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Dance team finds success in fourth annual fundraising event

March 14, 2014

Hannah Grafenstein dances a gold medal routine with partner Emmanuel Udeh.
Hannah Grafenstein dances a gold medal routine with partner Emmanuel Udeh. The UWRF Dance Team held its fourth annual Dancing with the Stars event on Thursday, March 6. The money raised at the event is used to fund the team’s trip to National Dance Alliance Nationals held in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Stocker)

What started as an idea four years ago to raise money for the UW-River Falls dance with paper ballot voting and a low key crowd has evolved into a crowd favorite.

The fourth annual Dancing with the Stars competition was a success, selling out the Abbot Concert Hall in Kleinpell Fine Arts. The competition pairs up one or two members of the dance team with a male athlete or a male professional staff member on campus. For the first time since the competition started all male sports teams were represented with the first ever time track and field had a competitor and the first time swimming and diving ever had a competitor. There were also four professional staff members.

“One of my professors came up to me and mentioned how it has become part of the culture at River Falls,” said senior Captain Carlee Diggins.

Diggins helped organize the first ever competition with her captain back then and has been part of all four competitions. She said it has been great to see how it has developed over the past four years. Last year and now this year as well the event has paid for the team to be able to go to nationals which are held in Daytona, Fla. The team will even have money left over to carry into next year as the event made a total of $2,200.

This year’s event was more interactive for the crowd than years past with the ability to text a number to vote for the best performance. Videos were shown in between routines showing the athletes and dance members practicing with funny interviews and for the first time people at the event could tweet throughout the competition to the dance team. The tweets were read in between routines by emcees Camille Howerton, men’s basketball manager, and Tyler Wirth, football player.

“It was funny to be able to read the social media interactions throughout and team up with Tyler,” Howerton said.

The dance team starts planning the event out in September to find athletes and professional staff and get everything organized. Diggins said one of her favorite parts of the event is how it brings people from all over the campus together.

“It promotes a cross cultural experience,” Diggins said.

Diggins also said it is hilarious to see how serious the athletes take the event. Medals are given out for teams placing first, second and third. This year’s winner Emmanuel Udeh, junior running back on the football team, went as far as to say it was the most nervous he has been in his life.

“I have been a little nervous before UWRF football games, but there is nothing that can compare to that. I have all the respect in the world for our dance team,” Udeh said. “I couldn’t believe I won. It was a rush getting the gold. I felt like I won the Olympics. My partner Hannah Grafenstein, next year’s captain, is the reason we won.”

While the Dancing with the Stars competition has grown and improved every year so has the actual dance team. Diggins said she is proud of the work the team has done, and how far it has come since she first got here. This year, the team won the WOW Factor Timberwolves Cup for the second straight year and will be rewarded a half time performance at a Minnesota Timberwolves game, got fourth place at the St. Thomas Tommie Invitational and are hoping to qualify for finals at nationals.

Diggins said that last year the team did not make it into finals right away at nationals but won a challenge cup to get in. The challenge cup is a last chance qualifier for all the teams that did not make it into finals. This year she said they want to get straight into finals without going through the challenge cup. Nationals will be held April 9-13.