Illustration: Catherine Cha

Dancing through the obstacles: The story of Ryerson’s Dance Pak

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By Elisabeth Rositsan

To some, dancing may appear as a simple performance art or hobby.

But according to Ryerson’s Dance Pak team, it’s bigger and better than it seems. For these athletes, dancing is more than just movement, it’s a passion. And that passion makes it fiercely competitive.

The Dance Pak is Ryerson’s competitive dance team that strives to encourage school spirit and teamwork at all levels. Considered to be one of the better teams Canadian collegiate dance by other schools across the country, the team consists of trained dancers from various programs at Ryerson.

These dancers, who are passionate for dance and are picked to continue performing at an advanced level, have started to earn respect in the university’s community due to their hard work and participation in different dance clubs and competitions.

Three months into the season and the team has already performed at the Ryerson Rams’ basketball home openers and at the Toronto Argonauts dance showcase.

With the help of their coaches, these dancers have been trying to keep their reputation as one of the better collective groups in Canada.

It hasn’t always been glitz and glamour for the Dance Pak. Like any athletics program, the team needed someone to carry the flag for them. This particular case began in 2004, when former coach Krista Speller started the club.

Having danced “since childhood”, Speller officially created the club after transferring from the University of Waterloo. In November 2004, Speller held the team’s first-ever auditions and was pleasantly surprised to see how many people tried out. She’d put together a team of 12 dancers to form the first Dance Pak.

Currently, the team is made up of 15 dancers. Every member on the team has to be good shape, as they have to be in order to pull off the number of routines that they prepare throughout the week.

A regular season starts in September and ends near the late stages of March. During that time, the team usually appears at Rams games, as well as competing in three university/college competitions. The competitions tend to be challenging, as they feature top competitive teams across the country.

“Dancers typically start preparing for competition months in advance,” said Speller. “Choreography is learned and then ‘cleaned’ over countless hours to ensure all members are executing the movements the same way at the same time.”

Throughout the season, the team hosts practices twice a week, working on moves ranging from balance techniques to fully coordinated movements that’ll depend on what sound they’re dancing to. Competitions usually feature contemporary jazz, hip-hop and lyrical, but it could also include other genres. These dancers must have other qualities as well, especially on a physical level. Flexibility, coordination and ability to move fluently are huge assets, utilizing the athletes’ strength and stamina.

“I think [clubs] deserve more recognition, financial or otherwise”

Over the years, the team has proven itself to be one of the more prepared teams in the province. Last season, the team took fifth overall in a 75-group division. They also finished seventh out of 25 at Strive’s University Dance Challenge.

Despite the teams multiple accomplishments, the team still feels like they aren’t getting the recognition that they deserve. When they first started the group, they didn’t receive any funding, so Speller had to get her team to help her take on the financial responsibility. To this day, the team still receives grants and funding for uniforms and travel costs from the school.

“The team is extremely grateful for any and all financial support it has received from bodies such as the athletics department and Ryerson’s Student Initiatives Fund,” Speller stated. “But, of course we could always use more [help].

The student athletes that make up the Dance Pak as well as many other Ryerson clubs work incredibly hard to represent Ryerson well and are proud to do so.

“I think [clubs] definitely deserve more recognition, financial or otherwise,” said co-captain Vanessa Hutchinson.

Even with the financial obstacle, the team understands that as long as they stick together, things can get better for them. “The Dance Pak isn’t just about competing and being the best,” said first-year graphic communications student and member Maya Navarro. Understanding that becoming relevant takes time, Navarro also pointed out that they’ll have to keep on going and work as a team in order to get better.

“It’s a very friendly community and we always help each other out. We all share the same passion and that’s what makes this team special.”

Despite the obstacles they face, the team also participates in community initiatives. They compete in at least one community initiative each season.

These initiatives can range from a number of things, such as raising funds for the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program through the Junior Dance Pak event, and helping Girl Guide troops across the city earn their dance badges.

“These initiatives help raise money for the team, since we have to pay for costumes, competition fees and other details,” said Hutchinson. She also said that it’s a great way to get kids involved in dance.

The team also helps with promotional events for games and regularly compete in three collegiate dance competitions against over 20 collegiate dance teams from universities and colleges across Ontario.

When asked about the future of the team, Hutchinson said that it will hopefully “grow in size, recognition and become a bigger community.”

CORRECTION(S): A previous version of this article stated that the team was considered to be in the top 25 of Canadian collegiate dance. There’s just over 25 teams that participate in Canadian collegiate competitive dance. It was also stated that this season just started for the Dance Pak, but they actually started in September. The article also said that Speller has always had a special place in her heart. This was misquoted. There were 12 players when the team started, not 10. It was also mentioned that Speller made a remark on competitions. This was misquoted. Speller was also paraphrased incorrectly on two “according to” statements. Co-Captain Vanessa Hutchinson (who was wrongfully named as a former coach) was also misquoted, when the article stated that she said “I think we definitely deserve more funding.” Other incorrect phrases include the words “low-budget”, “trips” and “accessories.” Lastly, Speller is no longer involved with the team, and it was stated that she’s still directly involved. The Eyeopener regrets these errors.

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