Will there be another fairy-tale ending for the NU Pep Squad?
The once-whipping team of the UAAP Cheerdance Competition has dominated for four straight years.
Come Saturday at the expected sold-out Mall of Asia Arena, NU shoots for a five-peat and history.
NU is once again out to put on a fantastic show in an effort to wow the audience and the judges. With another win in this year's competition, it can finally sit beside the UST Salinggawi Dance Troupe in the elite club of five-peat winners.
The España-based squad lorded over the competition from 2002 to 2006, a feat the Sampaloc-based squad wants to duplicate.
NU will perform first in a complete field of competitors with the return of the UP Pep Squad, which took a leave of absence last year.
For four straight years and since the implementation of a new judging format, the NU Pep Squad seemed to have mastered how to hit each criteria and earn the necessary points to emerge victorious.
The rest of the field, on the other hand, has struggled.
With the NU Pep Squad setting the standard, the challenge of outdoing itself has gotten harder and harder each year.
“Pinakamahirap ‘yun, to compete with ourselves,” said NU coach Ghicka Bernabe. “Kasi minsan alam mo na ang capacity mo, alam mo na ang weakness mo. Pero may mga times na hindi pa pala yun ang limit namin.”
“Sometimes we argue amongst ourselves na, ‘Hanggang dyan na lang ba? Ito na ba ang best?’ Pero kasi dito sa NU walang word na the best. Hindi nag-e-exist ang word na ‘best’,” she added. “Kasi sabi nga nila it’s a process of learning. ‘Yung pag-champion mo after that day tapos na ‘yun, hindi ka na champion. ‘Yun lang sa araw na ‘yun.”
“Kinakalaban namin ang standard namin in a way na hindi kami pwedeng ma-satisfy kung ano lang ang mayroon kami ngayon. Kailangang mag-exceed kami doon sa limit. Kailangang mag-exceed kami sa imagination and mag-exceed kami sa expectations ng lahat ng supporters namin.”
Into the blue
NU has been setting the bar higher each year.
From Arabian nights to Pocahontas, from cavemen to outer space, NU Pep Squad's themes have left an indelible mark on the audience.
With the team's concepts turning into hits and putting on a show that always seemed to top their previous performances, one could just imagine the time and effort spent by Bernabe and her coaching staff to concoct something fresh and new.
The mentor acknowledged that the team has had sleepless nights deliberating and debating on what concept and theme to use the past four years but not on this one.
The coaching staff this time didn’t need to dig deep in its bag of tricks for a magical theme. This one has been in its list of options since Day 1 of its dynastic rule of the competition.
“Siguro ‘yung concept namin ngayon, every year naming nagiging idea pero hindi natutuloy. Siguro kasi hindi pa niya panahon,” said the former FEU flyer. “So siguro dumating na ang time niya. Ito na ang right timing, ang tamang panahon.”
“Kasi for four years na nag-champion kami lagi siyang part ng option pero never siyang nanalo na maging theme namin for that season,” she added. “Ito lang ‘yung year na wala kaming pinagdiskusyunan, we never had any argument or long discussion.”
“Nu’ng sinabi namin na, ‘I think chance na nung theme na to na maipakita ng NU’. Ito ang pinaka-shortest na brainstorming ng mga coaches. Yun nga ito na yung tamang panahon para sa concept.”
But aside from the extravagant costumes and props that they’ll use in the performance, it’s how they intend to execute the mix of the theme, music and their routines that's Bernabe’s most proud of.
“Mahirap siyang i-execute kasi eh,” said the mentor. “Parang lahat kami paano natin ipapakita ang theme? From outer space, another something new. Something under naman tayo ngayon.”
Breaking the curse
For cheerdance competition pundits, no team has ever won the title performing first.
NU is looking to break that curse.
“May isa ngang nag-comment sa social media na, ‘Wag kayong magpakampante kasi wala pang nag-champion na first performer,’” said Bernabe, who was the one who drew NU’s order of performance during the drawing of lots.
NU will open the competition followed by the DLSU Animo Squad, the Adamson Pep Squad, the FEU Cheering Squad, the UE Pep Squad, the UP Pep Squad, the UST Salinggawi Dance Troupe, and the Ateneo Blue Babble Battalion.
But even with the odds of the draw going against them, Bernabe is optimistic that their performance won’t be easily forgotten by the judges.
“May sumagot nga doon sa nagsabi nu’n (na wala pang nanalo na first performer) na supporter naman ng NU na, ‘Oo ngayon mo pa lang masasaksihan.’ Something na ganoon na ngayon pa lang mangyayari and mayroon namang nagsabi na, ‘Kayo ang magsi-set ng standard, NU.’ So parang positive pa rin naman yun,” Bernabe said.
“Pero still ‘di naman kami robot na insensitive, manhid o walang pakiramdam. Nandoon pa rin ang pressure, never mawawala ‘yun. Nandoon din ang kaba, nerbiyos at fear,” added the mentor.
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