Victoria Saunders, the newest member of the University of Delaware Dance Team, quickly fit in with her teammates.
She shares their passion for dance, their love of Beyonce and their sassy, spunky personality. The only difference is, she’s a bit younger and a bit shorter.
The 9-year-old from Bear became an honorary member of the dance squad earlier this year as part of Team Impact, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that connects children with life-threatening or chronic illnesses to college teams.
“It’s been incredible,” Victoria’s mother, Nicole Davis, said. “The way they include her in everything has been unreal.”
Victoria has sickle cell disease, which causes her to get fatigued easily and have periodic episodes of pain. However, that has not stopped her from pursuing dance, Davis said, adding that Victoria has been taking lessons since age 3, Davis said.
Since getting involved with Team Impact, Victoria hangs out with the dance team two or three times a month at practices and team bonding activities. She was with the team on the sidelines of a recent football game and is working on a special dance routine she will perform with the team during an upcoming basketball game.
“Victoria epitomizes what it takes to be key member of this team, and her willingness to handle and overcome adversity has already made her an inspiration to everyone,” coach Risa Snapp said.
She’s also a big help, Snapp added.
“When she attends practices, she helps me watch the dancers and lets me know if the routines are good or not,” she said. “At the football game last weekend, she assisted me on the sidelines. She helped me decide what skills to call out for the dancers and helps me count them in.”
On Friday, the team officially welcomed Victoria with a “signing ceremony” at the Bob Carpenter Center. She signed a letter of intent, much like a high school player committing to a play at the university would, and received a backpack full of dance team attire.
“I would like to thank Coach Risa and all my teammates for this opportunity,” said Victoria, who wants to be a preschool teacher when she grows up. “Thank you for inviting me, and I promise I'll be a valuable teammate.”
Danielle Valinotti, the dance team member in charge of planning activities with Victoria, said their young teammate has had a big impact on the other dancers.
“Victoria has brought such light to our team in this brief time that we have known her and she has definitely changed our team dynamic for the better,” said Valinotti, a sophomore from New Jersey majoring in elementary education. “We cannot wait to watch her grow over the next two years as we grow with her.”