The sun has set on Penn football’s 2021 season. With our team's last game behind us, we have to bid adieu to the electrifying highs (like the Halloweekend romping of Brown) and demoralizing lows (like us handing Cornell their first Ivy League win of the season on Homecoming weekend) that have kept us on our toes throughout the fall. Now we're trading in Franklin Field’s soaring arches for the statuesque Palestra as the student body transitions to basketball.
Things are sure to look different for Quaker sports this winter season, but one thing will stay the same: the Quaker Girls’ performance at every game. The dance group has been putting on a student–choreographed show chock–full of sequins, pom poms, and high kicks for fans all year, lighting up the third–quarter break of Quaker football games. Luckily for fans, they’ve got plenty of energy left for basketball season at the Palestra, the Quaker Girls’ original stomping ground.
Since the group’s founding in 2005, the Girls have performed during halftime at men’s and women’s basketball games. The dancers also put on a 30–minute performance at a Philadelphia 76ers game each year, which captain Melina Muthuswamy (E ‘22) says is one of the most exciting parts of leading the group. “It’s super fun when it’s really packed, with a big audience," she says. "Everyone’s family and friends come, and it’s always a really great experience.”
But what initially drew Melina to Quaker Girls wasn’t the flashy performances or peppy routines. The New Jersey native wanted to join for the community, which includes students from all four schools and many different backgrounds, all united by their love for dance. “I heard about the Quaker Girls and was very interested in joining my [first] year, and by joining the team, I was definitely able to make a lot of friends who I otherwise wouldn’t have met,” Melina says. “My co–captain and I would never have known each other without Quaker Girls, and now we’re really close. Every week, we see each other for at least four hours, and I’m really grateful for it.”
Sophomore Tiffany Acosta (N ‘24) echoes this sentiment. For her, coming to Penn during the unconventional COVID–19 year heightened the typical first–year disorientation. “The older girls have been really good at introducing the sophomores [to the group] because we had a very different [first–year] experience and didn’t come in knowing everything that normal sophomores would have," she says. "They’ve been really good at helping us navigate not only Quaker Girls, but school and life in general.”
Part of what’s so fun about Quaker Girls for Tiffany is being able to pass along the favor. “It’s been really cute with the [first years], like having a little sister. They look to us for advice, and it’s nice to know that they feel like they’ve established that trust from being on the team.”
As a lifelong member of a competitive dance team, staying involved in the discipline was important to Tiffany upon coming to Penn. But being on the team isn't just about keeping in touch with the familiar; it's also about expanding her experience with dance. “I’m glad that I found a team where I could continue doing what I love but also know that I’m growing,” she explains. “It’s not a sport like soccer or baseball or football, but it’s a team in itself and a lot of it is about learning from others.”
And learn they do: Since they began performing at football games in 2019, the Quaker Girls have consistently learned a new 45–second–to–one–minute–long dance every two weeks. The longer performance season has been equal parts challenging and exciting for Melina, who has experienced both iterations of the Quaker Girls. “Because of the football season starting earlier, we’ve had to learn dances a lot faster,” she says. “It’s also given us the opportunity to learn a lot more dances and allow more of our team members to show off all the different things that we can do. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been really fun.”
In many ways, the Quaker Girls’ experience is representative of Penn students as whole: working to keep up with a fast–paced schedule but loving every minute of it. Members' strenuous practice schedules, choreography, and meticulous coordination with Penn Athletics and outside organizations result in a dazzling performance at every game, encapsulating the work hard, play hard energy that people love about the university. What’s more, uniting with people of all backgrounds over a common passion is a hallmark of the college experience.
So maybe it’s an appreciation for Penn that gets the crowd on its feet when the Quaker Girls take the floor, or maybe it’s just a good old–fashioned love of pom poms and music. Either way, the show is not to be missed. See the Quaker Girls at the Palestra at 7 p.m. on Nov. 30 during the Penn women’s basketball game against La Salle University, and catch a glimpse of the magic for yourself.