Love it or hate it, dance coaches spend HOURS every season cleaning routines for their dance team. Whether it’s just a surface cleaning for a quick tailgate routine or an in-depth down-to-the-pinkie-finger-placement cleaning of a competition routine, we have to spend a lot of time making sure our dance team is in unison on the floor.
It’s a Love-Hate Relationship
I personally have a love-hate relationship with cleaning my dance team. Sometimes I love it. I’m detail-oriented and I can get VERY picky. When the team is motivated to stay focused and attack a section, I love watching the progress and seeing the dance team come together.
Of course, there are times I’d rather have a root canal without medication. Cleaning takes a lot of focus, mental energy, physical energy, and persistence. So while there are lots of great ways to clean a routine, I certainly have my favorite!
My #1 Way To Clean A Routine
It’s always important to change things up a bit, so I use lots of different strategies, but here’s one unique tool I use to clean a dance routine:
Take a section of the routine, something small, maybe 2 to 4 8-counts that the team is struggling with or that you just changed and are trying to override muscle memory. Here’s the challenge: we are not going to move on in practice until we hit this section without mistakes three times in a row.
Have the dancers perform the section full out, if there is a mistake I simply say “Nope, try again.” If it looks acceptable to the level of cleanliness I want (that depends on where we are in the season) I say, “That’s 1!” and then try again. If they get hit it again, “That’s 2!” And on again until they get 3 in a row. If they get 2 in a row and then make a mistake the third time, we are back to 1 again. It has to be three in a row. It’s about muscle memory, consistency, and perseverance.
3 is Key
My philosophy is that if you can hit it three times in a row it’s not a fluke. You’ve been able to create new muscle memory and are more likely to do it right in the future. (This has the added bonus of instilling confidence. Check out my other 6 strategies for building confidence here).
We continue on the same pattern until they hit the section 3 in a row without a mistake. Sometimes this takes 10 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes. And sometimes we have to pause and come back to it at the next practice. But if you’ve chosen a section that is already close to what you want and it just needs that little extra something perfect, this drill works wonders!
Mental Skills Training & Cleaning All In One!
This exercise is my favorite because it has so many added benefits and mental skills training that takes place at the same time. It allows you to work on your team culture by teaching dancers to encourage their fellow athletes. It teaches persistence when reaching a difficult goal, and ultimately it allows the dancers to feel the success of achieving a team goal which improves confidence.
This is a great exercise because it’s challenging and the athletes are aware of the clear purpose: to clean the routine and work towards our competition goals.
The best bonus of all?!? This exercise is a great strategy to help you create a positive motivational climate and increase self-motivation within your dancers.
One Small Catch
Here’s the caveat to this: it only works if you think you already have a supportive group of athletes. If you think they will start to get upset with the ones who are making a mistake, this exercise is not a good place to start. If you think they will encourage each other when mistakes happen, then go for it. A lot of this comes from the leadership. If you have seniors and/or captains who can model the positivity you want, it works well. Make sure you pick a section that you think is possible to achieve perfectly 3 times in a row. Ultimately you want to set them up for success!
If you try this and you notice a negative feeling in the room, they are getting frustrated with each other, the attempts are getting worse and worse, stop! Send them to get water and then sit and debrief. Why was this so challenging? What was getting frustrating? This can be an important learning tool in the moment to talk about a positive motivational climate. What matters most to us? Is it about doing it right and that’s it? Then you’re probably getting mad at each other. Is it about helping everyone on the team improve so that the team looks it’s best? Then we should be encouraging and supporting each other through these challenges.
I use this strategy multiple times throughout the season, working on different sections of the routine. It provides a great challenge the team can rally around. The drill allows them to feel a sense of success and achievement. It improves confidence in both the individual dancer and the whole team. And of course, it cleans the routine!