The CSUDH Dance team has devoted itself tirelessly to the success of their fellow student athletes for nearly two decades. In Daytona Beach, Fla. on April 6-8, their performance in the finals of the Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship brought national attention to their fierce commitment as representatives of the university and its athletic traditions.
The Toro dancers won the Division II National Championship in the newly created Spirit Rally category. Their standout performance among some 8,500 other participants from 430 colleges and universities across the country, capped a season that also saw unprecedented success for several of the university’s other athletic programs.
“We’ve been competing nationally for a long time, and we could never quite break the Top 10,” said Head Coach Cilecia Foster, who founded the dance team as a campus club in 2006 shortly after she graduated from CSUDH with a BA in elementary education and a minor in dance.
The Spirit Rally category showcases traditional gameday dance routines that elevate athletic performance and student participation. “We won in a category that is essentially what we do any time we have a game or campus event,” Foster said, adding that the win felt like a validation of all the hard work the team puts in every day.
In recent years, a renewed commitment to providing financial resources to the dance team has meant a much more aggressive travel schedule during a period of historic success for CSUDH athletics, said AVP and Director of Athletics Eric McCurdy.
“We went to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight for the first time in 63 years in women’s basketball. We went to the Sweet 16 in soccer. Last year, we went to the National Championship game in softball,” McCurdy said. “The phenomenal achievements of our student athletes across the board demonstrate that when we give them the resources to be successful, they produce–both academically and athletically.”
President Thomas A. Parham said it was important to reciprocate the support that the dance team has provided for so many years to ensure that all student athletes have what they need to achieve success.
“The dedication and commitment Dance and Cheer put into supporting athletics and the broader campus community deserves the support of this administration, and our investment in their work allowed them to compete unencumbered by worries about financial cost,” said Parham. “We take our hats off to this team, who has garnered regional and national recognition for their excellence.”
Continued support is something the administration hopes will foster even greater success ahead for all Toro athletes, said William Franklin, Vice President of the Division of Student Affairs. “I am thrilled that our exceptional Dance Team has continued its success with their National Championship performance. I couldn’t be prouder of our students and their phenomenal head coach. I look forward to continuing to celebrate their accomplishments in the future.”
Junior Anika Vega, an elementary education major and the Dance Team’s gameday captain, teaches dance in her spare time and hopes one day to audition for a spot on the Los Angeles Rams cheerleading team. Vega said she was so proud of the way the team represented the university.
“It was great the way our team brought together all the elements of our regular gameday routines for the National Championship competition,” Vega said. “I think it shows that the way we represent our university every day is the same way we compete.”
Kalani Livingston, a senior dance major with a minor in psychology who will be graduating in May, said Coach Foster’s unwavering belief in the team’s ability made a big impact on her. “She’s always so positive and encouraging. That’s what I love so much about her. She’s not just a coach. She really cares about us individually.”
It was also just the right time for the coach and the team, Livingston added. “Coach Foster was so ready for that trophy. She said, ‘Let’s go get that trophy.’ And we all said, ‘We’re gonna go get it for you.’”
Recognition was a long time in coming, Foster said, but it was well worth the wait. “I’ve been doing this for nearly 17 years. Sometimes, it can be tiring to fight for the thing that you feel is so important, and that others don’t always seem to get,” she said.
“People wonder why I’m fighting so hard for a little dance team at a little university. But CSUDH is my heart. I have always known the importance of it.”