Saluki Shakers fall short in Florida

By Tia Rinehart

Hard work and dedication throughout the season brought the Saluki Shakers close to a final spot Saturday at the Universal Dance Association’s Collegiate Nationals in Orlando, Fla.

Despite their efforts, the team failed to make the top eight finalists and returned home Monday.

Coach Tawmi Conley said the trip was full of practicing, performing and team bonding.


Conley has coached the Shakers for 15 years and said the team has competed in the UDA Collegiate Nationals for about 10 years.

The Shakers spend all semester preparing for the competition Conley said, and the beginning of the semester is hard to get practice time in because of football games.

Saluki Shakers captain Chelsea Lemon said the beginning of the season is spent working on technique to get everyone up to the collegiate level. They learned their routines for both the Jazz and Hip- Hop competitions in October.

“Two choreographers come from out-of-state for a weekend to teach the girls their routines,” Conley said.

From then on the team works every day on perfecting the choreography, she said. The week after finals and the week before the spring semester consist of two, three-hour practices a day.

On Jan. 15 the day finally came for their departure to Orlando, Fla.

The trip started with waking up Thursday morning to eat a team breakfast, Conley said. The Shakers then enjoyed a day of fun at the parks in Disney World.


It was here that first-year Saluki Shaker and transfer student from Venezuela, Andrea Hernandez tried out for a mock American Idol at Hollywood Studios.

“I guess I was better than I thought,” Hernandez said.

She said she first sang in front of an Idol staff member. This staff member then took her to a producer where she sang one song in Spanish and Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.”

The staff then told her she was going on to the live show at 2 p.m. that afternoon.

“When they told us, Tawmi lost it,” Hernandez said. “They then took me to get my hair and makeup done like a movie star.”

Hernandez said she met with a producer to get a few quick lessons before the performance.

There are about five small shows with three contestants every day and at the end of the day the winners from each compete in one last show she said.

“The show was huge and looked just like the show on TV,” Hernandez said. “I competed with two other people but didn’t make it to the final show that they have that night. It was all just for fun though.”

They made a video to display why Hernandez was at Disney World, just like the show American Idol, and the whole team got to be in it, she said.

After the excitement of the American Idol experience, the team had to get back to work; they had practice time slots that night.

“We had 20 minutes to practice our Jazz routine and 20 minutes to practice our Hip- Hop routine,” Conley said.

The team then ate dinner together and had free time until the next morning.

Once again, the Shakers had a team breakfast and then were allowed time to spend with their family at the Disney parks until practice later in the evening.

Saturday was competition day, and at 2 p.m. the Shakers competed in Hip-Hop.

Conley said mistakes were made during the Hip-Hop routine when it came to stunts and choreography.

“Two tricks dropped and we had hats fall off while on the floor,” she said. “We weren’t expecting to make it to finals.”

Although the team was disappointed with their performance, Conley said they were only four points away from making it to the finals.

Later that night, around 6 p.m., Conley said the Shakers competed with their Jazz routine.

“It was the best I had ever seen them do it,” she said. “Even though we didn’t make it to finals with the Jazz routine either, they couldn’t have done it better.”

Conley said they missed finals with their Jazz routine by only 4.5 points.

“It was a lot of fun,” Hernandez said. “And definitely a learning experience as a dancer.”

Conley said the Shakers finished the trip off as a team by watching the Division I schools compete Sunday and bonding until their return home Monday morning.

Lemon said after competing for three years in Nationals, this year was different because it was her last. The competition this year was bittersweet for the senior captain.

“It was really fun to say the least and we did what we came there to do,” Lemon said. “I am so extremely proud of my team.”

Tia Rinehart can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @ tiarinehart_de, or 536-3311 ext 251.