Whenever the Carolina Girls weren’t performing on game days in Kenan Stadium or the Dean E. Smith Center, they were meticulously honing their routine for the national stage.
The UNC dance team learned its choreography for both nationals and the football season over the span of a week in early August. From there, they rehearsed for nationals in between several performances at home games, all the while mastering new game-day dances.
“I feel like this year was the most we’ve ever worked in dance team history,” junior Toni Darden said. “Since August, we have been pushing nonstop.”
Dancers would typically learn new choreography from a video independently before practice, then have one to two sessions as a team to master coordination for home games.
“At practices, sometimes it’ll get really stressful if we’re learning a dance the week before we’re performing,” junior Riley Welch said. “Or the crunch time right before nationals — we all just find every way to laugh about a situation, and we all just make the most of it.”
The fun-loving team traveled to Florida the weekend of Jan. 14 to compete at the Universal Dance Association National Championship. After a grueling bus ride featuring countless Zoom classes, the UNC dance team arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
The Carolina Girls then performed alongside 21 teams from across the country in the College Game Day Competition, showcasing their game day sideline traditions.
Each team’s program consisted of its own routines that responded to an audio cue to reenact the following situations, in order: fight song, situations on the sideline and timeouts. For example, a sideline situation for a football game would be on a third down, with the home team on defense. The dance team would then be scored on its effectiveness in raising crowd energy, among other criteria.
UNC received a score of 84.83, placing 17th in the Division IA Game Day group.
Beyond the competition and cheering on other teams, the Carolina Girls spent the weekend exploring Walt Disney World. They visited Magic Kingdom and EPCOT on Friday, followed by Hollywood Studios on Saturday.
"It was really a good balance of motivation from watching other teams compete, but also having so much fun together at the Disney Parks," Welch said.
The trip was a new experience for most team members, as the only dancers who had performed in nationals were the four senior captains: Baylee Jones, Leara Stanley, Carley Arendas and Anna Lark. The captains were first-years when the team competed at the National Dance Alliance in 2019 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
With the program undergoing rebranding and new coaching under Summer Renner and Cory Morgan, the team elected not to perform at nationals the following year. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, making UDA 2022 the Carolina Girls' first trip to nationals in three years.
Looking back on the season, the trip to Florida was icing on the cake for an action-packed, unforgettable fall. A highlight of the season was the Wake Forest football game, which the Tar Heels won in a 58-55 thriller over the then-No. 9 Demon Deacons.
To Arendas, the energy of the home crowd was indescribable. Fans rushed the field at Kenan Stadium after the win.
“Game days I think are honestly why we all do it,” Arendas said. “Being on the field when the fireworks are going off and seeing the team run out, it’s an unmatched feeling. The atmosphere is always so hype, no matter who we’re playing.”
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