Leading the Way: What it takes to be your dance team's captain
Dance teams are all about unity. An exceptional group glides across the floor with all of its dancers moving as one. There are no individual standouts. No weak links.
But there is one person whose job is to make the team as strong as possible, on the floor and off—the captain. She is an essential part of any troupe, both at the collegiate and professional level.
If you’re a natural-born leader (can’t live without your daily to-do list or love taking charge of a group project in class?), this is the role for you. As a captain, you’ll be largely in control of your squad, making integral choices—like which practice schedule works for everyone and deciding where to go for Nationals—and working hard to ensure the team’s success. Up for the challenge? Read on to learn how to become a captain, and what to do once you’ve got the job.
Getting the gig
Each team has its own guidelines for selecting a captain—and the fact that your mother, sister or best friend’s cousin was a former captain won’t help you nab the coveted “C” on your team jacket. It’s up to you to prove to your teammates and coach that you’re captain-worthy.
“Each year, wannabe captains have to explain to our coach why they want the position,” says Michael Anne Gee, the senior captain of the seven-time national champion Brigham Young University Cougarettes in Provo, UT. “They also have to choreograph a short dance combination and teach it to the team. The coach observes their leadership skills and teaching ability before making her final decision.”
On other teams, a potential captain simply needs to earn the vote from her teammates. “You have to give a speech in front of the team explaining why you want the position and how you’re qualified,” says Desiree Walter, the captain of the Hawai’i Pacific University Dance Team in Honolulu, HI. “It’s up to the team members to vote for who they think will do the best job.”
While you typically don’t have to be an upperclassman to be captain, most teams require dancers to have been part of the team for at least one year or season before running for the spot. If you think you might want to be a captain eventually, start impressing your teammates and coach from the get-go. In addition to showing up to practice on time, giving 100 percent in rehearsals and making all performances a priority, make it clear that you enjoy being a part of your squad and are willing to put in extra time and effort. To show your dedication, volunteer to do simple tasks like organizing a phone tree or creating a list of everyone’s contact information to distribute to the team.
Making it work
Now it’s time to map out your agenda, so check out the Captain’s To-Do List. Once you’ve got your tasks in order, you need to find a way to get it all done without going crazy. “It’s a lot of work,” says Michael Anne. When she’s not in class, she’s at rehearsal, meeting with the other captains or sketching out formations. You must stay organized, master time management and always be ultra-prepared.
Being a captain requires you to focus on the big picture—doing what’s best for your team—even on your worst days. “The captain sets the tone and standard for every practice,” says Michael Anne. “If you’re negative, the team will take on the same attitude, even if everyone else has had a great day.” Even if you’ve just come from taking an impossibly difficult final exam, you have to leave that at the studio door and learn to separate the dance team from whatever is going on in the rest of your life. Desiree admits, “A lot of pressure comes with this job. I take it all one day at a time.”
When the going gets tough…
As captain of your dance team, you’ll definitely encounter some sticky situations, like having to confront your friends when they aren’t practicing full-out or telling an injured teammate that she’ll have to sit out a performance. But it’s important to react before problems arise. “I’m here to do a job,” says Traci, Miami Heat dance team captain. “If I don’t complete my responsibilities, it will be a reflection on me, the team directors and, ultimately, the entire Heat organization.”
On a collegiate level, it can be even harder to avoid conflict, because your teammates are also your classmates and friends. “My roommates and best friends are on the team with me,” says Michael Anne. “You have to treat everyone the same. It’s easier to correct a freshman who’s doing something off-count than it is to correct your friend. But you can’t ignore things that need to be fixed.”
If a dancer’s timing is repeatedly off, and correcting her in front of everyone isn’t working, pull her aside for some one-on-one practice. She’ll appreciate that you didn’t scrutinize her in the midst of the entire group, and you’ll be happy with a more polished routine!
The friendships Desiree has formed with her teammates make the rough stuff easier to deal with. “If someone is always showing up late to practice, it’s your responsibility to say, ‘You can’t be late anymore, it’s unacceptable,’” she says. “Hopefully, your team respects you and the role you’re in. They’ll see that you’re doing what’s best for the team.”
Most importantly, you want the year to be fun, so to avoid having to deal with uncomfortable situations mid-year—or worse, mid-competition—outline your goals for the team on the first day. Clearly state what you expect from the team members, whether it’s that everyone always knows the score during basketball games or that gum chewing isn’t allowed. Tell your teammates what you want up front, but let them know you’re open to new suggestions or ideas.
“At the end of the year, you get to see where your team began and where it ended up,” says Michael Anne. “It’s so fulfilling. You helped everyone get to that point, and it will make you a better person.”
A Captain's To-Do List
A trophy at the end of the year is nice, but dance teams do more than just compete. College teams perform at pep rallies, freshman orientation and athletic events. If you’re on a professional team, your schedule will be jam-packed with promotional appearances. It’s the captain’s job to make each of these commitments go as smoothly as possible.
Making the most out of practice time
“Whenever we’re in the studio, the junior captain and I are completely in control,” says Cougarettes senior captain Michael Anne Gee. “We run warm-ups and rehearsals, clean our dances until they’re perfect and, at games, act like a head cheerleader and decide which routines to perform.”
Traci, the captain of the Miami Heat dance team (she’s held the post for the last six years!), holds regular practices with the entire team, and she runs separate rehearsals with the rookies to ensure they’re keeping up with the team’s veterans.
Choreography and music selection
Captains often have a hand in the creative process of the team. On some teams, the coach picks the performance music, but the captains choreograph the routine and get it ready for Nationals.
If you’re the captain on a college team without a coach, be prepared to handle your team’s budget, order new costumes each year, organize transportation for games and competitions and schedule performance opportunities with your university’s athletic department.
The Brigham Young University Cougarettes. Photo: Kenny Crookston