Occidental dancers take the stage for Super Bowl LVI

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Super Bowl Dancers
Top row from left to right: Allison Wilson (senior), Gabi Piazza (sophomore), Noa Carlson (senior). Bottom row left to right: Alana Pizarro (senior), G Northway (sophomore), Charlene Chen (alumni), Hannah MacKay (senior) at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Photo courtesy of the Occidental College dance team.

Super Bowl Sunday took place Feb. 13 this year, and the LA Rams taking home the win against the Cincinnati Bengals was not the only highlight. Several Occidental dancers performed in the halftime show, alongside Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem. This year’s Super Bowl took place at SoFi Stadium, with about 70,200 guests in attendance.

Occidental dancers Hannah MacKay (senior), Gabi Piazza (sophomore), G Northway (sophomore) and Allison Wilson (junior) first heard about the opportunity through a mass email sent by Marcus Rodriguez, director of the Student Leadership, Involvement, & Community Engagement (SLICE) office. MacKay said she formed a group chat with other dancers from Occidental, and they worked to submit applications and organize schedules.

MacKay said she submitted her application Dec. 31 and the process consisted of multiple auditions and rounds of callbacks, ultimately resulting in her being one of about 300 dancers granted the opportunity to perform. According to Wilson and MacKay, dancers watched set-up for the general performance take place: everything from lights and sound checks, to camera setup and stage construction. However, Wilson and MacKay said the real excitement kicked in when the celebrities arrived later in the week.

“I think rehearsals started getting really fun on Monday when they brought in the artists,” MacKay said. “Because that’s when you’re like right next to Eminem, right next to Kendrick Lamar, we saw Anderson .Paak like 1000 times. And he said hi every single time.”

After the week of rehearsal, it was time for Sunday’s long-awaited Super Bowl performance, which MacKay and Wilson said was an incredibly unique experience.

“I remember coming out of the tunnel,” Wilson said. “There’s all these reporters standing there and then we come out and the stadium’s full. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy.’ And then we come right out and Usher’s standing right to my right.”

According to MacKay, the dancers were waiting to perform right outside the VIP bar, which housed several celebrities like Doja Cat, The Weeknd, Usher and French Montana.

MacKay and Wilson said a major challenge was keeping their involvement private due to the confidentiality of the audition process; they signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and followed strict no-phones protocol inside rehearsals, putting dancers out of communication for large increments of time. According to Wilson, confidentiality became hardest when friends asked where she was going all day, or why she had not been on her phone.

“I did tell my parents, but yeah, I couldn’t tell anybody else,” Wilson said. “That was super hard because especially since I was going to these rehearsals, it’s like, ‘Where are you going? Allison? What are you doing?’ I just have to be like, ‘It’s super confidential, but it’s coming up. So stay tuned.'”

Additionally, Northway said the biggest obstacle was managing homework amidst the long rehearsal days. MacKay said they practiced the entire show about three times every day of rehearsal.

“Everything we could bring to rehearsal had to fit in our pockets, so I printed out a lot of my assignments and had them folded in my costume,” Northway said via email. “During the performance, I had my homework in a ziploc bag underneath my costume.”

When describing the rehearsal process, MacKay referred to the dance term “hurry up and wait,” which summed up how dancers were expected to hurry and be on time to rehearsals, but would spend much of their time waiting to be called onto stage.

“Because it’s such a big production, you wait,” MacKay said. “We all went through security to check in at SoFi [Stadium] at 2 p.m. And you get there early because you are trying to be on time and everything. And then you don’t actually get on to the SoFi stadium field until 4:45 p.m.”

Piazza also said that rehearsals started as an overwhelming process, but after a week’s worth of practicing, the energy in the performance was calm and dancers were able to feed off the energy of the crowd.

According to Wilson, being a part of the process from start to finish was an even better experience than she expected, because she was able to see her love for performing intersect with the technical side of directing and producing.

“Especially being a MAC [Media Arts & Culture] major, and having that behind-the-scenes look about how a show was put on, but also from a dancer perspective, and seeing how the show was put on, I was very over my head with something so big, I’d never been like a part of that,” Wilson said.

During the performance, Wilson, Piazza, Northway and MacKay went on the field and freestyle danced with minimal choreography starting at the end of Kendrick Lamar’s portion. According to MacKay, the choreography was relatively easy, and the truly challenging moves were given to the dancers on stage with the celebrity performers. Those dancers are a part of the union called SAG-AFTRA and were paid around $40 an hour while Oxy dancers were paid minimum wage for their time, according to MacKay.

Overall, Wilson, Piazza, Northway and MacKay said they loved their experience performing in the Super Bowl.

“I would absolutely do it again,” Piazza said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I would love to be a part of something that is that meaningful and impactful if I had the chance to again.”