One thing you can count on every season, you’re going to have to clean your routines. Whether your dance team is game day focused, preparing for a championship, or performing through videos this season, we all want our routines to be as clean as possible. I always admire the routines that are exceptionally polished, it makes the artistic message easier to understand, and it’s just plain impressive! But how do you clean if you have to stay in small groups? Let me introduce you to: station cleaning.
Station Cleaning Steps
Station cleaning isn’t new, and I’m certainly not the first to use it. I actually learned about it recently from a fellow coach who has been using it for years, pre-COVID, as a great method to clean a dance routine. And as a bonus, it provides opportunities for leadership on the team. This strategy works best once you have already done a few rounds of cleaning and are really in the “nitty-gritty” of it all. Try this when you have already identified the things you want your dancers to do, but they aren’t all there yet. It most effective when cleaning decisions have been made, but it’s not consistently executed yet.
Here are the steps to the station cleaning method:
1. Divide the routine into sections
You probably already have clear sections in the routine based on music changes, big formation transitions, or emotions and stories within the routine. But if you don’t already have sections, divide it in equal 4ths. I recommend 4 sections, but if you have 5 or 6 sections already broken out that you’re used to working with, stick with that.
2. Divide the team into the same number of equal groups.
Be strategic here. Make sure you have at least one leader per group and not necessarily a senior or captain. You want at least one person per group who is dancing with precision and looks the way you want it to look (or at least knows what everyone is striving for). Then choose other dancers based on what you hope they gain from this exercise. If there is a new girl who struggles with pom angles, put her in the group with the dancer who has the most consistent and precise angles. If a dancer lacks performance quality, put him with your best performer. Create strategic groups with one leader, and then make decisions based on what you feel will support the team with the goal you have in mind at the time.
3. Tell them what to focus on.
Put up big sticky notes or posters or something similar in 4 different sections of your practice space (or however many groups you have). On each poster, write the section based on music, or formation, or whatever your dancers need to know what part they are working on for that station. It could say, “the Britney song” or “from the diagonal line through to the lift.” You get the idea… then list underneath it the key things you want them to clean and focus on in that section. Maybe it’s a reminder of a change in choreography, or the feet on a certain section, or emotion in a transition. Maybe pom arms during one quick-paced section, or straight legs. These are the things you’ve already “cleaned” and know you want to see executed. You’ve already discussed these as a team, but it’s not happening consistently yet. It’s all the things you’ve said over and over again *wink wink*.
4. Each group goes to each station.
Once those posters are up around the room and you’ve explained them to make sure everyone understands what you’re after, send each group to a station. Then they get 10 minutes (or whatever you deem necessary and have time for) to clean that section in that small group. You can designate a leader who watches and also dances with them. That leader is tasked with cleaning that small group of dancers with the key elements of that section. You can also film each small group at the end if you want. (Sometimes we make it a competition and there is a “clean winner” for each station.) Then they rotate to the next station. That does mean some people will work the routine out of order, and that’s ok! Go until each small group has gone through each section of the routine.
5. Run it all together!
Come back together to run each section as a whole. I bet you’ll see the difference! Giving everyone small group attention has an obvious benefit. You’ll see things you can’t see in the big group, and they know they can’t hide! Plus, you are highlighting leaders, and you can switch up who gets to be a leader during different practices or with different routines to spread the responsibility and recognize different athletes.
This station cleaning method is a great way to take a mostly clean routine that isn’t quite consistent yet and really give it that last polish. It allows your leaders some autonomy, each dancer some time for feedback, and it’s simply a way to change it up when the cleaning monotony gets to be too much!!
Cleaning our routines is a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be just about the dance itself. You can use that time as an opportunity for other mental skills like focus, persistence, and confidence plus team dynamic challenges all rolled into one!