When Daniela Graffeo ’26 first heard announcers call the Cornell University Dance Team into the finals round of Division I Pom — a type of dance utilizing pom poms — at the Universal Dance Association College Nationals, she said she felt pure shock and joy. And she saw that same feeling reflected on her teammates’ and coaches’ faces.
At that moment, Cornell became the first Ivy League university to qualify for finals, according to Shauna Cheatham ’19, the founder of CUDT.
“To get to represent Cornell at a national level was so special, and having the Cornell seal behind us as we competed in finals made it all the more incredible,” Graffeo wrote in an email to The Sun. “We worked incredibly hard as a team, and to see that hard work pay off was truly amazing.”
This year, CUDT reached a program high with an eighth-place finish in the Division I Pom competition, scoring 90 out of a possible 100 points and tying with the University of Nebraska Omaha.
According to Cheatham, the team has grown from a casual dance squad to an established team at Cornell performing in Division 1 Ivy League games since its inception in 2017.
“When I started the team in 2017, my goal was for dancers at Cornell to have the opportunity to perform at football and basketball games and compete in college dance team competitions,” Cheatham wrote in an email to The Sun. “I am so proud that in just seven years, the team has become a top 10 program in the country and has brought so much life to homecoming and other football and basketball games.”
Graffeo attributed much of the team’s success to intense preparation. CUDT spent the week before nationals rehearsing for multiple hours every day in Orlando dance studios.
Graffeo also said that the team members bonding with each other during their time in Orlando created an environment for success.
“Whether it was team building exercises, meals together or even watching Dance Moms episodes as a team, we had so much fun together and shared so many laughs,” Graffeo wrote.
CUDT Coach Amanda Hernandez ’21, who is also an alum of CUDT, said that she also credits the hard work of Julie Berardi, CUDT’s choreographer, with much of the team’s success. Beradi owns Synergy Dance, which aims to provide cutting-edge, innovative choreography to dancers at the high school and collegiate level.
“Julie has been instrumental to our team’s growth in the competitive sphere,” Hernandez said. “Given [her] dedication to our team, she created a routine that showcased our team’s strengths and highlighted our skills. Julie has also been a great resource for me as I have volunteered my time as Coach since graduating and has given me great advice as our program becomes competitive.”
This year’s competition was intense, featuring experienced teams such as Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota. U of M’s sequence to Aerosmith’s “Dream On” in particular went viral on social media apps such as TikTok. Even though Cornell did not directly compete against these teams, seeing Cornell dance on the same stage as them was an incredible moment, according to Hernandez.
“[Competing] in the UDA dance team [competition] since high school, I am very familiar with the difficulty of achieving this feat,” Hernandez said. “It is a major accomplishment to be one of the few teams to advance to [the] finals and to do it in the early years of program development is truly remarkable.”
After reaching historic glories, CUDT is looking to continue its success in collegiate dance.
“I am filled with so much pride that this year’s seniors, Lauren [Douglass ’24], Kayla [Simone ’24], Savannah [Jefferies ’24] and Bianca [Jimenez ’24] get to graduate with this accomplishment having experienced and immensely contributed to the exponential growth of the team,” Hernandez said. “This historic achievement means so much to the team’s past, present and future and is a promising start to Cornell’s future in the collegiate dance space.”