If there’s a single piece of advice every freshman is told before leaving for school, it’s to join a club or team. By joining a club or team, a freshman has the ability to transition smoothly into a college routine, while being nurtured under the wings of upperclassmen who have gotten the whole college thing down to a fine art.

When the freshmen of the Fairfield dance team tried out for the team in the fall, they were hoping to do the same. But, because of the changes in the dance program, the freshmen would become the leaders of the team.

This fall, drastic changes were made to the Fairfield dance team when the program decided to take the competitive aspect out of the dance team.

“We just felt that having dancers participate in both [spirit and competitive] was starting to compromise the program in the way that the dancers did not have enough energy left to fulfill the responsibilities of a spirit squad because so much energy had to go into getting ready for competition,” said Spirit Coordinator and Dance Team Coach Marie Chaisson.

“So, this was the year that we decided that it would be best that there still be a competitive opportunity for everyone on campus, Dance Fusion, and then there would be just be a spirit squad.”

After forming two different programs, many of the dancers who were on the dance team in the previous years decided that they would rather be part of the competitive team Dance Fusion. By splitting the team into two, it would allow the dancers more freedom in choosing to commit to the Dance Fusion group, dance ensemble group or the dance team. And, although Chaisson lost many of her dancers to Dance Fusion, she was never discouraged. She knew she would find her team.

“So many people I speak to at orientation really come from spirit squad backgrounds in high school and the aspect of competing just wasn’t attractive to them,” said Chaisson. “Now we have nine freshmen on the team so the split really worked out best for all.”

When the nine freshmen had tried out for the team, they were made aware that they would be the eldest of the team and they would become responsible for learning and creating routines, attending practice two to three times a week and performing in front of crowds larger than the usual gaggle of high school students.

During the season, the team would perform at around 30 games, even during times when most students go home for long weekends.

And, for the doubleheader games, both the cheerleaders and dancers have to stay for the women’s and men’s games, which usually takes an entire Saturday.

There isn’t any money or scholarships in reward for their commitment, just the love for dance in their hearts. The amount of time and effort needed to have a dance team is extreme, but these freshmen were willing to step up to the challenge.

Since Chaisson is both the coach of the cheer and dance teams, she has had to split her practice and individual coaching between the two.

There aren’t any upperclassmen on the team to guide them— just one captain who just so happens to be the same age. Deanna Martinelli wasn’t expecting the position, but she knew how to step up and become the captain her team needed her to be, no matter what age or amount of experience.

“At first, it was difficult because I had to establish a sense of authority with girls that are all the same age,” said Martinelli. “But the entire team made being a leader so much easier by understanding and being respectful of my position of captain, regardless of my age.”

Under the guidance of their coach and other alumni who have volunteered their time to the team, Martinelli is responsible for running the practices, getting the songs together to choreograph new dances and making sure everything runs smoothly. Martinelli added that without their coach, they wouldn’t have grown to become the team they are today.

“She has been our biggest supporter since the beginning,” stated Martinelli, “and she has helped us establish a sense of unity by having so much faith in us to succeed.”

On and off the courts, the team has great camaraderie. Because they’re all freshmen, they have learned together, struggled together and succeeded together. Whether they’re performing their beloved halftime dance, selling 50/50 tickets with their red-stained lips or even just poking fun at one another’s mistakes, the team is ready to become the upperclassmen who take the incoming freshmen under their wings. Chaisson couldn’t be happier with how far the team has come in so little time.

“If you didn’t know we had changed the program and if you didn’t know they were all freshmen, you would not know by looking at them,” stated Chaisson. “I owe these girls the world and they are the epitome of everything you would want in a dance team; they haven’t missed a beat.”

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