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."
Gabriel Figueredo in a variation from Raymonda. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.
This week, over 1,000 young hopefuls gathered in New York City for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, giving them the chance to compete for scholarships and contracts to some of the world's top ballet schools and companies. Roughly 85 dancers made it to the final round at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday. Today, the 20th anniversary of YAGP came to a close at the competition's awards ceremony. Read on to find out who won!
After a string of ballet-company rejections, Jennifer Sydor (here in Laura Peterson's "Failure") found success in other areas of the dance world. (Stephen Delas Heras, courtesy Jennifer Sydor)
In her senior year at Butler University, Jennifer Sydor auditioned for more than a dozen regional ballet companies—and got a string of "no, thank you" responses. "I have an athletic build, and my movement quality isn't the typical ballet aesthetic," Sydor says. "But I'd been laser-focused on ballet. When I didn't get a ballet contract, I was heartbroken."
Her one job offer came from Kim Robards Dance, a small modern company based in Aurora, CO. After attending KRD's summer intensive, Sydor ended up accepting a yearlong position with the troupe. "I was relieved and happy to begin my career," she says. She's been working as a contemporary dancer ever since.
In the dance world, rejection is part of the package. That doesn't make it any more pleasant. But whether you didn't get the Nutcracker role of your dreams or you weren't picked for a job despite feeling like you aced the audition, you can emerge from even the most gut-wrenching "no" smarter and stronger.
Ballet West principal Beckanne Sisk as Kitri (Luke Isley, courtesy Ballet West)
Guess who's baaaaack?! Your resident Dance Spirit astrologers! And on the eve of the Youth America Grand Prix awards ceremony, we thought it was the perfect time to pair each zodiac sign with a variation commonly seen during the competition. After many painstaking hours spent researching, consulting the stars, and staring wistfully into the sky, we compiled our data and present you with the definitive list of each star sign as a YAGP variation! As we said last time, don't @ us if you're not happy with your pairing—the stars don't lie, baby!