “Then you have to learn a routine that includes certain technical aspects such as toe touches and pirouettes. There are about four or five judges that critique you and then determine if you are qualified to be on the team.”
The team practices two hours, twice a week.
“We are expected to be active every day,” junior Georgie Zitsch said. “The general expectation is cardio four times a week and weightlifting two times a week. We are on our own when it comes to conditioning outside of practice so we are on an honor system.”
Edwards considers these expectations necessary.
“When nationals rolls around you can definitely tell which teams have been in shape throughout the season and which teams have not, so it really pays off to keep up with the workouts,” Edwards said.
The team this year earned its third consecutive fully-paid bid to nationals for its showing at the National Dance Alliance summer camp at Missouri State.
“I think the big thing is that this [dancing] is part of our social lives,” Edwards said. “Performing at the basketball games twice a week is a social event where we get to see our friends and fellow students.”
The team uses basketball games to practice performing in front of crowds.
“The [basketball] game performances are much more laid-back, as long as we are ready to do our best,” Edwards said.
UMKC Athletics is sponsored by adidas, which pays for all team uniforms and equipment. The UMKC dance team is known for wearing glitzy and somewhat revealing athletic wear.
“My first year dancing, Coach was kind of getting us used to wearing our uniforms,” Zitsch said. “At first I felt somewhat uncomfortable but now I am used to them.”
Edwards also felt slightly uncomfortable initially wearing the half-top uniforms, but she realized that every college dance team wears similar attire.
“This is pretty collegiate—all college teams do this,” she said. “When we are at nationals surrounding by hundreds of other dancers wearing similar outfits it seems much more normal to us than what other people think.”
As a dance major, Edwards tries to maintain a healthy diet, consisting mostly of apples, carrots and eggs. Dancers are commonly believed to have unhealthy eating habits, but Edwards eats normally, and said that she tries not to restrict herself “too much.”
Basketball game performances give audiences just a small preview of the team’s abilities.
“I wish people could see us at nationals,” Zitsch said. “I think when people see us perform at games they think that’s all we are about. But those routines are easy, short little numbers. At nationals we do much harder tricks. It’s like a 30-minute cardio workout.”