116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Nathan Polancyak had seven years of tap dance, hip-hop and other dance lessons and craved a spot on his high school dance team.
“I was going to try out as a freshman, but I got scared because of the stigma,” he said.
The dance team at Francis Howell High School, in suburban St. Louis, was named the Golden Girls and had, at that point, only included female dancers.
“My friends at my dance studio convinced me that it didn’t matter. I tried out as a sophomore.”
After he made the team, the coaches changed the name to Golden Girls and Co.
”I guess I was the ‘and company’,“ said Polancyak (pronounced Pol-AN-check).
Now, as a University of Iowa freshman, Polancyak, 18, is the first male dancer on the Iowa Dance Team, a prestigious 21-member squad that performs at sporting events and competes at the College Dance Team National Championship in Orlando.
Polancyak is not the first man to try out for the team, but he’s the first to make it, said Coach Jenny Eustice.
“He has jumped right in and been flexible as we navigated having a male dancer on our team,” she said. “He has a strong technical base, and had not competed in the style of pom until this season, but jumped right in with no hesitation.”
The first time Polancyak put on a pair of tap shoes at age 8, he knew it was a good fit.
“I had tried a bunch of other sports and activities and none of them really stuck with me or made me feel anything,” he said. “My first class was a tap class. I felt like ‘this is where I’m supposed to be’.”
Tap evolved to hip-hop, contemporary, jazz and ballet. There were other boys in his classes, but gender mattered less than passion for the art form. Once Polancyak joined his high school dance team, he had the added joy of working with a team to hone a synchronized routine.
“If it’s what you love, it’s what you’re meant to be doing.”
Polancyak’s parents pushed him to start looking at colleges early and mentioned Iowa, just four hours from home.
“I looked up their dance team and was like ‘Wow. OK, that was amazing’,” he said. “Once I came here and took a campus tour and really fell in love with the place, I knew Iowa was the only place for me.”
The Iowa Dance Team uses a recruitment model rather than in-person tryouts. Polancyak sent in a video with an introduction and a compilation of him performing various skills and techniques. For the second round, he learned an Iowa Fight Song routine and sent that in on video. The final round was a Zoom interview with Eustice.
“Nathan is a kind and caring teammate,” Eustice said. “I look forward to him growing as a member of this team!”
For sideline performances — especially football — the Iowa Dance Team uses bigger, slower movements that can be more-easily seen by the tens of thousands of people in the stands.
But the dances the team took to nationals Jan. 14-16 at Walt Disney World are each two-plus minutes of high-level dancing that includes tumbling, toe touches, kicks and turn sequences, often done in moving formations. In the team’s jazz dance to the song “Cold” by Chris Stapleton, Polancyak is featured several times, lifting partners and then doing a solo turn sequence before a front handspring.
“For nationals, we work so hard and practice so hard everyday,” he said. “We have to constantly drill skills and turns and challenging moves and movements that most people who aren’t at this level of dance wouldn’t be able to do.”
Managing daily practices and performances with classes for his history major has been challenging, Polancyak said. The Dance Team rotates between practice spaces at the Field House, Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Halsey Hall.
“Honestly, you just have to set out a schedule for yourself so you know exactly what you need to get done,” he said.
Students and fans have noticed Polancyak’s presence on the team.
“Everyone has been really supportive,” he said. “Even when I’m not wearing Iowa Dance Team gear, people will say my name or ‘Good job this weekend.’ It makes me feel so good.”
If he could go back and talk with his 15-year-old self, scared to try out for the high school dance team, he would tell him not to worry. “Don’t let yourself think that since you’re a male it’s weird or wrong that you’re dancing. If it’s what you love, it’s what you’re meant to be doing.”
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