Notre Dame grad globetrots as dancer

Divina Baratta

ESPN cameras were rolling Jan. 20 as Joanna Salmon and the University of Tennessee Dance Team took first place, again.

For Salmon, a Peoria?Notre Dame graduate, this second annual win at the Universal Dance Association’s National College Competition in Orlando, Fla., chalked up a perfect, two-for-two record in the jazz category. 

On a dance scholarship at the University of Tennessee, Salmon just completed her sophomore year.

And, though her major is communications, she might be more aptly described as a double-major, given the demands of her rigorous dance schedule.

“The time we spend preparing for Nationals is especially intense,” she says.

“From about Dec. 13 to Dec. 21, we practice all day long, into the evening. Then we get a little time off for the holidays before we’re back perfecting our routine until the end of January, when we head to Orlando to compete.”

The UDA’s National College Competition takes place in front of thousands of spectators at Disney’s Wide World of Sports™ complex and draws college dance competitors from across the country.

Not to mention, it captures the attention of hundreds of thousands — possibly millions — in the television viewing audience.

Salmon said she is used to big crowds, though.

“At UT, our football stadium packs in a little over 100,000 people. And we perform at events like the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and other community events.”

But competition changes the playing field a bit.

Salmon explained that the UDA judges dance routines based on overall synchronization, choreography, music, showmanship and a number of other technical skills.

“Winning the jazz competition in 2007 was a first for our school. And now, with two championships under our belt, I think we’re slightly less nervous about our ability to perform under pressure. Our team also placed fifth in the hip hop category for two years, and we’re hoping to move that up, too.”

Outside of competition season, Salmon and the dance team are busy practicing and performing for football and basketball games, in addition to all the community events and training camps they attend as well.

Yet, despite the rigorous routine, Salmon said she could not think of a way she would rather spend her time.

“I’ve been dancing since I was 3, and I can’t really imagine my life without it. I don’t think that people realize the discipline and self-confidence it builds. And, with jazz and contemporary dance, especially, it’s a great way to show feeling and express yourself.”

At Peoria’s Notre Dame High School she was a member of the dance team.

Likewise, she studied ballet and jazz at a number of local dance schools, including Water Street Dance and Illinois Ballet — where she was a student of Mary Price Boday.

“When I was around 10 years old, I started taking hip hop classes, too,” Salmon added.

“It’s another one of my favorite types of dance. So much fun, and the music is great.”

When asked her impression of the latest dance programs on prime time television, Salmon said she mostly follows Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.

“The dancers on that show are really serious. And I think you naturally have a respect for people working on what you are. Plus, my roommate and dance team member was on the show at the beginning of one of the seasons. I was so excited for her.”