Ladycats dance team and cheerleading squad merge this football season

Ava Wallace

For the first football season in school history, the Northwestern Athletic Department’s University Cheerleading Squad and Ladycats Dance Team are merged in a spirit team officially known as the WildPride Spirit Squad. The squad, created in May, features 28 cheerleaders and 10 dancers.

Dancers and cheerleaders now support the University’s athletic programs as a singular unit, and have the opportunity to attend home and away games. Prior to this school year, only cheerleaders were eligible to travel and support Northwestern at other University campuses.

The two teams “regrouped,” Head Coach Pamela Bonnevier said, after the Athletic Department’s assessment of the separate squads last school year. Mike Polisky, senior associate for the Athletic Department (External Affairs), said the school decided to take a look at the Ladycats and cheerleaders as they were examining NUMB’s position in the department.

“We wanted to … figure out if there were different ways that different structures could be more impactful in terms of support for our athletic programs across campus,” Polisky said. “We thought putting everybody under one coach would help reach our objectives and enhance the experience for all those involved.”

Bonnevier said the biggest change for students on the Spirit Squad is all members are now expected to learn dance moves and cheers. Dancers, however, still perform specific choreography and only cheerleaders stunt.

“Everybody does everything, and then there are times when we showcase special skills,” Bonnevier said.

Squad members were informed of the changes after the Athletic Department reached an official decision towards the end of the 2010-2011 academic year. Spirit Squad Captain and cheerleader Kristin Bernstein said squad members heard the news after Spring tryouts.

“My first reaction was surprise; (the athletic department) never talked about it with us,” the McCormick junior said. “The worry was, ‘Is everyone going to be okay with adjusting?’ It was shocking.”

Spirit Squad Captain and Weinberg junior Jacqueline Montgomery said although she now enjoys the benefits of being part of a larger squad, she said the dance team was initially worried about merging with the cheerleaders. The team previously operated without an official head coach, though Bonnevier acted as coordinator.

“More than anything there was confusion about what was going to happen to us,” the dance captain said. “Losing our identity as a dance group was our biggest concern.”

Squad member and cheerleader Sarah Tort agreed that identity was an issue for both dancers and cheerleaders, though more concentration on cheer may have been harder on former Ladycats.

“It was a harder blow to their program, because for them it’s now more cheer and less focus on dance,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “Because they used to run their own practices and do their own choreography, they lost a little bit of their identity and independence as dancers. But then, we lost a little bit of our identities as cheerleaders, too.”

Tort said it was this shift in focus that might have been a deterrent to students initially planning on participating in the squad.

Dancer Daniela Caputo-Noriega said she left the Spirit Squad after deciding she wanted to strictly focus on dancing.

“I was initially worried, I knew I had to give it a shot at least … we didn’t know how big of a change it was going to be,” the Communication junior said. “I realized that it wasn’t for me.”

Other former Spirit Squad members contacted to discuss the changes declined to comment.

Despite Caputo-Noriega’s decision to leave the team, many squad participants are finding the changes to be beneficial.

Bernstein, for example, enjoys the newfound companionship that accompanied the formation of a singular squad.

Bonnevier said the squad has worked hard to create camaraderie in light of the regroup. That sense of unity, she said, is the best part of the merge.

“There was a natural animosity, for lack of a better word, between cheer and dance before,” she said. “That doesn’t exist anymore … it’s the best thing that could’ve happened.”

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