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Michigan State club dance team thrives because of openness and diversity

The MSUDC in their finishing pose at their performance at the Pistons.
Palina Skakun
The MSUDC in their finishing pose at their performance at the Pistons.

All it takes is a desire to dance. The MSU Club Dance team doesn’t compete, but rather, welcomes all to enjoy dancing in their own form, pace and ability level.

Michigan State junior Palina Skakun had never stepped on a stage to dance, but found herself performing a jazz routine on the Pistons’ basketball court at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

The Pistons hosted 16 universities this year, with Michigan State’s college night occurring March 9. MSUDC performed during halftime, along with the Spartan Showstoppers.

“Pistons was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Skakun said. “I would have never performed on the Pistons court if I wasn’t in college and I hadn’t joined this dance club. It was just a really amazing opportunity and such a great memory.”

She has fallen in love with the sport and the club, and is grateful for the opportunity and experiences the club has provided her. MSUDC creates an inclusive environment for around a 100 female dancers to perform a variety of different dance styles at recitals and events throughout the year.

Level 2 dancers before their 2024 spring recital.
Grace Mazzola
Level 2 dancers before their 2024 spring recital.

She has done gymnastics and cheer her entire life in Mogilev, Belarus. Her interest for dance peaked when she arrived in the United States, and heard about the Michigan State Dance Club (MSUDC).

Skakun decided to audition for the club this past fall.

“The morning of the audition, I really didn’t want to go because I was so scared, I had never been to an audition,” Skakun said. “But my boyfriend at that time was like, ‘It can be one day or it can be day one,’ and I got up and did it and it’s been the best decision ever.”

The club is divided into four levels, based on skill set in order to provide a space for dancers to thrive, practicing with others who share similar years of experience and abilities.

Level 1 includes the most-experienced dancers, level 2 a little less experienced, etc. The purpose of these levels is to emphasize the inclusive mentality of the club, giving any person the opportunity to dance.

“Everyone has different dance backgrounds and different dance experiences, but it’s one way of just giving everyone the opportunity to be a part of the same club while also placing them with people that are at their same ability level,” said Grace Mazzola, a sophomore who dances at level 2 and started dancing competitively at the age of 13.

Auditions occur at the beginning of the semester. Each dancer is taught a short routine by an executive board member. The entire board then scores each dancer based on technique, execution and face/energy, and based on that score, the dancers are placed in their levels.

Lauren Murray has been dancing competitively since she was 12 and dances at level 1. She found herself missing dance during college but didn’t want a big commitment, as she’s pretty busy being an engineering major.

She showed up at auditions her sophomore year and felt right at home. She has now been dancing with the club for two years.

Palina Skakun, junior who dances at level 3, at the once-in a lifetime performance on the Pistons dance floor.
Palina Skakun
Palina Skakun, junior who dances at level 3, at the once-in a lifetime performance on the Pistons dance floor.

“Everyone is so cool and fun, it feels a lot like my home studio,” said Murray, who danced at a competitive studio in Fowlerville. “It’s not super competitive and not super serious, it’s lowkey and just to hang out with people. The club brought me back to dancing and I’m so thankful for that.”

Mazzola finds herself in a similar place as Murray, enjoying the relaxed pace and friendly environment of the club compared to her competitive years of dance.

“Since a good amount of us came from competitive dance, that not always being the most positive environment, it gives us a way to use something we’re all passionate about, but in a positive way rather than in a competitive way,” Mazzola said, who danced at a studio competitive in Flat Rock, Michigan. “And all just celebrating each other and each other’s talents.”

The club doesn’t compete in order to foster this positive environment. Rather, they perform all together at two recitals and a variety of community events.

The fall recital is smaller and held at the Hannah Community Center. Each level performs two dances, one hip hop and the other lyrical, choreographed by their level coordinators. There were also a few smaller group performances, totaling around 17 dances.

The MSUDC team following their 2024 spring recital.
Palina Skakun
The MSUDC team following their 2024 spring recital.

The spring recital, held mid-April, has three performances from each level- hip hop, lyrical and jazz- as well as duos and trios choreographed by any dancer who wishes to perform one in any style as well as solos for graduating seniors. This year, there were around sixty dance numbers.

“The spring recital is something really cool to see,” Mazzola said. “All the different levels and the different abilities coming together and putting on this show, it’s a really positive thing to be a part of.”

This past year, the club danced at a Pistons game, the MSU Homecoming Parade and the Spartython. These special performances are the favorite memories of many dancers.

Lauren Murray and Allie Cobello leading the MSUDC at Michigan State’s Homecoming Parade.
Lauren Murray
Lauren Murray and Allie Cobello leading the MSUDC at Michigan State’s Homecoming Parade.

“My favorite memory was definitely the Homecoming Parade,” Murray said. “My friend and I held the banner for that and it was really fun.”

Although the levels practice separately and do a lot of their performances separately, the club gets together as a whole at Thursday open combination workshops. Each Thursday, one member of the club choreographs a dance in any style she wishes and teaches the choreography to anyone who attends.

“Last spring, when I wasn’t a member of the club, I went to some of those workshops to see what this club had to offer and meet some people in it,” Taylor Scramlin, a sophomore who has been dancing since she was a toddler in Macomb and now dances at level 4, said. “It’s kind of just a fun dynamic, different from what you perform for recitals or other performances. You can bring friends and just dance.”

A year later, Scramlin taught her own Thursday combination in the contemporary style.

“It was really fun,” she said. “It was definitely out of my comfort zone. I’m not usually the one teaching, I’m normally the person who’s learning in the back of the room, but it was still a ton of fun, I really enjoyed it.”

The dancers on the team aim to create a safe space for MSU students of any skillset or experience to express themselves and get active through dance.

“Dancing just helps me clear my head, and express my emotions in ways I normally can’t do,” Scramlin said. “Dance club gives me a place to do this, and it’s a whole lot more fun to dance with a group of people that you’re friends with than dancing by yourself.”

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