Tell me about your dance background. How did you start coaching?
I grew up dancing in the studio with a high school dance company then started at Utah Valley University. I did their team for 4 years and the next year I helped the current coach. 2 years later I became the assistant coach. I did that for 1 year and then the next year the coordinator quit and everything was reorganized so I was promoted to the dance coach position. The coordinator did the administrative work and I was the dance coach for 6 years. My last year on the dance team, I also started coaching high school. I coached for 5 years at Spanish Fork. I did their song leading team, they competed at USA and I loved that. Song is not huge in Utah, but drill team is where it’s at. So I also established a song team at another school before the UVU position was available.
My first year on the team was the first year UVU was established in 2008 so I got to see all the growth and it was really cool to see. I graduated in 2013 with an English degree. After that, I became a certified diamontologist so I love working with jewelry and I’m super fascinated with all of that. I was also the west coast rep for a studio competition. I was a contractor for Dance Team Union for a while… basically I’ve networked a lot and been able to be part of so many wonderful opportunities that are not just on a dance team.
Agreed, I’ve seen that a lot lately too. It’s amazing how many opportunities there are to contribute in our dance world that isn’t strictly on a team.
Talk to me about the team culture, especially how you motivate your dancers on team like yours that is so talented.
I was very blessed to have a lot of talent coming in. The very first orientation we have as a team we address this very issue. It has to be addressed. The first thing is we ask everyone not to raise your hands but consider: where you the best dancer on your team? I bet every one of you would raise your hand. Now you’re on a team of people who were the best. That’s who we are at UVU.
The core of our team is we succeed as one. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the sideline, the back corner, the front center. The more supportive you can be of your team, that’s when you find success. It’s success as one.
For this conversation, I would talk to them all together and then we would split up rookies and vets. I would talk to vets and say listen, every vet class is different, but seniority usually starts to creep in and we will see that sense of entitlement. So we have to address it head-on. We handle it by finding a way for each dancer to be the star of the program at one point or another.
My goal as a coach was to offer things that every other team could offer plus one more.
So for recruitment, we could offer a wide range of opportunities. Because we are so geographically close to BYU, most of the public here are devoted BYU fans. Or 40 min north is the University of Utah and they have their diehard fans and we are just this neutral college right in the middle.
As far as people attending our athletic events, it’s not so much of a thing, so we have to address that issue in recruiting. Those performances are not something you’re going to be super excited about but we have incredible opportunities that aren’t just gameday. There is a dance concert that is mostly student choreographed. And we have been involved with campus marketing and broadcasting departments, so they started doing dances on film, creating music videos. Then there’s the competition side of course. We promised every person, they would have their moment. Just because it was someone else’s opportunity doesn’t mean it’s not the time for you. So having those opportunities and vets helps.
We start the year mostly seniority with media timeouts and halftime because it doesn’t matter how talented you are, coming from high school is completely different than college. So it’s a way for the high school students to come and be in the back and understand the new nerves and pressures and how to perform as an adult. So we always explain that we have a seniority process for gameday. Then for the competition routines, I always promised everyone will be in at least one routine. So, you have that promise but it’s up to you to save that spot. If you are outdanced, that’s on you. That helped morale and culture a lot. That promise made a big difference. The dancers would have that confidence instilled in them from us. You made this team because you’re good enough. This is where your talents can shine.
I like that you still have to keep your spot in the routine and constantly earn it. If you do your part, you’ll be on the floor.
Right, it’s a little bit of fear and they have to keep fighting.
We’ve been so blessed the last two years at UDA to be able to accomplish the things that we did. It can only come from the team and their hearts. It can’t come from the coach. If they don’t want to put the work in, it won’t happen.
Do you have specific team bonding events or certain traditions that you have always done?
I have my list of motivation videos I always show. Each girl has a quote and I split up the weeks with each dancer being in charge of a warmup for that week. Then they can warm up differently and each girl gets a chance to shine. I’m also a firm believer that the teacher works the hardest. So they really push themselves. It helps them be understanding of the captains and teaches them that stressful “you’re in charge moment.”
We do a teams-giving and we show our concert video to the rookies. It’s before they audition a piece so they get to see what routines we’re looking for. They have lots of little traditions… we host a drill competition that is our greatest fundraiser of the year and they have about 30 minutes right before it starts and they go in the back with a ball of yarn. One girl starts it and says her favorite thing about another girl and throws it to her who says something about another girl and throws it, and so on, creating this spider web. We do team parties for holidays, we tie blankets for the children’s hospital.
I actually took one of these from Minnesota and made it our own: The last practice of 2019 I got a huge paper and I had them write down their fears and all their doubts for competition. Then once all of them were out, I had them rip it up. Then we had another piece of paper and I said if all of that was gone, how would you feel? We took it down to Florida with us and had it in the room with us all weekend. Literally tearing it up was such a simple act but it really impacted them.
I get that, when I talk to people about strategies for confidence or what have you they usually want some trick or magic pill and the things I tell them to do feel too simple, or like they won’t make a big difference. But I always encourage them to just try it, it works! It doesn’t have to be big and elaborate it’s about the emotions.
Yes! One of my favorite traditions has to do with diamonds. Since I’m a diamontologist I had access to real diamond dust, which is really expensive and it’s actually green. So every year I would bring it down to nationals and I have all of my favorite diamond quotes like “only a diamond can scratch a diamond.” So I would explain and tell them about diamonds how they are so strong but they are beautiful and then we put clear nail polish on our left pinkie because it’s closest to your heart, and then dip it in the green diamond dust. Then they would go out on the floor with the strength of a diamond. That’s my favorite we’ve ever done.
That’s wonderful, and something unique to you as a coach. It’s special to you and who you are so I bet it means a lot to your team.
Give us a look at how you run your program. Talk about a typical practice, how do you structure your weeks and days?
I try to schedule by the week. I have a rough schedule of when I want things done, but I’ve found if you try to plan too much you lose sight of what’s important at that moment and there’s so much that changes. Injuries, alternates, restaging -that’s my biggest pet peeve. I try to plan the week, and since we are under student life, not athletics, the administration really encourages us to teach them to be better leaders. So I relied heavily on captains, and there were some practices I was just there to be there. I didn’t need to know exactly how the arms are supposed to be because by the time I got up to speed and figured it out the girls would have it done.
We start practice with a circle up, make sure everyone is on the same page. I also have a strict rule about not talking during warmup. I feel like you talk before practice, come back in, and then it’s time to focus. When they take that warmup time to focus and listen to their bodies we get so much more done in practice.
When we’re not in competition season we did technique across the floor, then it’s mostly lead by captains. I would set formations since that’s always awkward for captains and it helps keep the culture for me to take the role of the bad guy with formations. For games, they just did games when we could. Since there is no football we would do Men’s and Women’s basketball, Men’s and Women’s soccer, volleyball, and if we had time wrestling or baseball. Everybody wanted to have the dance team there which is nice, we had a lot of support from the university but there is only so much time. But we get a lot of performance opportunities which is amazing.
How do you clean your routines?
I rely heavily on film. We film everything and we have a TV in the dance room. I always told them that if you could do it better, do it now because if you hold back when I’m cleaning another section it distracts me from being able to say this whole thing looks clean. So everyone gives 100% every time. We do that, film, go and watch. It’s the best for them to see rather than me say it didn’t look good. And we can all dissect it, and they can see it for themselves and notice when they felt like it was right but looking at it it’s not the same. And we had lots of filmers, all of the alternates would film from different angles.
Talk about captains, what is your relationship with your leaders and their role in the program?
We change captains every year depending on different positions, how many vets, how many seniors etc. We allow 5th years as well, but we had to learn how to incorporate them. It was rare, but we had to work through that. We had a president who acted as an assistant coach. I would go to her, and if we differed, we would go to the next girl. This year there were two captains and when we got into competition season one was in charge of jazz and one in charge of pom. So every question we had regarding the style of movement, we would rely on that captain. You are in charge, if you have an idea I want to hear it, you’re in charge of cleaning. If something isn’t working and it’s not cleaning you’re in charge of telling me and we can talk about it.
They were the ones I would go to when we had been pushing for a skill or trick and once they made the decision that it’s not going to work I defer to them. This was the first year we had a co-captain, both of the other two were second years so we started the co-captain so they were the next go-to for each routine. They also had some choreography for media time outs or halftime. Because we are under student life it was really important to examine the needs of the team every year and rely heavily on those captains.
Talk about working with a choreographer at Utah Valley
If you are a choreographer for our program, you are like a coach for our program. Every decision we made we cleared through them. If I didn’t agree we would talk about it, but they are a part of every journey. They see a lot of film and they could see the progression of the routine. That was really helpful because then they have seen all the ideas we’ve tried they’ve seen the progression of skills and I usually took their recommendations about alternates because they are unbiased.
As a choreographer you become part of the family. The communication aspect was the most important part to me. When they choose to work with a team they are choosing to work with that coach, there has to be that mutual respect for each other. There is a lot at stake, and there’s a lot of trust and vulnerability so communication is really important.
What has been your biggest challenge as a coach and what did you learn from it?
Maintaining a good relationship with each girl has been hard because you can’t please everyone but you want to. You have to find that line of coach and friend… decide how much you interact with them in and out of practice. Each of them are coming to you with a personal goal and are you doing everything you can to help them reach that goal. And that’s a lot of responsibility and pressure. All of these people are putting their trust in you and so with that I came up with our theme. First-class first place.
It’s got nothing to do with winning. I had a girl one time in practice say, “would we have left today in first place? Is someone out there outworking us?” You leave every time knowing you couldn’t have given any more. The First-class part came from the movie We are Marshall, the idea that they are first-class people before dancers. That’s the legacy I want them to leave with, I’m a better person. We want to be the best team and the nicest team, don’t ever hold back a compliment or wishing a team good luck. That was my biggest thing, am I doing everything I can I help them be their best. My team started embodying it more than I could imagine, it became more than words to them. It became so much of our everyday conversation.
That speaks so highly of you and your character too, because that’s what matters. People will say they care about the person more than the dancer, but it may not always show in their actions.
Any other big piece of advice you would give new coaches?
First year is the hardest. Start with mutual respect. Give every person a chance. Everyone gets accused of favoritism but find the dancer who would never think they are the favorite and give them a little attention. Have faith in every person in the team, give them a chance to shine, and believe in them and they will give you more than you could ever ask for. Take time, make sure every person knows you believe in them. Make sure the relationships are genuine. That first year is always so hard, you’re establishing yourself but it’s all about respect and genuine connection. Give everyone a chance and don’t just love on the ones who are talented.