Dancing to the top: Anjali Petrucci’s journey to the Rose Bowl and beyond

Anjali Petrucci, an Industrial and Operations Engineering undergraduate student and CHEPS researcher, recounts the thrills of the Michigan Dance Team’s 2023-2024 season.

I was born a Wolverine and have bled Maize and Blue my whole life.

Saturday game days were a highlight of my childhood: playing football at tailgates, parading to the stadium, and watching and supporting Michigan during wins and losses. Throughout the many seasons and eras of Michigan Football, the 2023-2024 football season was undoubtedly the greatest season to be a part of as a long-time Michigan fan, U-M student, and member of the Michigan Dance Team.

Behind the scenes of the MDT

When you hear the phrase “dance team,” you often think of girls in sparkly uniforms with poms in hand and smiles on their faces. While gameday is remarkable, and frankly, a lot of fun, there is so much more to the Michigan Dance Team. There are three key roles of a D1A Competitive Dance Team.

First is participating in gameday: football and basketball appearances, sideline routines, timeout performances, and travel.

The second is preparing for and competing at the College Dance Team National Championship. Nationals give the word competitive a different meaning. Dancers can train from the age of 3, working on flips, turns, skills, and movement quality, and still not make a college dance team. Each year, around 8 spots are awarded to the hundreds of dancers who try out for a team at any given university. The level of competition and talent rises every year and it becomes increasingly harder to secure and maintain a spot. The main focus of our season is around nationals.

The third role is maintaining a level of excellence in academics and representing the University at the highest standards. The ability to maintain this equilibrium between academics and dance is what ultimately qualified us for the University of Michigan Dance Team.

The Michigan Dance Team’s season begins with intensive strength and conditioning, choreography, and football gameday preparation, starting in early August. November adds gameday for the women’s and men’s basketball seasons, and nationals preparation intensifies with 11-hour practices. This preparation for nationals intermixes with home football and basketball games, football championship games (if we are lucky), and our academics.

This season, I was lucky enough to experience it all.

Michigan beat everyone 

“The Victors” blaring, fans cheering, OSU fans sulking…every Michigan fan knows that a win in the Big House is a celebration with 110,000+ of your closest friends! Experiencing a win in the Big House is incomparable to any other stadium, except for the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl—both the venue and the game—is something that all college football fanatics dream of attending and winning. It also holds a special significance and tradition for the University of Michigan. This year, it was all made a reality for us. From the Rose Bowl Bash and pep rallies to the parade and the game itself, I now understand what the “Granddaddy of Them All” truly means.

January 1st, Rose Bowl Gameday, started dark and early at 2:30 am with our parade preparation. One of the special traditions of this bowl game is the 6-mile Rose Bowl Parade through Pasadena, California to the stadium. The Michigan Dance Team, the Michigan Marching Band, and the Michigan Cheer Team had the privilege of marching the entire parade route. When we finally arrived at the Rose Bowl Stadium, I had butterflies.

Growing up through the many eras of Michigan Football, Alabama seemed untouchable. I did have faith that we could beat them, but because of the history, I was still nervous for the team. But before I knew it, Michigan stopped Alabama in overtime to seal the 27-20 victory. The second we won, my whole team rushed to the field.

There were rose petals everywhere.

The fans were cheering.

The fireworks were booming.

It was a moment that I would never forget. We were going to the National Championship!

The Super Bowl of dance

On the day of the National Championship Game in Houston, the Michigan Dance Team was preparing for our own dance team nationals in Ann Arbor. We had a 10-hour practice, watched the football game as a team, and then sprinted to South University Avenue to celebrate the victory with the rest of the student body. 

Two days later, we left for the College National Dance Team Championship weekend in Orlando, Florida.  The event showcased the best-of-the-best talent, dedication, and precision as teams prepared all year to compete in Jazz, Hip Hop, Pom, and/or Gameday categories. The Universal Dance Association annually hosts the competition at ESPN Wide World of Sports. As a D1A team, we faced tough competitors, including Ohio State, MSU, Penn State, Tennessee, Minnesota, UNLV, Washington, LSU, and Alabama. Michigan competed in both the Jazz and Hip Hop categories.

The weekend consisted of preliminary, semi-final, and final rounds of competition.  The preliminary round set the stage, showcasing a diverse array of performances from all participating teams.  Half of those teams were eliminated after the prelims, and only a small selection advanced from the semis to the finals.

In both the Jazz and Hip Hop categories, teams pushed the boundaries of creativity and technique, striving to leave lasting impressions on the judges. The journey to the finals was marked by carefully crafted routines, flawless execution, incredible athleticism, and an unwavering commitment to artistic expression. The Hip Hop category added mind-blowing tricks and a level of precision that left no room for error. Small mistakes, execution flaws, spacing issues, and synchronization errors became deciding factors that resulted in team elimination. The Michigan Dance Team was one of the few teams to be finalists in both the Jazz and Hip Hop divisions! 

January 14th was Finals Day, the day all teams dream of reaching. The atmosphere in the venue was electric. Spectators rushed in to secure a spot to watch the talented teams. Every seat in the arena was filled hours before the competition began. The air smelled of popcorn. The stage lights blinded us. It IS the “Dance Team Super Bowl.” As the announcer introduced our team, “The Victors” blared on the speakers, the crowd cheered, and we took the stage. Every move, every beat, and every expression was scrutinized by the judges. Months of preparation, hard work, and passion were on display as we gave our all in pursuit of performing to our absolute best level. As the music ended, there was a moment of silence across the crowd before complete eruption.

Across the stage, hugs and smiles.

Across the crowd, cheers and screams.

We did it! Our team was recognized 5th in the nation for the Jazz division and 8th in the nation for the Hip Hop division.

A season to remember

For the Michigan Dance Team, this season was about so much more than the minutes of performing on the national stage. It encompassed school pride, being on the field for the National Championship 15-0 football season, the glory of the Rose Bowl, the effort poured into our national preparation, and the journey that led us to the final moment on stage.

It blended seamlessly to craft the most unforgettable, perfect 2023-2024 season as a long-time Michigan fan, U-M student, and member of the Michigan Dance Team. 

Forever Go Blue!

— Written by Anjali Petrucci, CHEPS Student