(Katy Sawyer)

By Stephanie Collins

What defines an athlete?Whether it’s strength, skill, passion or competitiveness, Eastern’s dance team has it.

You’ve seen them on the sidelines at every home game and probably cheered them on during their half-time performances. What you might not know is that when they are not performing at games, they are spending the better half of their time doing intense cardio, conditioning and practicing routines.

“We see each other more than anyone else,” Alex Tors said. “It’s like we’re a family.”

For Angelene Sylvester, the hard work and dedication goes without saying, but trying to measure up to larger universities is the most challenging.

“EKU is so small,” she said. “It’s hard getting the spirit we need to drive us, especially with UK being so close.”

However, like most athletes, the girls on the dance team find many rewarding reasons to keep dancing.

“Dance is our escape,” Tors said. “When I am at practice, I am focused and everything else in my life disappears.”

“It keeps me balanced,” Sylvester added. “Every college student is stressed to the max. The dance team has me working harder everyday.”

Sylvester, captain of the team, has been a member all four years she has attended Eastern. This year, she believes her team is stronger than ever.

“I feel like our team has been more competitive since our new coach Laura Hazelwood joined us,” Sylvester said.

Laura Hazelwood began coaching the team three years ago. As an Eastern alumni and former dance team member, she wanted to give back and be involved in the Eastern community.

“I danced at Eastern and my husband went there as well,” she said. “Dancing is my whole life and we have lived here for nearly 20 years. I thought it would be great if I could be involved in helping the team.”

Hazelwood described a different world for the dance team when she was in school in the early 90s.

“We were just considered a club back then,” she said. “We had no funding and basically just taught ourselves.”

By her senior year, though, Hazelwood and her team had convinced the school to allow them to dance on the sidelines of a few games.

Her dedication to the team continues today as she offers more opportunity to the girls to grow as athletic dancers at football and basketball games.

“I own a dance studio and utilize it to work on the fundamentals of dance with the team,” Hazelwood said. “That is an advantage that not all teams get.”

Hazelwood has definitely steered the team in a new direction. In two weeks they are putting together a video of their routines, community involvement and practice. They are sending the video in for judging in November and the team is confident that it will earn them a bid to Nationals for the first time ever.

The national competition is in January in Orlando, Fla. Until then, the girls practice three times a week, partly in Hazelwood’s dance studio, and the rest of the time in Moberly gym. These two-hour practices consist of running a mile, along with other conditioning and cardio. The girls sometimes have to run through their exhausting routine four times in a row without a break.

“It is physically demanding,” Tors said. “Our coach kicks our butt. It’s hard, but we needed that.”

On top of practice and games, the team is also involved in community service events, including Walk for Wishes and Pink Ribbon Run. The dancers said their visit to the Lexington Shriners Hospital was a memorable experience for them.

“They never complain,” Hazelwood said. “They are always willing and excited to help out.”

The team has a solid future, Sylvester said.

“This team is a great support system. My experience at EKU wouldn’t be as amazing without it,” she said. “I’m sad that it’s my last year, especially when I think about how far we’ve made it.”

Tors agreed.

“Compared to my freshman year, things have turned around completely,” she said. “I feel like it’s only going up from here.

The dance team practices three times a week, splitting time in a dance studio and gym. (Katy Sawyer)