Emotionally charged Lancer Dancers win with jazz routine at National Dance Alliance championships

Moments before heading into the auditorium where they would perform their jazz routine at the National Dance Alliance championships in Orlando Sunday, the SM East Lancer Dancers were already in tears.

As part of a team tradition, each varsity member writes a letter to her compatriots and reads it aloud at some point throughout the championship weekend. Coach Alexis Close had asked senior Lily Kaufmann to read hers just before the finals.

Kaufmann talked about how hard the team had worked. About the obstacles they’d strived together to overcome. And about how they had dedicated their performances throughout the season to Tyler Rathbun, their SM East classmate who was killed in an ATV accident.

“I was a mess,” Kaufmann said. “We were all crying.”

But rather than falling apart on account of the emotion, the team channeled their feelings into the performance — to remarkable effect.

For the first time in school history, SM East’s Lancer Dancers on Sunday earned an NDA national title in the large-school jazz division. The Lancers entered the finals in second place in the jazz category, trailing Vestavia Hills, Ala., by .043. When the final judges scored were tallied, the Lancers led by .088. The Lancer finished second place overall in the category last year.

“I’m over the moon,” said Close. “This is such a steep category, you just never know what to expect. But I’ll say I had a gut feeling that we could do it.”

Close said she normally takes mental notes throughout a performance and delivers feedback — correcting an unflexed foot or a slow head turn— to the team after they come off the stage.

“But I’m watching them up there on Sunday and thinking, ‘This is perfect. This is flawless,'” she said. “And the coach from the team ahead of up in prelims came up to me and said, ‘That was flawless.'”

Kaufmann and Close said the girls were literally in tears as their performance came to an end.

“The song and the performance had been a part of the girls’ grieving process [for the loss of Rathbun],” Close said. “There was something cathartic about performing it for the girls, and that was there Sunday as well.”

The Lancers also scored highly in their other category, large-school hip hop, taking fourth place. They took fifth place overall at the event, which featured nearly 175 teams from across the country, and won the Technical Excellence award in jazz.

Here’s a look at highlights from the Lancer Dancers’ first-prize jazz performance.