Karen Chuang was a freshman at University of California, Los Angeles, when she was
given the opportunity to dance in a K-pop music video being filmed in L.A. “I took all my books with me and studied during any downtime I could find,” says Chuang. She went on to book jobs with Brian Friedman and “Glee,” and to lead UCLA’s hip-hop team, NSU Modern, before graduating summa cum laude with a degree in business economics.
The whole point of getting strong dance training is to work toward a dance career—but sometimes, jobs come along before you’re done with college, or even high school. While balancing homework and dance commitments with an apprenticeship or auditions can be challenging, it’s not impossible. “The lifestyle isn’t for everyone,” Chuang says. “But if you get an opportunity you can’t pass up, take the leap.” Here’s how to make it work.
Karen Chuang (top, far left) on a music video set for K-pop star Ava in 2009 (photo courtesy Karen Chuang)
Communicate respectfully, early and often.
Since scheduling conflicts are inevitable, talk with your teachers and directors as soon as you’re presented with an outside opportunity. “Be humble and as detailed as possible about upcoming conflicts with classes or rehearsals,” says Joseph Giordano, who was offered a contract with Liz Gerring Dance Company during his final semester at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Be sure to follow up with your teachers over the course of the job. “Professors will be so much more lenient if you keep them in the loop,” Chuang says. And if you speak with them early enough, your outside work can be even more beneficial: Some directors, like Cathy Young at The Boston Conservatory, make it possible for dancers to receive credit for professional projects that take them away from school for a semester or more.
Make a schedule—and follow it.
“I map out my complete Monday-through-Friday schedule on Mac Pages and set it as the background image on my phone,” Giordano says. Chuang had a similarly detailed plan. “My days were completely structured, with slots for commuting, exercising and homework,” she says. But no matter how organized you are, Young adds, “someone completely overextended isn’t valuable to a choreographer.” Make sure you have the time before you commit to a gig.
Get your Z’s.
With the strain of additional hours of dancing, part of your agenda should be devoted to rest, says Giordano. “I try to get at least six hours of sleep, stay hydrated and monitor aches and pains,” he says. Irineo Cabreros, who apprenticed with Gallim Dance in NYC during his first semester in a PhD program at Princeton University, advises prioritizing sleep. “The few times I went into rehearsal dead tired, I realized I was getting the short end of both sticks—I wasn’t performing well and I wasn’t getting the most out of my education, either,” he says.
Learn to say “no.”
Doing it all comes with tough choices. “I often had to sacrifice my social life to
balance it all,” Chuang says. Other times, you might have to pass up a job. Don’t get discouraged, though: Sometimes opportunities will resurface at more convenient times. “Once, I couldn’t audition for Lady Gaga because I had a final exam,” Chuang remembers. “I was bummed, but the opportunity came around again.”
You only have a few years to immerse yourself in your education, so if it comes down to missing too much school for a job, Young advises dancers to choose school. “Sometimes you have to jump when those opportunities come along, but the idea that your career clock is ticking is a dated one. The more info you get in school, the more likely you’ll be working into your 60s.”
Right now, you're probably getting pretty pumped about one major high school milestone: Prom! Do you have your dress yet? Did you work up the courage to ask that special someone? Are you planning the best-ever post-prom party? We thought so.
Dancers do prom in the best way. I mean, getting dressed up and dancing the night away? That's kind of our M.O. To get in the spirit of all things prom, Dance Spirit asked a few of our favorite pros about their big nights—and what they had to say is just so cute!
Tookey looking fab with husband Gene Gabriel at the 2011 Emmy Awards (via Zimbio.com)
I wore a floor-length, velvet (yes, velvet!) wine-colored dress with a sweetheart neckline and a long slit up the side. I also wore long white gloves, like I was royalty or something. My mom did my hair—which, in that pre-blonde era, was brown—in an updo. (Actually, that hair is the only part of the outfit I'd reprise today. Go, mom!) It was 1994, and I thought my outfit was amazing.
At the reception, my date pulled out my chair for me, and like the dancer I am, I sat down in a wide, turned out second, and I ripped the slit of my dress all the way up to my waist! I was so embarrassed. But my very sweet date gave me his suit jacket, and I wore it all night.
Kyle Hanagami can certainly bust a move now! (Jayme Thornton for DS)
I went to prom with a bunch of friends. I think I wore a suit... I don't really remember, but I'm sure it wasn't super cool. What I can remember is standing on the dance floor and being terrified to dance! I didn't start dancing until after I graduated high school, so I couldn't even two-step. How embarrassing!
Dowling in her real wedding gown with husband Reza Fakrieh (via @joeydowling)
When I was a sophomore, I got to go to prom with a guy I thought was the hottest boy in school. He was a junior, and he was blonde, tan and buff—he looked like a surfer. I remember shopping for my dress with my mom, and thinking how absolutely perfect it had to be. I found it: A white halter dress with a low back and beading all the way up the front. I probably looked like I was about to walk down the aisle...but I thought it was gorgeous! I wore my hair in a high French twist with the ends hanging out and curled. (That was big back then.)
The prom was held in the Capitol building in my hometown. The whole night felt like a fairy tale. Date dances in high school were usually lame and awkward, but that night was one of the best of my life!
Prom! A young Torbert posing with friends from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (Courtesy Torbert)
Ade Chike Torbert
I ended up asking my girlfriend at the time to prom. But because we didn't start dating until the end of the school year, we had both originally planned to go with close friends of ours—so it was a little tough breaking the news to them.
I wore an all-white suit with a white fedora and a champagne-colored vest. I was definitely the best-dressed! We all had such a great night. Our prom was held at this beautiful venue by the South Street Seaport in NYC, and there was a ton of food and great music. Then we boarded a yacht and continued to party until the wee hours of the morning.
Not going to prom this year? You're not alone. Many of the dancers we spoke with confessed they never made it, either—they were too wrapped up in their dance commitments. Take former New York City Ballet soloist (and current Dance Spirit columnist!) Kathryn Morgan, for example:
Morgan with Seth Orza in NYCB's Romeo and Juliet (Paul Kolnik/NYCB)
Unfortunately, I never got to go to a real prom. I was hired by New York City Ballet at the end of my junior year of high school and finished school online. I do, however, consider my debut as Juliet my "prom." I was 17, and it was a huge deal for me. There was a beautiful ballroom scene, and that was a pretty great prom substitute! I wore three dresses and had two hairstyles: up for the first half of the evening, and half-up/half-down for the second. My "date" was my Romeo, Seth Orza...though he was engaged to someone else!
You’re devoted to your dance studio, but you’ve also dreamed of joining your high school’s dance team for as long as you can remember. Worried you won’t be able to balance your commitment to your studio with dance team responsibilities? Don’t stress! Get advice from three dancers who made it work—and the dance team coaches and studio owners who helped them do it.
How do I tell my studio owner I’ve decided to join my high school team, too?
First and foremost, it’s vital you let your studio owner and your dance team coach know you plan to continue dancing with both groups. “Tell your studio owner in person so she doesn’t hear it from someone else and think you were trying to keep it a secret,” says Highlands Ranch High School pom coach Amanda Humphrey. “Be honest—inform her of your future commitments, so she’s aware of your schedule.”
Sarah Gates, a freshman on HRHS pom team and a dancer at Starstruck Academy of Dance in Centennial, CO, says the best approach is to explain to your studio teacher why being involved with your high school team is important to you. “I love dance team because I get to be involved in school and dance with my classmates. It also gives me opportunities to perform more often—which helps boost my performance in studio competitions,” Sarah says.
Chandler Wolfe (right) at USA Spirit Nationals (photo courtesy Chandler Wolfe)
I have a studio performance and a dance team competition scheduled for the same time. What should I do?
“Determine which commitment will be hurt the most by your absence, and try to attend that one,” says Kasia Kerridge, a senior on HRHS pom team and a dancer at Starstruck Academy of Dance and Metropolitan Academy of Dance in Colorado. “And let your teacher or coach know as soon as you discover a conflict.”
You also should realize that your absence could mean getting pulled from a piece. Melenie Reynolds, owner of Impact Dance in Mesa, AZ, currently teaches six dancers who are also involved with their high school pom teams. She says, “If there’s a major conflict, we let the dancer make the choice. If she chooses to miss, it’s her decision to be temporarily—or permanently—replaced in a piece.”
There may be financial penalties to consider, as well. “Our policy is if someone fills in for you at competition, you pay their competition fees,” Reynolds says.
My teammates are upset with me for missing a performance. Help!
“Explain to them why you were absent, and be sure to always give 110 percent when you’re with the team,” says Chandler Wolfe, a junior on Mountain View High School’s Toro pom line and dancer at Impact Dance. Kasia agrees: “If you have to make up classes to prove to your team you can pull your own weight, do that.”
Lisa Holtz Odell, owner of Starstruck Academy of Dance in Colorado, suggests going out of your way to show your commitment to both teams. “In addition to making up every class you miss, meet with another dancer after missing rehearsal to be sure you’re completely caught up.”
Wolfe (front right) competing with her studio, Impact Dance (photo courtesy Chandler Wolfe)
The two-team schedule is so intense. How do I find time for homework, family and friends?
Kasia writes down a plan for her day and checks things off as she goes. Similarly, Chandler uses the calendar on her phone and sets reminders throughout the day so she doesn’t forget anything.
Sarah works on homework anytime she has a spare moment at the studio. “Starstruck has rooms where we can hang out and study between rehearsals,” she says. “I find the busier I am, the more focused I become.”
And your social life? Chandler says time can always be found, even if only a couple minutes. “The best way to make room for your social life is to never procrastinate on your school work,” she says. And don’t forget that your teammates will become some of your best friends—and a huge part of your social life.
We're all in this together, amirite? (Photo by Fred Hayes/Disney Channel)
It's hard to believe it's been almost nine years (WUT) since Troy and Gabriella won our hearts in Disney Channel's High School Musical. #Throwback to the epic hallway flash mobs, the intense basketball choreo, the emotional romance...ahh, such memories. But these days, the hallways of East High are serving a slightly different purpose.
Here's the scoop: Dream team Scott Winn and Brenden Bytheway (aka Scott & Brendo, the guys who brought us the "Stormtrooper Twerk" and the "Harry Potter vs. Twilight Dance Battle") were searching for a place to shoot their latest project, "High School Dance Battle: Geeks vs. Cool Kids." HSM's old stomping grounds seemed a natural fit. But while this blast of nostalgia sure is lovely, it's not the main reason we're obsessed with this video. You guys, the dance is sooo good.
It should be no surprise: The man behind the moves is choreographer Jason Celaya, who collaborated with Scott & Brendo on "Stormtroopers" and "Harry Potter vs. Twilight." He's also responsible for "The World's Largest Treadmill Dance," so you know he does it big. To pump up the dance power even more, they've got Chachi Gonzales leading the cool kids and Jade Chynoweth repin' the geeks. So, yeah, you know you want to watch this.
Every high school dancer faces life-changing decisions as graduation approaches: Do I want to keep dancing? Should I audition for companies right away, or get a degree in dance, or major in something else and join my school’s dance team? Should I try to go to college while pursuing professional dance opportunities? What if I make the “wrong” decision and miss out on something great?
If you think the options seem overwhelming, you’re in good company. Aspiring professional dancers feel pressure to begin their careers as early as possible—but they’re also often told to have a normal college experience and get a degree, “just in case.” Here’s the truth: There are a million different routes to a rewarding dance career. Read on to hear from five dancers about the decisions they made after high school—and how those choices got them to where they are today.
Meredith Webster and David Harvey in Meyer (photo by Angela Sterling)
Alonzo King LINES Ballet company member
Studied environmental science at the University of Washington while training
at Pacific Northwest Ballet
In high school, I knew I wanted to dance professionally. I grew up thinking every professional dancer gets a job right after graduating high school. But that’s not true anymore.
I went to a couple auditions my senior year of high school, but since I didn’t get any job offers, I entered the professional training program at Pacific Northwest Ballet. My parents said the only way they would support me going to PNB was if I went to college at the same time. So I enrolled in one class every quarter at the University of Washington.
At first I was super-resistant. I was the only dancer in the PNB program waking up for an 8:30 am college class before dancing all day. But it turned out I liked having a connection to “normal” life, and I ended up really enjoying the classes I took.
After two years at PNB, I decided to go to school full-time to finish my degree—and to keep dancing. The modern teacher at PNB had her own company, so I performed in two shows a year with her. By then, I was less sure of what I wanted. I loved dancing, but I was also considering pursuing a job in wind power, which was what I was studying. When I was about to finish school, Donald Byrd came to Seattle and took over Spectrum Dance Theater. It felt right, so I auditioned, and I’ve been dancing in a company ever since.
I haven’t had as many years to perform as some other people my age. But I wouldn’t take it back. As an artist, the broader your experience is in the world, the more you can bring to your work. I had experiences through the university that I wouldn’t have had if I’d gone straight from high school to wearing pink tights all day every day.
(Photo by Marcel Indik Photography)
Moved to L.A. straight out of high school
I’ve always known I wanted to dance professionally, so I decided I needed to dive in and move to L.A. to give it a try. I told myself school would always be there if I wanted to go back, but this was something I needed to do while I could.
My mom and I decided I would take online classes my senior year while I focused on my dance training and added singing and acting lessons to my schedule. At the end of the year, I auditioned for an ABC Family movie called Lovestruck: The Musical, and I booked it. After that, I signed with an agency in L.A. I work as a waitress at night so I can support myself, and I go to auditions during the day.
Moving to L.A. at 18 was scary, but I’ve always been independent, and 95 percent of the people here are doing the same thing I am. I’ve never been more stressed and confused than I am now, but I’ve also never been happier.
You have to pay your dues in L.A. by showing your face at a lot of auditions and classes. So I feel like I have a head start. I’ve been here two years now, and although it took a couple months to book my first job, I worked my way up to dancing with Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards, and I recently booked the TV show “Hit The Floor.”
Corina Gill in Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker (photo by Gene Schiavone)
Boston Ballet corps de ballet member
Majored in dance at University of California, Irvine
When I was in high school, not going to college wasn’t an option for me—that’s the way I was raised. I knew I wanted to be in a ballet company one day, so my major concern was how I would keep dancing in college. I chose to major in dance at UC Irvine, and the connections I made there helped me get the job I have now at Boston Ballet.
For a ballet dancer, college is a hard route to go. You start your career four years later than many people, and dancers already have such a short shelf life. But looking back, I wouldn’t do anything differently. College rounded out my dance education as well as my academic education. It exposed me to different ways of thinking and different kinds of people. Now, a few years into my dance career, I have to start thinking about what I’m going to do after dance—and while some of my colleagues are working on their bachelor’s degrees, I’m working on my master’s in nonprofit management.
Johnny McMillan in Jonathan Fredrickson's For the Wandered (photo by Todd Rosenberg)
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company member
Became an apprentice with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s second company soon after graduating high school
I was always interested in joining a company right out of high school, but all of my friends were doing the college thing—so I joined them and auditioned for The Juilliard School, The Boston Conservatory, Purchase College, SUNY and California Institute of the Arts. The Boston Conservatory offered me a scholarship, and I accepted.
I was worried I might be making a mistake by going to college. I went to high school at Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school in Michigan, so I had done the “dorm life” thing, and having a degree in dance wasn’t something that interested me. I was ready to get out there and learn what it was like to be a professional dancer.
That summer, I attended Hubbard Street’s summer intensive program on scholarship, and after the summer, I was offered an apprenticeship with the second company. I took the job instead of starting my freshman year at The Boston Conservatory.
Since I got my foot in the door early, I have many dancing years ahead of me. Jumping into professional life isn’t easy: You have to figure out things like insurance and taxes and how to take care of yourself. I also felt like an outsider to my peer group—I missed the college experience. But I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. Having a group of older and more mature dancers around me has improved my dancing, and being in the company has taught me the business side of dance.
(Photo by Jordan Matter)
NYC-based freelance artist
Deferred a college enrollment to focus on her dance career
When I graduated high school, I felt a little behind as a ballet dancer because I hadn’t started training seriously until I was 14. I’d received a scholarship to Bard College to study international relations, but as I talked with some of the mentors in my life, I realized college was something I could come back to, while dancing was something I needed to do now. Bard let me defer a year so I could focus on my dancing.
I moved to NYC to train at Ellison Ballet and to intern at Pointe magazine, since one of my passions is writing. At the end of that year, I got an offer to join Tulsa Ballet’s second company, and Bard let me defer another year. At the end of that year, I had the opportunity to join the Gelsey Kirkland Studio Company in NYC. This time, Bard said I needed to choose between the scholarship and the dance company. I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to dance with Gelsey Kirkland.
Since then, I’ve been freelancing as a dancer and actor. I’m also directing a preservation program for monarch butterflies. My goal is to create art and tell stories that have a healing or empowering effect on human beings, especially children.
I do think it will be important for me to get a degree in the future. I’ve noticed that in some circles, there’s a stigma associated with not having a college degree—it’s equated with a certain level of intelligence. People will say to me, “You’re so well-spoken for someone who didn’t go to college!” But I can always go to college, and I’m going to make it a priority before I have a family of my own.
Because I came to NYC at 17, I feel like I could go anywhere in the world now and be OK. I’ve been empowered by the understanding that my decisions are my own. If you look at the kind of people who are living the life you want to lead, and backtrack to see how they got there, it’s surprising to see that there are many unique, winding roads.
The Dazzlers at a Floyd Central pep rally—just a few days before heading to Florida for 2013 Nationals (Andrew Kung)
When I first joined my college dance team, I’d never picked up a pair of poms. In fact, the high-energy, hard-hitting, trick-packed style that is “pom dance” was completely foreign to the majority of my studio-trained team. So in an effort to show us how much we had to learn, our coach called us into her office to watch a video of one of the country’s top pom teams. Our jaws dropped the moment she pressed play. The team’s precision was uncanny. Every move was performed in total unison. The angle of each arm motion and battement was measured and executed to an exact degree. Every jump was sky-high. The entire routine was performed at hyper-speed. And the power that each dancer drove into every move—I’d never seen anything like it.
Who was this team? The Floyd Central High School Dazzlers. That’s right: My National championship-winning college dance team had just been shown a thing or two (or five!) by the best high school team in the nation.
Floyd Central High School, located in the small rural community of Floyds Knobs, IN, is home to one of the most successful dance teams in the country—and it has the trophies to prove it. Led by their coach of 18 years, Todd Sharp (who is also co-coach of the successful University of Louisville Ladybirds Dance Team and spirit squad and owner of the all-star training studio Planet Dance), the Dazzlers have brought home more than 100 wins and 21 national pom championships, including 10 straight Universal Dance Association National Dance Team Championship titles. In 2012, they added a new title to their impressive streak when they swept both the pom and hip-hop divisions with first-place finishes. This year, Floyd Central took home second place in the pom division at UDA and sixth in hip hop.
Making the Cut
So what does it take to score a pair of FC poms? Around 40 girls audition for the team each year—including veterans—with a routine choreographed by the graduating seniors. After being split into pairs, hopefuls perform the routine and demonstrate technical skills, such as pirouettes, fouettés, splits and jumps, for the panel of judges, which includes Sharp and former team members. And the dancers had better be prepared to perform for a crowd: 250 spectators usually show up to watch the open audition. “I have nothing to hide,” Sharp says. “Mom and Dad need to know if their daughter is a tragic mess, and everyone will see why a girl did or didn’t make the team. Besides, I’ve never cut anyone who showed true potential.” Sharp doesn’t have a set number of girls he takes each year. The most he’s ever had on a team is 36, but team size is based solely on the talent level he sees at tryouts. This year, there are 18 dancers on the team—the fewest in Dazzler history.
After watching one of the group’s routines, you’d think every Dazzler has been dancing since she could walk, but that’s not necessarily the case. “The majority of the girls had no formal training before trying out for the Dazzlers,” Sharp says. “Many make the team because they’re athletic and have major hops.” (Watch the team’s explosive toe touches and “hops” makes perfect sense.) But a lack of technique presents challenges: “There hasn’t been a year when I haven’t had to teach girls things as basic as fixing broken wrists or pointing their feet,” Sharp says. “But if a dancer has that look in her eyes—that passion for dance and desire to succeed—I’ll choose her over a technically talented girl with no drive.”
At the 2012 UDA National Dance Team Championships, the Dazzlers won their first-ever hip-hop title. (Varsity.com)
Getting to Work
While the auditions are tough, take one look at the team’s practice schedule and you’ll see that making the team is actually the easy part. The Dazzlers rehearse almost year-round. They learn their competition pom routine in April or May—before a new school year has even begun—and their hip-hop routine in September. Aside from Sharp, guest teachers from around the country, including University of Memphis Dance Team coach Carol Lloyd, are brought in to choreograph their routines.
During the summer, the team attends a UDA camp and practices three to five times a week, with only two weeks of vacation. And their rehearsals aren’t just dance-centric; the Dazzlers do CrossFit, work with a personal trainer and weight-train each week. This continues into the school year, when both the frequency—the team eventually rehearses seven days a week—and intensity of practices pick up. But nothing can compare to the dedication the dancers demonstrate when prepping for competition. “Once we get close to Nationals, we start two-a-day practices, including a few at 6 am,” says sophomore Katie Tarr.
With the 14-plus regional competitions they attend on the weekends each season, you’d think these girls wouldn’t have time for anything else—but they’re also there to support the Floyd Central football and basketball teams at every home game. “We do pre-game sideline dances with the band and perform a halftime routine at the football games,” says junior Meagan Moutoux. “For basketball, we cheer the first quarter on the sidelines with the cheerleaders, perform a routine at halftime and cheer the last two quarters.”
The Leader of the Pack
Unlike most dance teams, the Dazzlers don’t have an official captain. “The leadership is organic,” Sharp says. “I allow the leaders to rise to the top and identify themselves. I want a freshman to be able to open her mouth and give a correction.” But when it comes down to it, Sharp has the final word in all things Dazzlers. He doesn’t tolerate mediocrity and expects every dancer to always bring her best. “Todd can be really funny, but he’s not afraid to get in your face and push you to the extreme,” says senior Brooke Lentz. “He gives us corrections and tells us what we need to hear so we can be prepared for Nationals.” One competition season, a mom told Sharp she was worried because her daughter hadn’t been to church in a month. “I just said, ‘Tough, it’s Nationals,’ ” Sharp recalls.
Sharp admits to running the Dazzlers more like a football team than a dance team. “I see it as a sport and an art,” he says. “I like to be artistic, but I love that pom allows you to display athleticism, precision and technique while wearing your school colors and name—just like a sports team.” He’s chosen to have his team perform the two styles he feels pump up the crowd the most: pom and hip hop. “They have high entertainment value, and that’s what appeals to the masses.”
(L to R) Dazzler teammates Maddie Baird and Katie Tarr (courtesy Todd Sharp)
When College Calls
For most of the Dazzlers, graduation doesn’t mark the end of their dance careers. “I encourage the girls who are passionate about dance to try out for a college team,” Sharp says. “They’ve paid the price in rehearsals and done the legwork; competing on a college dance team is like the icing on the cake.” And with Sharp at the helm of the championship-winning Ladybirds, it’s no surprise that usually at least a quarter of the nearby University of Louisville team is made up of former Dazzlers. All four of this year’s seniors hope to join collegiate teams: two at the University of Louisville, one at Indiana University and one at Bellarmine University.
The Dazzlers are champions not just on the dance floor but in the classroom as well. The school requires that each member have no failing grades to be on the team, and while every Dazzler’s GPA is above a 3.0, many have above a 4.0. Several of the girls even find time in their insane schedules to take multiple AP classes. “Last year the administration collected the average GPA for every sports team in the school,” says senior Kimberly Humphries. “We had the highest—an average of 3.7.”
Being a Dazzler also forces the girls to mature faster than most high school students. “It’s prepared me for college and future jobs,” says senior Regan Wimsatt. “I’ve had to learn time management and how to handle stressful situations.” Adds Kimberly: “Being on the team has transformed me physically and mentally—it’s made me a stronger dancer and person. You don’t just show up at Nationals and do well. Our program pushes us to work for and earn success.”
We Are Family
Like many other successful dance teams, the Dazzlers don’t always get the recognition they deserve. “We take a lot of grief at school,” Katie says. “People watch us and make fun of our moves.” But a supportive fan base of family and friends more than makes up for the haters: “All of our parents work together to support us,” Regan says. “They’ll even wake up at 4 am to be the first in line to get seats at Nationals.”
And with the winning legacy they’ve created, Dazzler alumnae often come back to help with practices and auditions. Says Kimberly, “It’s like a giant Dazzler family. Once a Dazzler, always a Dazzler.”
Members of the Illinois College dance team
Being on a dance team comes with a lot of perks: You get tons of performance opportunities and, often, a built-in group of best friends. But it’s not always a high-kicking blast. “Dancers bring a lot of passion to everything in their lives,” says Jessica Walz, who advises the dance team at Hawaii Pacific University. “When you get a bunch of them together, conflict can creep in.” Whether you’re on a student-run team or your team comes equipped with a coach or advisor, certain situations require a little extra guidance.
DS spoke with seasoned pros about the most common dance team issues—and how to handle them, no drama required.
One girl on the team is always late to practice. Another one keeps missing practice completely—and she has a million excuses.
Here’s where it becomes important to have a clear set of team rules and consequences that apply to everyone on the team, even the captain. Most faculty-run teams, like Sandy Hinton’s at McLennan Community College, have formal agreements or contracts everyone signs at the beginning of the year. Right from the start, team members know exactly what’s expected of them, as well as what will happen if they don’t measure up. On Walz’s team, late dancers have to run up a nearby set of 1,200 stairs (up the side of a volcano!). “The first month or two, three or four dancers will have to do it,” Walz says. “By the third month, no one is late anymore.”
Student-run teams can write a contract together to make sure captains never feel like arbitrary dictators or need to fight with teammates when issues come up. Because all team members agree to the consequences, everyone is equally accountable to each other; there’s no room for drama or hurt feelings.
Outline your team’s attendance policy in your contract, as well as the consequences for too many unexcused absences (three tardies equal one absence, for example, and three missed practices means you have to sit out the next performance). Include a clause about what happens if a teammate’s excuses are legit, like being very sick or doing required academic activities.
Our captain is rude and condescending, and no one likes her. (Think Big Red from Bring It On.)
Learning how to be a good leader can be tough, especially when you’re in high school or college and have a million other responsibilities weighing on you. Unfortunately, sometimes all it takes is one stressed-out captain to crush team morale.
Kate VonDeBur, a junior at Illinois College who currently leads rehearsals for the school’s dance team, experienced this herself as an underclassman. “We tried to make our captain happy by coming to practice as prepared as we could,” Kate says, “and we found that the more prepared we were, the less stressed out and overbearing she was. She had good intentions.” You can also offer to assist with small tasks, like taking attendance, or you can (tactfully) mention that sometimes teammates might take her comments the wrong way. Definitely don’t talk to everyone else behind her back and let the problem intensify—that won’t end well for anyone.
Chloe Cunningham, a junior at Dickinson College who served as the school’s Synergy Dance Team captain, recommends getting to know your captain better as a person. “Our team would go to the cafeteria together for meals after practice,” she says. “That way, we could all hang out without the pressure of rehearsals. If a captain is still rude outside of practice, chances are she’s just rude.” If that’s the case, your best bet is to take a deep breath and be polite until the next captain steps in.
The Synergy Dance Team
getting silly in the studio
My teammates take corrections personally when they come from their peers.
It can be weird to acknowledge that your teammates can see your weaknesses. “On our team, we establish the fact that we all love each other no matter what, but if somebody needs to be called out for doing a wrong move, they’re going to be called out,” Chloe says.
Kate ensures that no one feels bullied in her rehearsals by splitting the team into groups and assigning each teammate one person to watch and give corrections to. “I try to make us all codependent,” she says, “so that the girls rely on each other to get better. Nobody’s being overly criticized, and nobody’s being overly critical. We’re all doing it.” Walz’s team at HPU also does this, with an easy rule to keep things constructive: When it’s time to critique, each dancer tells her partner “one negative and two positives,” Walz says.
One of my teammates is partying too hard and it’s affecting her performance.
Figuring out how to navigate the college social scene in a healthy, dance-friendly way is an issue all students face. On Hinton’s and Walz’s dance teams, dancers promise to follow strict codes of conduct outlined in their team contracts, and teammates hold one another accountable with severe consequences for inappropriate behavior, like suspension from the team.
Student-run groups without a close faculty advisor can also outline appropriate team conduct, but if a teammate is determined to rebel, enforcing the standards as a team might be tricky. Be specific in your contract regarding social situations and even social media, but know that sometimes your teammate may need to learn the consequences of her behavior on her own. And whether you’re of legal age or not, excessive partying will affect your dancing.
One of our teammates is failing. We have to have a certain GPA to perform and she’s dangerously close to the cutoff.
If you have a faculty advisor, this is an issue to let her handle, since students can’t officially request to know one another’s grades. If you don’t, though, and you hear that a teammate’s grades are slipping, try setting up team study sessions or designating members of the team who excel at certain subjects to be team tutors. Be sure to approach your struggling teammate privately, though, because if she’s working hard and still having trouble, she might feel embarrassed.
The McLennan Community College dance team
Some teammates don’t like each other, and their personal differences are interfering with rehearsals.
“Some of the girls on my team just don’t get along,” Kate says. “When that pops up in rehearsal, I try to pull the focus back to the dance. I’ll say, ‘Let’s run this with the music,’ because then they have to stop talking.”
According to Hinton, running a tight rehearsal is the best way to keep the drama outside. “Having your practice planned solves 90 percent of your problems,” she says. “When the team walks in the door, the dancers will be so busy they won’t have time to worry about anyone else.”
If drama does find its way in, address it with a conversation immediately after practice. “When it starts festering in the studio and you don’t discuss it, it builds until eventually someone snaps,” Walz says. “You don’t all have to be best friends, but you have to figure out how to work together.”
Kate stops upperclassman/underclassman conflicts before they happen by doing team bonding early in the year. Walz does this, too, by pairing upperclassmen with underclassmen in a buddy system—each first year member has an older girl to look out for her and show her the ropes. “We have what I call buddy day,” she says. “They have to show me that they went out and grabbed lunch or did something fun together, just to check in with each other. One year, two of my girls partnered up and posed for all of these pictures baking cookies together or taking walks together. It was really funny, but to this day, they’re still great friends.”
CRAFTING YOUR CONTRACT
You can avoid most team conflicts by writing a contract at the beginning of the year that each team member must agree to and sign. Here are a few things you’ll want to include:
- Attendance policies for both practices and performances
- Cost requirements for being on the team (you may need to pay expenses out of pocket or be asked to fundraise)
- Grade requirements or academic standards team members must uphold
- A code of conduct
- Social media rules
- Consequences for breaking the contract