GCU dance majors suit up for Super Bowl halftime

Grand Canyon University dance major Jordan Garrison struggled to dance with only a metronome during Super Bowl halftime show rehearsals, but she quickly adjusted once the song setlist was revealed. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Garrison)
Jael Vickery, Emma Watson, Jordan Garrison, Johanna Loiseau and Aria Armstrong (from left) said "everything and nothing" went through their minds while performing. (Photo courtesy of Johanna Louiseau)

Grand Canyon University dance major Emma Watson said performing at Sunday's Rihanna-led Super Bowl halftime show at Glendale's State Farm Stadium was "indescribable." With more than 113 million viewers tuned in and 72,000 people attending, Super Bowl LVII was the third most-watched television program of all time and one that fans humorously dubbed "Rihanna's concert."

“I don’t even think I’ve fully processed what happened. I don’t know the name of that feeling, but it’s like seeing the Grand Canyon and how big and vast it is,” said Watson of the spectacular scene – a stadium illuminated with hues of orange, purple and red from fireworks while deafening cheers roared from the crowd. “You’re just dumbfounded by how great this world can be and how we can come together in one space. It’s so beautiful, especially after COVID.”

Of the 80 dancers supporting Rihanna and her return to the stage after a five-year hiatus, seven of them were GCU Dance Program majors who got to see, firsthand, Rihanna descend from the sky onto an aerial stage that featured dancers on separate platforms.

It was a dream come true, one that started with an email from casting agents to local colleges and dance studios scouting for talent over winter break.

“We all got the email, so many of us were buzzing about it, asking each other, ‘Hey are you going to audition?’ But a lot of it was, ‘Am I going to audition?’” said dance major Jordan Garrison.

“There wasn’t much chatter until we got an email back,” Jael Vickery added.

One of the hardest parts about being a commercial dancer is finding auditions, said dance major Johanna Loiseau. Her dream of moving to Los Angeles to pursue a dance career was only fueled after experiencing the adrenaline-filled performance Sunday.

Watson, who recorded her audition video with the help of Loiseau, also gained confidence after finding out she was selected to perform at the halftime show. Having "Super Bowl LVII Halftime Performer” on her resume is huge.

The dance majors were featured on a Fox10 News segment Monday night. (Photo Courtesy of Dr. Craig Detweiler)

“It just really validated and solidified my dreams. It showed me that things do happen when you put in the hard work and dedication,” said Watson. “I can go to New York, I can go to L.A., and I can do these things. It’s something I want to pursue when I graduate next year.”

Stepping onto the field to those thundering cheers is something Loiseau will never forget.

“I could feel the energy of not only the people around me, the people on the stage, but you could also feel the atmosphere of the entire stadium,” she said. “It was a universal experience. The energy was undeniable, and it just like made me that much more excited. My adrenaline skyrocketed.”

To perform alongside an entertainer whose resume includes nine Grammys, 12 Billboard Music Awards, the American Music Icon Award, 13 American Music Awards and is one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2012 and 2018, takes major confidence. It also takes support from a lot of people

Jael Vickery and Jordan Garrison celebrated after performing with Rihanna.(Photo courtesy of Jael Vickery)

“Even rehearsals were super fun," said Vickery. "As field dancers, we got pretty chummy together. Whether we were inside the stadium or outside, we were always hyping each other up. While performing, we could not hear each other yelling, but seeing everyone’s mouth moving and screaming was enough to hype us up.”

What also hyped them up? Finding out Rihanna was pregnant with her second child, something she revealed during the show.

“We didn’t even know she was pregnant. The two rehearsals we had with her, she wore different costumes each time,” said Garrison. “The second time she wore the same red jumper she wore during halftime, but it was covered by her stomach. So, she was keeping it a secret from us, too.”

Being cast as a backup dancer solidified Emma Watson's dream of being a professional dancer. (Photo courtesy of Emma Watson)

But there was one thing the GCU Dance Program majors knew that the world was begging to know: Rihanna’s opening song. Social media was filled with song line-up and choreography predictions — some fans going as far as betting money on the opening number.

The nondisclosure agreement wasn't the only thing preventing the dance majors from spilling the information. They did not know the songs they would be performing to early on in the rehearsal process. During the first four rehearsals, they learned their routine by dancing to a metronome, a tool used by musicians to stay on rhythm.

“Once we got to hear the music (at the fifth rehearsal), the game changed for everybody,” said Vickery. “Dancing to her music rather than the clicking made the routine that much more hype.”

That hype and excitement, Loiseu added, was something they never wanted to end. “None of us wanted it to be over."

Another memorable contributing factor to the Super Bowl halftime performance was the signature white puffer jacket and pants contrasting against Rihanna’s bright red jumpsuit.

The dancers were able to keep the clothing as memorabilia. The seven GCU dancers were spotted around campus sporting their outfits after the Super Bowl concluded.

“Multiple people came up to us asking to take pictures, or people kept discreetly trying to take photos of us. I just kept thinking, ‘You know I’m not Rihanna, right?’” Vickery said with a laugh. “I’m planning on putting the costume in a display case and making a shadow box to show my kids in the future.”

It's a future the students hope will be filled with opportunities as super as the Super Bowl.

Contact staff writer Lydia P. Robles at 602-639-7665 or [email protected].

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