The Penn State University Lionettes (Brian Harmon, courtesy Penn State University)
Performing for any audience is jitter-inducing enough. But how about an audience of 100,000 rowdy game-day spectators? Dance teamers face unique pressures in their highly unpredictable performance environments, and inevitably, things go awry. We asked dancers and coaches from four champion teams to share some of their most embarrassing stories—and how they recovered like the pros they are.
How to Prevent (and Recover From) Dance Team Disasters
Troubleshoot as a team.
"Practice in any new setting as much as possible," says Lindsay Sprague, head coach of the Carolina Girls at the University of South Carolina. "We try to run our dances on the court prior to basketball games to set our spacing. And while we don't often get to practice on the real football field, we can work out kinks on the school's practice field. It really helps to get acclimated, because there are so many other things to think about in the moment. Your dancing has to be second nature."
"Doing the same tricks or choreography in the same space every day can get a bit monotonous—but you can't let that make you complacent," says Cailyn Cota, a senior member of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Rebel Girls. "If you consistently put in the effort and take each practice seriously, you'll be able to hit all skills or tricks no matter where you're performing."
Expect the unexpected.
"Know that anything could go wrong, and plan accordingly," says Sheryl Knight, head coach of the University of Louisville Ladybirds. "If the music stops? Continue dancing and count to each other. If the music doesn't play? Stand there until it does."
Find ways to stay focused, despite the crowd.
"At basketball games, you're performing so close to the stands—sometimes a fan might be only 20 feet away," says Sprague. "It can be so distracting to focus on a certain face. I tell my dancers to look at the crowd like it's just one big blank canvas. Don't make eye contact if you think it'll distract you."
Stay engaged the entire game.
"Our team performs at football games for more than 100,000 people," says Julie Berardi, head coach of the Penn State University Lionettes. "We know not everyone is watching. But with that many people, you never know who is watching at any moment. So it's crucial to stay engaged and professional the whole time."
"Remember that you're doing something you love," says Knight. "Your love for dance will shine through. And know that you've got a team full of sisters who are all feeling the same way."
A version of this story appeared in the April 2019 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Dance Team Disasters."