The Fair Lawn High School Dance and Cheerleading teams wrapped up successful seasons over the past few weekends, taking fifth and seventh in their respective state championship competitions.
But the thrill of the season for both squads was undoubtedly their first place finishes last month at the Spirit Unlimited Battle at the Boardwalk Cheerleading and Dance Nationals in Atlantic City.
In the season’s only event that both teams traveled to together, the dance team took first in the hip-hop dance category while the cheerleading squad won the small-size intermediate level cheer category and earned the event’s Grand Champion designation, the highest honor across all competing teams.
“I didn’t know what to expect because the team we were up against was from Maryland and I’d never seen them before,” said Jennifer Bell, the dance team’s coach. “I was thrilled to have won.”
Bell’s dance squad performed in the morning and learned they’d won around noon. The cheerleaders, who are coached by Lauren Gimon, didn’t go on until 7 o’clock that night.
“She won in the morning so that kind of put the pressure on us,” said Gimon, who called her team’s victory that evening “awesome.”
While New Jersey’s annual state dance and cheerleading competitions bring together teams of all styles and skill levels to compete against one another, nationals events are more specialized.
Gimon compared dance and cheerleading nationals competitions to college football bowl games, explaining that there are dozens of nationals competitions across the country which each cater to varying styles and skill levels. Gimon said the Spirit Unlimited event that Fair Lawn’s dance and cheer teams competed in this year was comparable to the one the team's traveled to last year. Both were middle of the road.
“It’s not the top, but it’s definitely not the lowest,” she said. “We competed against teams in the [Northern New Jersey] area that we’ve lost to sometimes and sometimes we’ve beat them.”
As a whole, Gimon said New Jersey has transformed itself into an up-and-coming state for dance and cheerleading nationally.
“It used to be Kentucky and Tennessee, and down south used to be the strongest [states for cheerleading and dance],” she said. “And now New Jersey is starting to become one of the top states in the United States."
This is especially true, Gimon said, when New Jersey is compared to its northern neighbors.
“A lot of states surrounding us, like Pennsylvania isn’t as strong and Delaware and Maryland and New York even aren’t really as strong as New Jersey is,” Gimon continued. “New Jersey is really starting to become a powerhouse in all national competitions.”
This year, both Bell and Gimon had young teams that improved steadily over the course of their seasons. The amount of success that each team had despite its relative inexperience bodes well for next year's squads.
"Last year I lost eight seniors [on a team of 16], so I wasn’t really sure what to expect," said Gimon, who's in her 10th season as head varsity cheerleading coach at the high school. "But I’m actually only losing three seniors this year, so my team will pretty much be the same next year. I think it’s probably one of the most talented teams that I’ve had a chance to work with."
Bell's dance team was even less experienced this year than Gimon's cheer squad. It began the season with a majority of new members.
"We only had four girls return from last year, so eight of my 12 girls were totally brand new to dance team," said Bell, who teaches fifth grade at Warren Point Elementary. "Some have had dance studio training, some have not, so it was a big transition in the beginning of the year...The fact that we improved at every competition this year was the most that I could ask for. I was very pleased with their improvement and effort throughout the year."
Both teams now have a few months off before late spring/early summer tryouts and training begins for next year.