Floor to Ceiling: Sao-Pedro-Welch, Endicott Claim National Dance Crown

Nikki Sao Pedro-Welch is familiar with winning major championships as an athlete. At Revere High School she was a state gymnastics balance beam champion before becoming a captain of the RHS cheerleading squad that built the foundation for a program that would become a powerhouse.

Upon her graduation from RHS, Sao Pedro-Welch was the recipient of the Joe “Pip” Giulia Memorial Award as the most outstanding cheerleader and gymnast. She was an RHS teammate and captain with current RHS cheerleading coach Julianne Esposito.

Prior to high school, she had competed on two Pop Warner national finalist seventh-and-eighth grade cheerleading teams in Orlando. As a pairs dancer with her partner, Bruce Weber, they won several national dance titles, some in New York City.

But a national collegiate dance championship as a head coach – the first of its kind in Endicott College history – has to find a place at the top of Nikki Sao-Pedro-Welch’s list of career accomplishments.

Sao Pedro-Welch’s team of 14 Endicott athletes – 13 females and one male – prevailed in January over 27 college dance teams to take home the 2020 Open Division national collegiate championship from ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando – the same Disney complex where the NBA hopes to resume its season.

Endicott, whose campus is in Beverly, became the first school in Massachusetts to win a national championship in the Pom Competition, a style that combines a team’s jazz and ballet technique and dance skills with Pom motions and hip-hop power moves.

“It’s a two-minute routine that was a mix of the genres, and it’s high energy, performed at a really fast pace while the dancers hold poms,” explained Sao Pedro-Welch, 37.

The team convened for three-per-day practices prior to leaving for the nationals in mid-January. The championships were contested before thousands of spectators and were televised on ESPN2, with Sao Pedro-Welch and her team getting some international exposure for Endicott.

“Being on ESPN for a small, private college from Beverly was pretty fantastic,” said Sao Pedro-Welch. “The [national championship] trophy is currently in the trophy case at our Post Center on campus. We are waiting for the rings to come in, so that will be a nice celebration if we can get together.”

The Endicott dance team won its tenth consecutive New England title in February at Westfield State University.

Sao Pedro-Welch, who is the wife of Niles Welch and the daughter of Carlos Sao Pedro and Denise Sao Pedro of Revere, is becoming the preeminent personality in New England college dance. She serves as a judge for MSSSA high school dance competitions and oversees the organization’s rules and regulations.  She is also the state representative for high school dance teams.

In addition to being in her 13th year as head dance coach at Endicott, Sao Pedro-Welch is coordinator of dance and an assistant professor in the college’s Visual and Performing Arts Department.

Sao-Pedro Welch received her Bachelor of Arts in Dance from prestigious Point Park University in Pittsburgh. She also holds a Master’s in Education in Arts and Learning from Endicott and a Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College in Vermont.

The success story in dance began for Nikki Sao Pedro-Welch at Sheila Rosanio’s School of Dance and Gymnnastics in Revere.

“I started taking classes there when I was seven,” said Sao Pedro-Welch. “Sheila was great. She pushed us and worked us really hard and I never took opportunity for granted. I was that kid that was in the studio the minute I got out of school so I could dance extra.”

That was the first step on an amazing journey that included the honor of earning a position on the inaugural Boston Celtics dance team during the 2006 and 2007 seasons and becoming a national champion college dance coach. Several of her Endicott alumnae have been members of the Celtics dance team, Patriots cheerleading team and performed in shows on cruise ships.

Then as now, Nikki’s mother, Denise, a popular Revere resident, remains her No. 1 fan. “She’s my biggest fan and has always been so supportive. I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I have done without her,” said Nikki. “My husband has also been a huge support system. He knew how important dance was to me when we met and has never gotten in the way of my dreams and has only supported them.”

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