PHOENIX — The world of college athletics has become so competitive in recent years that even dance teams are now recruiting to find top talent.
The greater Phoenix area has long been known to produce elite dancers who go on to perform on world tours or star in hit television shows, but the market has now become a hotbed for college dance team recruiting.
Instead of holding traditional in-person auditions, some of the top programs in the country have transitioned to video-based recruiting models to construct the teams that will be representing their institutions on game days or at national competitions.
Longtime Valley dance and cheer coach, Danielle Faulkner, is co-owner of Sharpen Up Dance Team Training which helps high school and college-age dancers prepare to take their talents to the next level and potentially earn college scholarships in the process.
“Arizona probably has some of the best high school teams in the nation. I shouldn't say ‘probably’ -- it does have some of the top high school teams in the nation,” Faulkner said. “Many dancers start to burn out after high school or just end their dance career after many years… Because they didn’t realize that there were opportunities out there for them.”
Faulkner coached the Chaparral High School pom team to state and national championships, but three years ago she joined forces with Arizona choreographers Lindsey Larson and Rani Reichow to create Sharpen Up with the objective of educating competitive dancers interested in pursuing college or professional dance teams.
Faulkner said the Valley-based company has helped more than 100 dancers earn college scholarships offered at schools like Grand Canyon University and the University of Tennessee.
Earlier this month, Sharpen Up hosted “The Summit” at Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, a two-day event where aspiring collegiate dancers had an opportunity to learn what it takes to make their dream team. Think of it as a dance convention meets a career fair with dozens of coaches and team representatives on hand to help participants navigate the process of recruitment.
“Really, dance team is so much more than just what they're able to do with their skill and their talent. It teaches them to have interview skills and teamwork,” Faulkner said. We actually run [The Summit] as more of a dance convention where the colleges actually teach the classes. So, you're experiencing how those coaches and how those dancers actually would teach their classes or their practices once they make the team. It helps them understand the fit if they're a fit for that style.”
Faulkner noted that with dance teams such as GCU’s and Univ. of Tennessee’s offering scholarships for, there is mountain pressure for other programs across the country to do the same. Some of the programs that have had a presence at “The Summit” include the Arizona State Spirit Squad, University of Arizona Pomline, Northern Arizona Dance Team, Grand Canyon Dance Team, Ottawa University Dance Team, Washington State Crimson Girls, Washington Spirit, Texas Tech Pom Squad, San Diego State Dance Team, and UNLV Rebel Girls & Company among others.
“We’re not here to break you down and tell you what you’re doing wrong. We’re here to guide you and build you and add to your backpack that you already walked in the door with,” Faulkner said. “I really believe wholeheartedly that we have the right system and the right teams and the right people in place to make it a safe space for everybody. No matter who you are or where you’re coming from or what level of dancer… This is for all high school dancers starting freshman year because we want them to understand what it is and make goals.”
“The Summit” isn’t the only major recruiting event happening in Arizona this month. TRIBE 99, a dance company that exists to inspire and build authentic relationships with dancers and coaches across the globe, is hosting “The Dance Combine” at Higley High School in Gilbert this weekend. Registration for in-person passes sold out in a matter of days for the 2023 event and there are more than 50 college programs expected to attend.
High school dancers will have an opportunity to make connections with potential coaches and learn from nationally renowned choreographers. According to the TRIBE 99 Instagram page, there have been nearly 90 college programs in attendance since the event’s inception in 2017 with 36 schools offering scholarships at “The Dance Combine” last year.
The idea of being one of the top recruits in the nation is now extending to the student athletes on the sidelines of athletic events. We’ve even seen Signing Day events for dancers announcing where they’ll be taking their talents after their senior year of high school. It appears events like “The Summit” and “The Dance Combine” will only be getting bigger and more frequent as their popularity continues to grow.
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