U of O Dance Team
The team attended three in-person competitions and held an end-of-year showcase. Photo: Gee-Gees Dance/Provided
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The team attended three in-person competitions and held an end-of-year showcase

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Ottawa dance team finally returned to the stage in a more normal fashion this spring. They were excited to get back to performing and enjoying rehearsals together again.

The Fulcrum spoke with team captains Alex St-Laurent and Caitlin Ennis about their COVID-19 experience, and the team’s most recent season.

St-Laurent explained that the team has been around for approximately 10 years. It used to have varsity status, however, it is now under the oversight of students through the clubs department of the U of O’s sports services.

“In April of every year, they hold elections to nominate the executive members and stuff, the people who run the team for the following year,” St-Laurent said. 

“There’s 10 executives in total, but then the two captains run everything. We don’t have any coaches or anything. So it’s all students-run. But we report directly to sports services and their club department within that division,” she continued.

St-Laurent, who has been a team member since her first year at the U of O in 2019, talked about the experience of being on a non-traditional sports team and needing support from the school.

“You can tell that the people in charge of us, and it’s not on them, have a bit of a hard time understanding. ‘Oh, so you guys don’t wear uniforms?’ We have costumes, and they need to be bought, like ASAP. And, we need 10 different ones,” she said.

“It’s really hard to learn what’s happening, but it’s a different world. And if you’re not a part of it, it’s kind of difficult,for sure,” St-Laurent finished.

In a regular season, the team holds in person auditions in September, with callbacks and then final decisions. From there, the team rehearses and choreographs routines to bring to, typically, three competitions come spring time. 

Finally, at the beginning of April they have their showcase for friends, family and community members to attend, since often the competitions aren’t in Ottawa.

With the pandemic, they’re programming has seen some changes. Ennis, the co-captain, explains these challenges.

“The year after COVID hit, so my second year when I was assistant captain, that year was really tough. Because it was like a new plane that everyone was navigating. It was just kind of seeing, okay, let’s see what we can do this year,” she said.

St-Laurent explains that with all the back and forth between restrictions during the 2020-21 year, the team did not make it on stage.

“Last year, we only did one competition, we had one duet that was entered, and it was virtual. So it was just filmed in the gym and then sent in, and we received some critiques and placements after. But other than that we didn’t do any competitions. We tried to pull group dances together, but with the gym capacities, like lowering and then like being shut down. We just weren’t able to get it done in time,” she said.

As for the current season, the co-captains had to navigate these challenges on their own, since it is a student-led club.

“Alex and I said, at our practices, we’re masking no matter what, we don’t care if the school says you don’t have to, we’re saying we will, because we want to put contact between dancers into our routines. And to make everyone feel safer,” Ennis explains.

After a virtual first round of auditions and in-person callbacks, the 2021-22 team was decided. Throughout the year they choreographed and perfected the routines to bring to competitions.

Photo: Gee-Gees Dance/Provided

“I think it went really well. Honestly, the team, I think this year was really strong. So people were really happy,” Ennis said.

“You could obviously tell it was everyone’s first time on stage in a while, but aside from that, I could not be more proud of what we were able to pull together and how professional each dancer was able to present themselves and present the team,” St-Laurent said.

The team attended three competitions, Strive Dance Challenge in Scarborough, Terpischore University Challenge in Guelph, and BeDance Varsity Challenge in Mississauga. 

At Strive, U of O dancers LeShaun Bernett and Sidney Alexander’s duet won fourth place overall, and Bernett’s solo won ninth overall. Additionally, Chloe Pilon was awarded the title of elite soloist for highest scoring jazz solo.

At Terpischore, the team placed 10th out of 22 teams and Alex St-Laurent won judges choice award. She was also nominated for the Leadership and Initiative Award at the athletic end-of-year banquet that the university puts on for the Gee-Gee clubs teams and varsity teams.