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Integrated Cheer and Dance starts from scratch

Despite competition success by both teams, Oakland may be moving away from cheer and dance competitions to focus on the fans.

Despite competition success by both teams, Oakland may be moving away from cheer and dance competitions to focus on the fans.

Nicole Morsfield

Nicole Morsfield

Despite competition success by both teams, Oakland may be moving away from cheer and dance competitions to focus on the fans.

Katie LaDuke, Staff Reporter

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As the shock wears off from the announcement on April 19 regarding the combination of the cheer and dance teams, Oakland University Athletics is beginning to build the new Integrated Cheer and Dance team from the bottom up. Naming coaches became the first task of the new program.

Chelsea Estes and Kayla Peiffer were named coaches of Oakland University Integrated Cheer and Dance on May 4. Estes brings over 20 years of dance experience including her involvement with the Detroit Tigers Energy Squad as well as working within Athletics for the past two years as a sideline reporter for ESPN3. Peiffer spent time in the Sylvania School District in Ohio as a cheerleading adviser and was a varsity cheerleader at the University of Toledo.

“I am still so honored and blessed to be a part of this team [at Oakland],” Peiffer said. “I think the team is going to be a really good and positive thing coming out of Oakland. I think some of the athletes are still a little scared, but after we got to meet with them and had some one-on-one time with them, they are more open to the idea now.”

When the change was first announced at the Black and Gold awards, the emphasis was put on the game day experience. Integrated Cheer and Dance will largely focus on fan engagement and community interaction. Some ideas have focused on talking more with the fans in the stands on game day and helping with daily promotions that Oakland sponsors at games.

“The biggest misconception is that cheer was completely cut and dance was completely cut, but that is not the case,” Estes said. “We are still going to be highlighting the dancers and the skills they have along with the cheerleaders. We’ll be doing services events along with community events where we’ll be together.”

A common concern among both fans and athletes is how this team is going to work. Instead of focusing on just one group or cross training each athlete in cheer and dance, both groups will be represented equally based on the skills the athletes have originally been trained in. Routines performed by the groups separately, but there will also be numbers that combine the two groups and involve both cheer and dance elements.

“We want this team to have its own identity,” Estes said. “We definitely have skills we are looking for, and we have a unique opportunity to do make this program how we want it. We want the best of the best.”

In order to get the best of the best, Estes and Peiffer want to see all the skills athletes have. Everyone, including the returning dancers and cheerleaders, is required to tryout. Each athlete will also be interviewed on why they want to be a part of this new team. The first set of tryouts took place May 22-24. There will also be another set of tryouts in the fall for any interested dancers and cheerleaders.

“There are a lot of schools out there that do a great job playing off of the [cheerleading and dance] groups,” Peiffer said. “I think there’s going to be a good mix of understanding the game day element as far as leading the crowd and understanding how their presence can be maintained throughout the whole game. I think that is going to be something that will be able to complement each other in the whole sense of it. The cheerleaders can learn from the dancers just as much as the dancers can learn from the cheerleaders.”   

Before the first set of tryouts, there was an informational meeting on May 17 where the expectations and vision for the team were laid out for prospective athletes.

Besides enhancing the game day experience and going out in the community, the athletes will be working with Oakland’s marketing team as athletic ambassadors.

“The marketing team with the cheerleaders and dancers works hand in hand as far as it goes with the promos and different elements they have at the game,” Peiffer said. “There may be a time-out in the game and there is a t-shirt toss. That is our opportunity to get to be in front of the fans. It’s [the athletes] time to really understand that yes they are cheerleaders and yes they are dancers. They will get to perform, but they are also there to help out with the bigger picture of Athletics.”

With Integrated Cheer and Dance shifting its focus from competitions, an issue involving participation at Nationals arises. The new team will not be able to compete at the National Cheerleaders Association national competition nor the Universal Dance Association national competition. Involvement in these competitions has been highly regarded by athletes who are now disappointed.

However, competitions are not completely ruled out. There is a possibility that two separate competition teams, one for dance and one for cheer, may arise. This all depends on if there is enough interest in making the teams.

“There have been some people worried and apprehensive about the issue surrounding Nationals,” Estes said. “We are encouraging [the athletes] to have an open mind since this change is different and may be a little hard to grasp right now. They will still dance. They will still cheer. We will still push them. They are athletes performing at the collegiate level, and we will not accept anything less from them.”

This new team will heavily rely on athlete input. Estes and Peiffer are open to hearing new ideas and will work with what the athletes want. Athletes will also be involved in deciding on what direction the team will go in with regards to performances, uniforms and the permanent name of the team.

“The most difficult aspect with this new team is going to be trying to convince everyone that it’s going to be okay,” Estes said. “I think everyone is still a little confused on how everything is going to work, but I’m excited to see how far this program will go and to see the entertainment increase at Oakland University. Both dancers and cheerleaders are athletes as well as entertainers so we’re going to bring a lot of new ideas to Oakland.”

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Oakland University's independent student newspaper.