Kim Hille received her BA from Washington State University in Elementary Education and her MA from the University of Connecticut. She is currently an 8th grade ELA teacher at Bush Middle School where she has also coached the middle school dance team for the past 27 years. Kim has been the head dance coach of the Tumwater High School Dance Team for the past 24 years.
She was born and raised in the Tumwater area and was a member of the team in high school. Over the course of her 24 years, her varsity team has earned 32 State Championship titles, nine 2nd place and four 3rd place finishes in her 48 attempts. Tumwater competes nationally every other year, has made UDA finals seven times, and took the Kick National Championship in 2019 at Contest of Champions.
Kim was inducted into the WSDDCA Coaching Hall of Fame in 2016 and voted WSDDCA Coach of the Year in 2005, and the National Dance Coaches Association Dance Coach of the Year in 2020, which were all huge honors. Kim continually works to fine-tune her program—focusing on the athlete to develop strong characters, outstanding leaders, and a tenacity not often found in today’s youth. She prides herself in building relationships among team members and between herself and the athletes—a dance family. Kim hopes to leave a lasting impression on the athletes that graduate from her program.
Talk to me about your dance background and how you started coaching
My dance background as a child is really limited. I was happy to be in ballet when I was 5 but I had a fight with my mom about the recital and I refused to go so my mom said I couldn’t dance anymore. Later, I decided to tryout for our school dance team when I was a freshman. I went to Tumwater High School and I’ve stuck with it. I take it upon myself to keep learning and stay in the know, so I’m always learning and trying to keep ahead of the game. When I was on the team it was very drill oriented. We didn’t even warm-up, we stood at attention for 15 minutes and then started!
How did you transition to coaching?
When I was a junior in HS my sister was going into 7th grade and they had a middle school dance team and she came home and showed me the tryout routine and I said, “well something isn’t right here.” So I went to her auditions and ended up coaching that team. I coached that middle school team for my junior and senior year of high school and the first two years of junior college. It’s good that I did because it’s those kids who went through and kept the program going. We had a string of coaching changes at the high school level and it was those kids who kept it going.
Then I took 4 years off and started teaching. When I had my son and moved to a middle school I started coaching at that school. From there I had dancers go to the high school program which had become such a disaster they started asking me to do the high school team. I always wanted to, but I wanted to wait until my son was older than 3! But I took him with me and started coaching Tumwater.
I like what you said about always learning and growing because your program has continued to grow. It’s easy to get complacent and feel like you have a good team and you’ve figured it out, but you’re one of those rare people who has always kept trying to escalate and grow.
Thank you, but I’ve also created a monster! I couldn’t be satisfied with a middle school and high school team, I also coached two rec teams for Tumwater Parks and Rec. So now I have a team that’s a more competitive middle school team and some elementary school babies.
Last night we hit phase 2 for COVID-19 and these kids didn’t get to participate in their state championship or to end their season so we did it last night in the Tumwater high school parking lot. They all got dressed up, sat 6’ apart and got to have their awards and end of season closure.
That’s really special for them and important to have that closure. I think the teams who didn’t get to compete at the end had such a challenging time. Those states who didn’t get high school championships and some college teams, it’s so hard to not be able to finish your competitive season. I’m so glad you got to add some closure and celebrate that season.
It was so fun, and I think it went even better than they thought. They were really excited to be together.
Do you feel like you are the same coach with all the different levels of dancers?
Well actually some of my high school dancers are the ones that teach. I have one who works with elementary, one who does the middle school team. I’m there of course and helping to smooth the edges and doing all the logistics and administrative stuff but I’m trying to build them as leaders. They have their responsibilities with the younger kids and learn how to lead.
What a great system and opportunity for them.
Talk to me about your team culture, how you motivate your dancers and instill that fight for growth.
It’s hard to nail it down, it’s evolved over 25 years. The older kids are the ones teaching the newer kids what the expectations are. We go over expectations contracts about how we behave, what you do when you compete. We talk about all those things before it happens and if there is any redirection, we talk about that when we do film review at the end of an event.
So, you’re talking about behavior stuff during film review not just dance.
Yes, it’s both. If you’re supposed to be in uniform for the day because we’re performing the expectation is, you do it. They are always tracking each other. It’s tradition and they just know. If you forget or don’t do it, they will remind each other (and me) and that we forgot something.
How do you handle it when they don’t dress out when they are supposed to? Is it a culture that the older kids tell them and then it’s fixed?
A lot of times that is enough, and if not it’s a conversation with me. And I don’t get angry very much so it’s the worst kind of conversation. It’s simple but that’s enough. I’ve been lucky.
Well, yes but I think its simplicity helps them and you. There’s not this extensive system of demerits and consequences and you’ve done the work to establish the culture where they other dancers will remind the team.
I’ve done a demerit system, what a joke. It lasts about two months and it’s so much work. And it’s a punishment driven value system which isn’t the point. But there has to be some consequence and if that is a difficult conversation and that works then that’s great.
What about team bonding for your team? How do you help them connect during your season?
They have a sister or a brother, so they are always connected with a person for reminders and they have that go-to person. I’ve also divided the team into battalions, so we do some contests things and they enjoy those. I’m so thankful this year, because in the past I’ve had mostly lions on the team (strong personalities). Usually a few but not 9 of them. So needless to say I was very happy when they graduated. But my team was lost for a while this year, everyone who told them what to do is gone! It took us until January to reorient, but they are such a great group of friends now. I need a couple lions in there but too many and it goes awry.
Do you have an overt conversation with them about personality differences?
Yes I do a survey, I think it’s an old UDA thing but we always do that to start our season and it’s really interesting to see the girls that change and they are interested in why they change. It’s always been there you just see it differently and through a more mature lens. It’s helpful for me so I can see what I might need to adjust.
Talk about a typical practice, how do you run things?
We always start with a pretty thorough warm-up and across the floors to work on any skills that we have in the routines. Then we set goals. The officers for each group put up their goals and we divide the practice. My officers are very good at cleaning and they work with me closely. I video constantly and post it on Band. I love Band, and we break it down 8 count by 8 count to clean with video and that has been the biggest help, to have that immediate feedback.
Your officers set up the goals of what you want to clean?
Yes. I have my own list, but I try not to voice it until they have said what they think is important. They talk and go through the list, and at the end we go through and highlight what we did.
That’s a great way to track progress and even if you don’t finish your goals at the end of the day you can see how much you got done.
Exactly, and last year my team was really talkative, and the goals list helped us verbalize how much timewasting was happening because we could see, in 2 hours this is all we did, we are talking too much and getting in our own way.
And they have journals too and we can sit down at the end of practice and make notes about what to be working on, expectations for video views and reminders. They hate writing it all down, when did that become a thing?!? Typing it in your phone doesn’t count!
Do you use the journals for anything else?
Definitely reflections and video reviews, they keep it all in one place. Sometimes they choose a partner to watch and then critique in the other person’s journal.
It’s a good balance of corrections and what to focus on and also your feelings and confidence. The first year my team was annoyed at writing it all down, but then when it was time for nationals one of my seniors thanked me. She pointed out how the first week we learned the routine she had pages of notes but now that we were leaving for nationals the list was only two things, and small reminders. It was a very clear visual of how far we had come with that routine and a big confidence boost.
How do you clean your routines, is it mostly video like you said?
That’s been the tool. You find things on the video and clean and clean, and video, and show, and clean.
I need to see the forest, before I can clean the tree. If I can’t throw it on the field in front of some little kids and see the forest, I can’t even start to pick it apart. I’m an all through cleaner.
It’s about layering it. We start big and then pick the worst thing and start cleaning that way. Some people start at the beginning. We pick the biggest fire first, clean that and then watch it again and clean the next fire, and then get to cleaning their thumbs if you ever get there. I can’t start with that level of detail.
Talk about how you handle technique training in your team, how do you work technique with your busy schedule.
I have several studio dancers but that fluctuates year to year. We go to studio as a team twice a week but starting soon they will be coming to us. We also do across the floor a lot and the studio girls are really good about giving feedback
And that’s really important that you have a culture where the girls can give each other feedback. Is that usually well-received?
It has to be, that’s part of what we do. We are trying to get everyone to the same place. We make do with what we have and work hard, always aspiring to be better.
You have an assistant coach and then officers. Will you talk a little about hierarchy and that relationship?
My assistant coach is a JV coach, and personally it’s hard for me with an assistant coach because we are on top of each other trying to do the same team so she is totally responsible for JV which is perfect because she has her thing and I have mine and we aren’t stepping on each other’s toes.
For officers, because we do 4 genres of dance and I have 4 officers or 4 pairs who are in charge of one dance. They are the ones teaching and cleaning and everyone has their own thing, so they aren’t talking over each other. If choreography isn’t working, it’s up to them to communicate that and work on it with us. It’s a much more doable chunk for the kids to be in charge of 1 routine. They also share warm-up and technique with a rotating schedule on who is doing what.
How do you as a coach handle making big decisions, do you talk to officers or the team do you rely on your experience and make the call?
I talk to the officers and only within the last 5 years. Before that I made the decisions and then I figured out I needed to get them involved. It’s much less crap to put up with if they hate it and they had a hand in it. The officers have grown in their responsibility and their maturity. It is a lot more work, it’s not just a title. Opening up and giving them a voice has really changed a lot of our team cultural since they have a lot more buy-in. It’s also hard because you have to get their opinion and I’d much rather just make some decisions on my own.
True if it’s something you really need their buy-in for it pays off later to consider their opinion early on.
They need the leadership experience. If everything is taught by the coach ALL THE TIME you’re missing an opportunity to help these kids become the people they are capable of being.
How do you choose your officers? What does that process look like?
I just watch all the time, how they interact with their peers. They have to be a follower first. If they can’t do that they can’t lead because they don’t understand. Also, how they work with the small kids in huge. If they are prepared, if the routine is done and appropriate for the level of kids, the music choice, and how they talk and teach them. You can see the leadership happening. I let the kids vote but it really doesn’t mean much, ultimately, I have to work with them, so I make the choice. But we were pretty much always aligned anyway.
I love that you have so many great opportunities to see them in the role beforehand. Your officers do a lot of cleaning and teaching, and you get to see them do that and not just talk about it.
Yep all of it, I take all of it into consideration, grades, are you the one skipping the studio etc.
Share a big challenge you’ve had as a coach, any big lesson and how you overcame it.
You were there Chelsea, shortly after, and we talked about it, but there was the summer (2015) that I lost a dancer to suicide. It just takes one thing and it has derailed our program and it has taken a long time to rebuild. She was popular with lots of friends, it was hard to understand. I had dancers quitting constantly because they couldn’t be around the team and reminded anymore. The people that should have been leaders left (understandably) because it was too much for them, so it has been really hard to recover.
How has it changed your program or you as a coach?
It’s changed the program in that I had a lot of dancers in the program, 32 dancers easily, but it’s dropped. But also, kids in general just don’t want to work that hard and school is way harder than I think it should be. I mean I am working harder as a coach on the mental health side of being a teenager than I ever had and that’s a huge challenge.
True it’s a lot more emotional work than we are prepared for. As a coach we are so personally connected to them so it’s hard to play that therapist role because a true therapist has relationship boundaries for a reason. The coach can’t be both and we have to take care of our team but help them find other resources if things like this happen because we aren’t trained for it and shouldn’t handle this level of emotional trauma ourselves. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.
Any advice you’d give new coaches?
Stick it out! It takes 7 years to build a program. To get parents to buy in, to see where you’re going and develop a reputation in your school. Second year is the worst, or it was for me! You think you’re confident and then you get slammed. You can’t give up. If you’re going into it, stay committed. I know that commitment is hard. Coaching is a life. You have to figure out what you’re doing and that takes time. I started off doing exactly what I was taught on the team and then I hired a choreographer who really pushed me and was instrumental in helping me find a better way to go but you have to be willing to do that.
It’s so hard, especially as a new coach, to know that you want an outside opinion and invite that in.
I wanted them to be competitive and I knew I needed other resources. Don’t be afraid to find outside resources and ask for help!