BYU, Weber State cheer and dance bring more hardware back to nation's 'dance capital' in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — It never gets old, and it's far from expected. But every time BYU's Cougarettes dance team steps up to perform on the biggest stage in their sport, co-head coach Stacy Bills gets those familiar butterflies in her stomach.

Such was the case last weekend in Daytona Beach, Florida, when the Cougarettes — who had already made history as the first program to win double back-to-back national titles in jazz and hip hop — stepped up to perform at the 2024 National Collegiate Cheer & Dance Championships.

The butterflies last until the first notes of the songs paired with choreographers Shandon Perez (hip hop) and Rudy Abreu (jazz).

"I wish I could say I was cool, calm and collected. But my heart was beating outside of my chest right before the music went on for both routines," Bills told "We keep things very tight and kind of confidential. When we press play, there aren't a lot of people we pass it through."

No nerves necessary, though.

A team that featured eight newcomers in the 24-dancer rotation — more than the Cougarettes have ever had in one year, Bills said — did what previous squads have done more often than not, winning their eighth national jazz championship and 10th hip hop title under NDA guidelines.

The program also has eight team performance championships in the NDA's Division IA — the highest level of competition in the national collegiate organization — as well as two national championships under the United Spirit Association in 2005 and 2006.

Last Saturday marked the program's third consecutive year of double national titles, and the second time a documentary crew filmed the Cougarettes' season-long journey.

That added another layer to both newcomers and veterans like Cougarettes president Cienne Bethea and captains Madison Cenname, Halle Larsen, Elsie Tuler and Audrey Barney: the world is watching.

Really, the world has been watching the program at the center of what some have referred to as the dance capital of the world.

"Win or lose, I knew the whole world was going to be watching this, and that adds another layer of 'all eyes are on you,'" Bills said. "But they were mentally in the right space to deal with that pressure."

BYU's success marked another strong performance from Utah programs at the annual dance and cheer championships, one that included a grand national title in jazz by Division I champions Weber State for the first time in program history.

The dominant run by the Wildcats, who also won the Division I hip hop championship and cheer titles in large coed and small coed, comes during a run of seven consecutive championships by the program's cheer squad and after a score of 98.3429 that was the top-rated routine among all divisions.

BYU's Cougarettes won their 25th and 26th national collegiate dance championships (jazz and hip hop), Saturday, April 13, 2024 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
BYU's Cougarettes won their 25th and 26th national collegiate dance championships (jazz and hip hop), Saturday, April 13, 2024 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo: BYU Photo)

It's the fourth title in hip hop, including two in the last four years, for Erica Williams' Wildcats, who will represent Team USA in the premier hip hop category at the ICU world championships in April.

"For all of it to happen together, I don't know if there's another university that has had that," said Weber State spirit squad advisor and cheer coach Summer Willis, an eight-time national champion in 25 seasons with the Wildcats. "It's such a big year, to come away with three grand titles, winning our division, and more. It's just a remarkable showing for the university."

Weber State's cheer squad also won the grand national titles in large and small coed division, a moment that marked the program's seventh consecutive large coed championship. Individually, Josh Hill and Hailey Smith finished first as a partner stunt team for Weber State, which had three of the top-five finishes in the discipline.

Weber State has grown to become a power in the collegiate cheer world, mixing local talent with national prospects from junior college powers like Navarro College and Trinity Valley in a prime setting on the Wasatch Front.

"It's the dance capital of the world in Utah," she said. "You see a lot of contestants on every dance show from Utah, and that's because of the great youth, recreational and high school programs in the state, as well."

National championships have also been won recently by Utah Valley, making a veritable strip of title contenders in dance and cheer along the Wasatch Front.

And the run doesn't appear to have an end in sight.

"Talent breeds talent," Bills said. "When you surround students with some of the best in the country, just watching more can be a teaching tool and make everybody better.

"It's kind of like football in Texas, where programs push each other," she added. "The dance scene in Utah has taken on a life of its own, and I love it as we all push each other to be better."

2024 NCA and NDA collegiate cheer and dance championships

Dayton Beach, Florida

  • Large Coed Grand Champion: Weber State cheer
  • Small Coed Grand Champion: Weber State cheer
  • Jazz DI: Weber State dance
  • Hip Hop DI: Weber State dance
  • Jazz DIA: BYU Cougarettes
  • Hip Hop DIA: BYU Cougarettes


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