YOU ONLY HAVE to see them perform once to know the University of Ottawa’s competitive dance team can put on quite a show. What you may not know is just how much these athletes have achieved outside of entertaining Gee-Gees fans at sports games.
“The Gee-Gees games are more for fun,” said Megan Byer, a second-year U of O student and co-coach of the team. “I would say the games are a very small slice of what we do overall as a team.”
The dancers compete annually in two Toronto-area meets and also hold a showcase at the Ottawa Little Theatre on March 4.
“[We] showcase the different dances we put together as a group throughout the year as well as the solos,” said Gabrielle Hayduk-Costa, a third-year U of O student and co-coach of the team.
In order to be ready for competition, the dancers practice two or three times each week, and focus on building their jazz, lyrical, contemporary, and hip-hop skills.
While competing, the dancers are given scores based on their technique and style.
“[Technique is about] how much flexibility you were able to show, what kind of pirouettes were you able to incorporate—it’s really strict like that,” said Hayduk-Costa. “Style is more about how visually appealing the dance was and the originality of the choreography.”
The dancers choreograph the majority of their own routines, but on occasion they bring in some outside help.
“We try and keep the choreography varied and to do so we use a mix of different choreographers, as well as people from within the team,” said Hayduk-Costa.
The dance team was recently hired by the National Hockey League to perform at the NHL Fan Fair, which was held at Scotiabank Place in late January.
“We were trying to get the crowd going, get everyone pumped up, and bring the whole family into the fun,” said Byer of the experience.
The team also teaches dance classes at the university, which are open to people of all levels of skill and cost $10 per lesson.
Although the classes are designed so that anyone can participate, the team itself is chosen after a series of tryouts at the beginning of the school year. Spots are limited and the competition can be fierce.
“People had to audition in September, and we selected 18 dancers to be on the team,” said Hayduk-Costa.
Both Hayduk-Costa and Byer discovered their love for dance early in life and share a passion for performing on stage.
“When I was seven years old, I would make up dances for a whole day, so my mom wanted to put me into dance,” said Hayduk-Costa. “I refused because I thought taking classes would ruin my ‘natural style’—at seven years old that was my main concern.”
Hayduk-Costa’s mother eventually convinced her to give classes a try, and Hayduk-Costa found that she “Fell in love with performing and connecting to the audience.”
Byer became involved in the sport at nine years old after watching her cousin perform.
“Once I started to perform myself, that’s when it really hit home,” she said. “You can connect emotionally to so many different songs and when you perform on stage it’s such an adrenaline rush.”
That excitement still rings true for Byer and the dance team today, motivating them to work hard for those few chances they have of getting to perform.
“Every time you get on stage, you fall in love with it all over again.”
Tickets for the dance squad’s showcase can be bought from a team member in advance or at the door.