A Raiderette and San Jose State alum returns to lead Spartan Spectrum Dance Team

SJSU graduate Catherine Miller-Lopes, a former member of the Raiderettes, is now director/choreographer for the Spartan Spectrum Dance Team.

A Raiderette and San Jose State alum returns to lead Spartan Spectrum Dance Team

Catherine Miller-Lopes lives to dance — on the football field.

The Gilroy resident spent all four years of college as a member of San Jose State’s Spartan Spectrum Dance Team, before going on to even bigger audiences as a Raiderette at the Oakland Coliseum in 2016 and 2017. Now, she’s back with the Spartans, this time as squad director and choreographer. Naturally, we had questions — about dance studios and gridirons, Spartans and Raiders.

Q: How did you get into this in the first place?

A: I began dancing at the age of eight and danced competitively for 10 years at Lana’s Dance Studio in Morgan Hill — and loved every minute of it. I wouldn’t be the person or the dancer I am without Ms. Lana. That’s really how I started.

Q: And then SJSU’s Spartan Spectrum Dance Team?

A: I was so blessed to make it. Hands down, it was my favorite college experience. There is nothing like dancing to live music — that’s not an experience you get growing up as a studio kid. Dancing on a stage is a great experience, but dancing in a football stadium in front of all those fans is indescribable. (After) I graduated, my coach had me back every year to teach auditions. About two years ago, I started assistant coaching. In 2020, I became the director and choreographer.

Q: How did that feel? 

A: It’s a really humbling experience. I have an assistant coach as well, Kelsi Auday. We weren’t able to dance together on Spectrum, but we were on Raiderettes together. We talk all the time about how we feel so grateful and humbled by this experience, because the women who have held this job before us, their shoes are so big to fill.

Q: What was it like working for the Oakland Raiders with the Raiderettes and performing for the legendary “Black Hole” crowd?

A: There is nothing like dancing in the Coliseum. I remember standing on the field and looking up to the three levels. Just the roar of that stadium is nuts. The Black Hole is the best place to perform in front of. There is hardly ever a fan sitting down — they are up, they are moving with you, they are swaying with you. It’s the coolest thing ever.

Q: What’s game day like on Spartan soil? 

A: The Spectrum Dance Team is technically a part of the Spartan Marching Band. On a typical Spartan game day, we go tailgating with the marching band through the different lots. We begin the game with our pregame show; the Spectrum are featured on the very back of the football field. We always do our halftime performance with the Spartan Marching Band. And we commonly are seen during third quarter break on the top of the dugouts.

Q: The Spartan football team is coming off a great season. Does their win-loss record impact the dancers’ performances?

A: We are die-hard Spartan fans at every game. We’ve had some really rough seasons, and those definitely affect you as students and as fans and staff. But I think our job as the Spartan Marching Band and the Spartan Spectrum Dance Team is to really lift the spirit and during halftime, to be that kind of relief, almost like a recharge for the fans before our team comes back in and continues fighting.

Q: Does Spectrum favor a certain dance style?

A: (We have) a really deep-seated tradition: a jazz style on the field. (Unlike) most college dance teams, we don’t wear jazz shoes — we wear character shoes. So, all of our dancers actually dance in a heel on a football field, which is a challenging endeavor. It brings an extra level of class and elegance, I feel, to our team and performances.