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Bison Dance Team no longer allowed to perform at NDSU sporting events

FARGO - A North Dakota State University team has been taken off the sidelines and out of the spirit game.

The Bison Dance Team, which has routinely performed on the sidelines of football games, was "uninvited" to attend NDSU athletic events prior to the first home football game of the season.

The dance team's coach, Meghan Wabner, said about two weeks ago she received an email from Bison Athletic Director of Marketing Justin Swanson that the two-time national-title winning team would not be invited to perform at athletic functions this year.

The team of 18 women had already put in months of practice over the summer and had planned to perform alongside the Bison Cheer Team on football game sidelines. The dance team also planned to perform at Bison volleyball and soccer games as they had done in the past.

Swanson declined to comment to The Forum on the issue and referred all questions to the Congress of Student Organizations because the dance team is not a formal athletic organization.

Hillary Haugeberg, executive commissioner of the Congress of Student Organizations, did not respond to a Forum email request for comment, but did tell the campus newspaper the decision was reached due to confusion regarding the status of the Bison Dance Team as a student organization and not an official athletic team.

In an email obtained by The Forum, Swanson told parents of a dance team member that "The athletic department has attempted to remedy certain areas of concern that have mounted in recent years with the dance team."

"However, these areas have continued to a point of unresolved frustration for our staff after numerous attempts to address them with the dance coach," he continued.

Swanson wrote that the dance team had used athletic facilities for unauthorized practices, failed to ask permission for a send-off party and promoted dance team corporate partners in NDSU venues that are in "direct conflict with major athletic partners."

Wabner said there have been misunderstandings, but those were resolved quickly once they were made aware of them. She said nobody requested to meet with her and discuss the problems.

"On my end, I'm not exactly sure where the breakdown occurred," she said. "We never intentionally disrespected or disobeyed anyone."

Wabner said the dance team used to perform at half time of basketball games up until last year. The team had routinely been found alongside the cheer team on the sidelines of football games, though.

The dance team is a separate organization from the Bison cheer team, which is listed on the Bison athletic department's website under the "Fan" section along with the Herd Club, Mascot information and the Gold Star Band, which performs at halftime of football games.

Wabner said she'd like to have a meeting that would include representatives of the athletic department, cheer team, the Congress of Student Organizations and her group.

"We are really willing to do what is best for NDSU," she said of the dance team.

The performances are more than just a chance to show Bison fans their dance moves. The games are experience for the dance team members working to win a third straight national championship.

The team won the 2012 and 2013 Universal Dance Association National Championship, a competition that was televised live on ESPN.

The 2014 Championship competition is slated for Jan. 17-19.

"Our season has always been dual purposed," Wabner said. "(Performing at games) definitely helped us for our competition because the more you practice, the more prepared you are."

In the meantime, the team continues to practice three to five nights a week. Wabner said student leaders have helped the team find space on campus, but most practices are held in West Fargo and at YMCA locations.

"They were absolutely heartbroken about (not being able to perform at games), but we had two choices: We could fold or we could push forward," Wabner said. "We're going to move forward and prepare for nationals."