The Cornell University Dance Team members raise their pompoms and cheer on stage during their performance at the College Dance Team National Championship.

Dancing with the (Collegiate) Stars

Amanda Hernandez ’21, now a busy med student, coaches her former team to ‘pom’ glory—from hundreds of miles away

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By Melissa Newcomb

When Amanda Hernandez ’21 heard the news that the Cornell University Dance Team—which she coaches—had made it to the finals of a major national competition in January 2024, it wasn’t just a memorable occasion because the squad had performed beyond their wildest expectations.

For Hernandez and the team, the moment was extra special because it was one of the only times that season that they’d actually been in the same room together.

Now a first-year medical student at the University of Michigan, Hernandez has mainly coached the squad remotely for the past three seasons.

Amanda Hernandez poses on the football field with a Cornell tank top on and pompoms in hand when she was a senior.
Suited up for pom as a senior.

She either watches practices live on Zoom, or the dancers post videos of their routines on a Facebook page where she can comment and offer advice.

(Before moving to Michigan last year, she’d occasionally drive all the way from her New Jersey home to attend practices in person.)

“She’s always supportive,” says team member Kayla Simone ’24. “Even when she’s giving a correction or feedback, it’s from a place of love; she truly wants to watch us grow as a team.”

The Cornell Dance Team during their com
Striking a pose during nationals in 2020.

Hernandez has been a part of the team since its inception in 2017, when she joined as a freshman majoring in biology and society in Arts & Sciences.

Back then, the group had just eight members who taught themselves routines and performed at a few basketball games.

Now, the 18 dancers practice three times a week, perform at most basketball and football home games—and compete on a national stage.

She truly wants to watch us grow as a team.

Dancer Kayla Simone ’24

For three years, the team has participated in the U.S.’s largest collegiate dance competition, drawing squads from hundreds of schools to Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, FL, each January.

Says Hernandez: “The growth we have had is unbelievable for such a short period of time.”

The team is one of more than three dozen student dance groups on the Hill—which specialize in everything from salsa and tango to Chinese lion dancing and Indian bhangra.

It performs an energetic style called “pom,” in which the dancers carry pompoms and execute precise, synchronized movements.

(Hernandez describes it “like jazz on the bottom, and cheerleading on top.”)

The Cornell University Dance Team and Coach Amanda Hernandez smile in front of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex sign.
Hernandez (far right) with the team in Orlando.

In 2024, the team’s advancement to the finals (where they finished eighth overall) marked the best showing by any Ivy League school in the competition’s history—thanks in large part to Hernandez’s dedicated efforts.

Says team member Lauren Douglass ’24: “From day one, you could see how great of a coach she would be.”

But for Hernandez, the team’s advancement is a bit bittersweet—since, she says, it will soon be time for the squad to have an in-person, professional coach.

“I want the team to live on forever and just keep getting better and better,” she says. “I’ll always be the dancers’ number-one fan.”

(Top: At the national competition in Orlando in January 2024. All images provided.)

Published May 1, 2024


  1. Dorian Gravenese, Class of 1984

    Congratulations to an incredible group of young ladies!
    Cheerleading has certainly come a long way since my squad in 1983-84.
    Go red!
    Dorian Gravenese CALS 1984

  2. Holly Frey, Class of 1983

    Beautiful, performance!

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