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."
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers by clicking on their names here:
vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.
We also want you to
get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.
When it comes to injury-prone body parts, knees reign supreme for dancers. But a little strengthening can go a long way in preventing painful outcomes. We turned to Dirk Hartog, a physical therapist with Westside Dance Physical Therapy in NYC, for three exercises that'll support and stabilize your knees.
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.