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'Seen as athletes': University of Montana dance team making history with appearance in national competition

Posted at 6:32 PM, Apr 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-08 21:06:52-04

MISSOULA — You see them on the sidelines of football games, or courtside at men's and women's basketball games.

But this week, the University of Montana dance team won’t be on the sidelines: They’ll take center stage.

"I think everyone's just still in awe and in shock," UM dance team senior captain Andi Newbrough said.

The UM dance team is headed to Orlando, Florida, this week to compete in the College Classic National Championship.

“It's our own thing," Newbrough said. "We're not dancing at another sports game. And so I think that is a super motivating part, that it's just us. And we're putting the university's name on our back this time."

It's a first in the state of Montana's history that a college dance team has made it to a national competition, and the Griz will compete in the spirit and jazz categories.

"It feels just like a lot of like almost validation and recognition and how hard we do work," UM dance team senior captain Addie Wood said.

"I think it's brought this whole level of the girls just bonding together more, they're trying to do something as a team, they're not looking out for themselves," UM dance team head coach Alli Baumgardner added. "They're not trying to just be the best dancer on the field, they are truly working together as a team to accomplish this one goal. It's been really emotional."

But to know the dance team is to see the sacrifices put in when no one is watching.

"Even though practices can be hard and early, everyone is still working for a common goal," Newbrough said.

Their season starts in early August, where they're practicing for four hours every day as they learn 37 routines ahead of football season.

"This team has taken it with such a good spirit," Wood said. "And not every one came onto this team wanting to compete, some people really just wanted that Washington-Grizzly (Stadium) game day experience. And we have all just come together as a whole collective more than ever before.

"And we're dancing for the people next to us, and we're pushing for the people next to us."

Once football and basketball get under way, the team is practicing 3-4 times a week, mostly at 6 a.m., and on game days they arrive early, spend hours on hair and makeup, perform, then leave, while balancing all of this on top of school, and in some cases, jobs.

"A big part of what we do is making it look easy and fun to watch," Wood said. "You know, no one wants to look at you and you're all sweaty and dying, right? And what comes with that is people don't realize all of the hard work that comes behind it."

With Baumgardner in her second year as the team's coach, this year for the first time the team decided to take its game to the next level and begin working toward competition dancing, something a lot of the girls grew up doing, and have now found their way back to.

"It's the most fulfilling thing that I have ever done in my life by far," said Baumgardner, a UM dance team alum. "This is my favorite team I've ever coached. These girls, they just work so hard. They're pushing me, they're pushing themselves. It means the world."

So setting their sights on competing, on top of gameday responsibilities, saw the team’s performance skyrocket, and all of this comes as the team is not on scholarship but fundraising for this trip and to fund the program's competition goals.

“And I think this opportunity has just been so amazing for people to recognize how much talent our team has," Wood said. "And we really get to be seen as athletes."

With Baumgardner as head coach and Newbrough and Wood as captains, other members of the UMDT include Ashley Miller, Faith Hardee, Kate D'Amico, Brielle Gorder, Madeline McKinnon, Paige Lorsung, Aubrey Irons, Keiana Griggs, Lily Halvorson, Kendall Hanson, Sydona Young, Autumn Weathers, Brinkley Treat and Leena Watchel.

Punching a ticket to the national competition is proof of hard work paying off, and after a full season of cheering others on, now it's the dance team's turn to have its moment in the spotlight.

"Dancing for Griz Nation is a once in a lifetime opportunity," Newbrough said. "We've always been seen as a good dance team during like halftime or media (timeouts). I think people look forward to our timeouts.

"It's really exciting that everybody's just coming to see us. And so I think that's been something super special is that we're working towards us."