By: Susan Angell-Gonzalez(President/CEO ShowMakers of America / Former Texas State University Strutters Director/Choreographer)
There is controversy that exists as to whether dancers are “athletes”. As a professional who has coached thousands of skilled dancers in a span of 40-years, I believe that all dancers are athletes, but not all athletes are dancers. The skills performed with their bodies’ demand strength, agility and balance. Dancers play like a team, and when they perform as a group, they work as a collective. Some typical qualities of an athlete include speed, flexibility, strength, endurance, balance, agility, and coordination. ALL of these same qualities are seen in skilled dancers. When watching and analyzing the movements along with the physical ability that it takes for a dancer to perform technical skills, there is no question that highly skilled dancers are athletes. Is dancing considered a sport? According to Wikipedia, a “Sport is all forms of competitive physical activity which, through casual or organized participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical fitness and provide entertainment to participants. Sports are generally recognized as activities which are based in physical athleticism or physical dexterity.” In argument, dance has the same amount of requirements that any sport does. For a dance team, dancing is tougher as their season is year-round. In sports, the downtime is greater because the season is usually only a few months long.
Several learning institutions around the United States are beginning to acknowledge dance as a sport and dancers as “elite” athletes and artists. During my time as Director/Choreographer of the Texas State University Strutters, my students were recognized as student athletes and were given many of the same perks that sport athletes received. In addition, the Strutters were granted credit in Health and Human Performance each semester.
Components to consider:
Athletes & Artists
Dancers are “elite” athletes as well as artists. They are “finely-tuned” athletes! Dancers must look perfect, showing off clean lines, muscular backs and legs. As we all know, dancers have an extraordinary range of flexibility and muscular strength. They move on a level far beyond athleticism. Dancers have speed, agility, power, precision, balance, and endurance (all of the things that define an athlete). Additionally, there is grace, beauty, form, emotion, and the power of communication that is expressed through dance movement. What separates dancers from sport athletes is artistry (there can also be artistry in athleticism to a point). Dance Teams perform as a group with precision, energy and style. Basketball players do not think about their arm extension in relation to their shoulder. Dancers think about placement and take everything to the next level! To dance is to move on a level far beyond athleticism. Yes, there is speed, power, balance, and endurance (all the things that define an athlete). But again, there is grace, beauty, form, emotion, and the power of communication (it is an art form). A dancer must be able to react more quickly with more balance and control (and be able to demonstrate explosive strength). A dancer must also be able to turn without throwing oneself into it and stop cleanly without losing balance. Dancers DO have the strength, endurance, muscularity, devotion, and skill of any sports player. They are considered “athletic artists” and not “artistic athletes”.
Athleticism has to be developed through training. In addition to sport athletes, dancers follow a rigorous training regime and must stay in peak condition. For the most part, dancers have extraordinary flexibility/joint mobility, muscular strength, and both dancers and sport athletes have physical and mental endurance. Many high school and college dance teams train and rehearse every day. They incorporate into their workout cross-training with cardio, weightlifting, Yoga/Pilates to improve their physical fitness and technique. While aesthetic goals are of the utmost importance, dancers remain subject to the same unyielding physical laws as sport athletes. Because most dance team workout regimens tend to concentrate on core conditioning and increasing flexibility, they overlook the need for strength and cardiovascular training exercises that are essential to preventing injury. During my tenure at Texas State University, twice a week the Strutters were required to workout at the Student Rec Center where they focused on core work and upper body strength, finishing with 30 minutes of an aerobic activity. Signature cards were distributed the first class of the month, and collected on the last class of the month (that included documentation of their time at the Rec Center). In addition, the Texas State University Strutters spent 9 days together in Training Camp before the start of football season/Fall semester. The team was engaged in a daily core, muscle-strengthening and flexibility training program along with cardio-respiratory activities. During Strutters Training Camp, the team worked out each day from 8:30 am. until 6:00 pm. with 1 ½ hours for lunch. Their activities also included various dance technique drills and combinations across the floor, skill development and routine instruction. Training Camp activities were tailored to suit the needs of Strutters, with the ultimate goal being improvement in muscular strength, flexibility, joint mobility, agility, balance, physical/mental endurance, and injury prevention.
Consistency helped Strutters maintain their bodies throughout slow periods (like summer). Alternating days with strength training and cardiovascular workouts or balancing both activities in one day helped the team maintain energy and muscle tone. During my time at Texas State, the goal for Strutters was developing core/muscular strength and remaining physically fit. This was the secret to their success as dancers and performers, and it is a legacy that I hope will continue.
By: Susan Angell-Gonzalez(President/CEO ShowMakers of America / Former Texas State University Strutters Director/Choreographer)
There are many different ways to perfect a routine. Most dance/drill team directors & choreographers have developed their own method. The following guidelines may be used to help in polishing and perfecting a routine:
You should always perfect as you teach. Be specific on each count so that each dancer knows what her/his body position should be. It is important to constantly remind the students of exact placement.
Do not assume that the dancer remembers technique and placement even if the step has been used before.
Start at the beginning of the routine and review each count. Isolate the counts for arms, hands, feet, legs, body placement, and head placement. Use freeze positions to aid in uniformity of body positions. Remember that each position has its own importance. Do not slide through movements by counting 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Each count has a position and should be isolated. Each count has a placement of its own.
Always teach and practice to counts before music. For variety in perfection one may choose to clap instead of count.
While practicing, it is helpful to breakup into small groups and assign select officers to perfect the routine. Prior to practice, it is very important to detail officers on each step and make sure they are consistent with their knowledge of the routine and confident to polish any section of the dance on their own.
Never neglect positions of the head. Train the team to focus and be aware of specific focus points.
If trouble spots in a routine prove to be awkward, change or simply get rid of the step. Precision and unity are more important than difficulty. Do not hesitate to make on-the-spot corrections.
Formation alignment is a critical part of your routine. Train your team to judge their spacing with one another as opposed to floor markings. Spend time rehearsing formation changes with counts and music. Improper spacing can be very distracting when watching a performance.
Music selection should not be too fast or appear rushed. It is impossible to perfect a routine that is constructed to fast music. All moves and high kicks should have enough time allotted for complete and precise execution as well as for proper technique. Tip: if music is too fast it is impossible to synchronize! Timing is imperative.
Synchronization is a major key in making your routine look polished. This is where most of your
efforts should be spent. Stamina is a must! The amount of times your team can repeat the routine from beginning to end (full-out and polished) is a major plus. Marking the routine is beneficial when learning the routine, but when you’re perfecting, the best results come from practicing full-out! This increases stamina and improves performance level. A quality routine is only achieved when dancers can stay at a high energy level until the last beat. Your team will feel confident about getting through the routine and can concentrate more on showmanship.
Train your eye to look at the group as a whole and not certain sections. After working in groups, rotate officers to double check one another. When an officer watches for too long she will tend to overlook mistakes and technique inconsistencies.
When group work is complete, bring the unit together. Practice the routine to music. The director
should point out mistakes to each individual and have the dancer correct within a day’s time.
Suggest extra practices outside of team time. Use mirrors as a learning tool. Have music available during lunch break or after school. Use old team members as private tutors.
Videotaping is also an effective way to perfect a routine. Videotape each squad and then the group as a whole. Give the dancers an opportunity to critique one another. Point out areas that need special attention and allow time to work on particular “trouble spots.” The team can watch themselves on television and look for problems with synchronization, formations, individual mistakes, etc. Using this method during practices is a great learning tool to show the transition points between steps and to give your dancers an objective and realistic perspective of their movement. During playback, slowly go over the arm and leg movements. In addition, videotape specific students executing the routine. During playback, watch it together in slow motion. The slow motion option provides dancers a great opportunity to pinpoint the transitions between movements and evaluate areas of improvement. Encourage your students to evaluate their own progress.
Consideration: There are app’s you can download on your phone or I-pad:
Coaches Eye by TechSmith Corporation https://appsto.re/us/63JiC.i and
Tempo SlowMo by Martian Storm Ltd. https://appsto.re/us/FLy3L.i
(great teaching tools recommended by many high school directors)
If you are preparing for a contest or special performance, bring in another director to critique your routines.
Watch perfected routines on a higher level and at a distance as to get the full effect of the dance.
Always remember that “practice makes perfect,” but make sure it’s an effective rehearsal. Quality
practice or rehearsal time is more important than the quantity of practice when you’re trying to perfect your routine/show!
Some synchronization, unison, and precision problems stem from factors that are correlated to performing the choreography up to tempo, in formations, and “full out.” Make certain that when you bridge the counts together that the dancers are executing the bridged counts exactly as they would be executed in a real performance. If need be, alter the speed of the music until a “happy medium” is found. It is imperative for dancers to perform to a comfortable tempo when executing high kicks and prop routines (just to name a few). Require your team to perform “full out” as much as possible in order to get used to tempo and to correct timing issues.
While it seems like a simple concept, body position makes all the difference when it comes to the success of a performance. Perfect body position gives the overall finished look to the performance. Bent wrists, floppy arms and poor leg position take away from the lines of the dance routine. Every motion for a precision routine is set, and each dancer must execute it correctly to give the group the look the choreographer is seeking. If just one performer is not careful with positioning, the entire look of the routine changes. Strength training(especially core exercise), helps dancers achieve excellent positioning.
This method should be used 100% of the time. Regardless of the style of dance your team performs, technique exercises incorporated into the warm-up at the beginning of each rehearsal is critical for several reasons:
It helps the dancers to transition into a state of being aware of their body placement and alignment. (A state of mind that most people are not in during the course of a normal day.)
It guarantees that your dancers will have an opportunity to focus solely on technique at every practice, not just on the choreography (and regardless of any performance deadlines).
Incorporating a well choreographed warm-up that is aligned with your team’s goals and choreography objectives into every practice is essential for the growth of your team.
Warm-ups serve a primary purpose of bringing your dancers together at the beginning of a practice to focus. It also provides a time for them to mentally transition from individuals in their daily life to a team ready for a productive practice. Giving them this time allows them to be “ready to go” when warm-up is over and it is time to rehearse and polish.
End result: This training assists in making polishing and perfecting an easier process. Your team will automatically respond to proper technique execution.
Part of making a formation change look clean and polished is for all dancers to arrive to the new formation on time, and before the next section of choreography starts (instead of “cheating” their way into the formation). In order to guarantee that dancers arrive on time, direct them to be in their formation one count early. For example, if the choreography allows counts 1-8 for a formation change, make sure all dancers arrive to their spot by count number 7. This leaves a count as “insurance” for all dancers to arrive on time. Transitions should appear effortless, natural, graceful and smooth. Alignment in formations is most important and should not be overlooked. Train performers to judge their distance off one another as opposed to floor markers, etc. Make sure your formations are centered and spaced the same so that dancers can learn to judge their distance. Always view formations and transitions from a higher level. capability, they are not often used to their full potential. ALWAYS train your dancers to “articulate” their feet and show expression through transitional movement.
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