Back Stage

Procrastinator

Preparing for back stage is 1/2 the battle in preparing for competitions.  “Where are the pins?  Oh my gosh – hairspray – I know I packed it.   Shoes – I have two left feet!”  What a nightmare.  If your organization skills for competition sound like the above comments, you probably are a procrastinator.   I hate to admit it, but I’m a procrastinator too.  I’ll pack the day before the event, and/or scramble the day of – to get everything into the car.   I didn’t relieve how much of the organization went into getting ready for competition until I got out on my own.  I think there is a progression that parents go through in working with their dancers.  They come in as newbies, and gradually progress to diva managers.   If you fall into the procrastinator category above, you are far from alone.  Even the best diva mangers fail sometimes.

I’ll pack the day before the event, and/or scramble the day of – to get everything into the car.

Gofer

At competitions, many times we have found our dressing room, half way across the school, or auditorium.   Parents who are often caught in the middle, somewhere near the stands,  are  clueless where to put  the bags.  There aren’t any signs in front of the buildings that point to where you need to go.  You need gofers, or scouts, to be in the facility before your team starts to arrive,  just to locate all the doors, corridors and stair ways.  They can then wait at the gates for when your team arrives, and help them to get to their dressing and staging areas.

Parents are fine to use as gofers, but a couple older teens who don’t have youngest to prepare for the stage, will work just as well.   You have to understand that your director and many of your instructors may not be there right when you get there.   It could be the roads are jammed packed, or  maybe it is because they are at the director meetings getting the 911 on the competition proceedings.

Make sure your gofer or scouts are trustworthy and that their cell phones are on for you to contact them.  They shouldn’t be text queens chatting with their friends and neglecting their duties.

Assistant Instructors

If you have to be in a meeting before completion, make sure you have an assistant teacher to  help warm up your students, and to check their costumes.  It’s okay to delegate to your assistants who have worked with you and your team.  Uninformed people in the dressing rooms are a studio nightmare.  They will, and can, give out a lot of false information.  Maybe not knowingly, but “false information” none-the-less.  Tempers can flare at the drop of a hat back stage.

I always find that the student is generally calmer than the parent, 9 times out of 10.  Parents, your kids need the input from their instructor’s right before going on stage.  The instructor knows the dance the best, they understand the choreography, and their students trust them.  You should too.  Don’t be in the dressing rooms in front of your dancers talking drama right before a competition.  Don’t attempt to make changes for an instructor, which includes costume changes.  You can discuss changes afterwards, for the next event.   That is acceptable to do – 100%.   What is not acceptable is disrupting an already nervous team with changes that you have no authority to do.  Afterwards, also allows your instructors / director the opportunity to state why something is the way it is.  If you constantly are disruptive at competitions,  or whining about  everything  – especially in the dressing rooms –  know that it stresses everyone out.  We call these types of whiners the “dressing room trolls”.

Warm Ups

The little bitty kids may need a parent or two around if Instructors don’t have assistants.  The little ones need to be watched carefully, and a system developed to help them get from point A, to point B, in as quickly and easy a manner as possible.

Your little ones might not understand why they have to bunch their lines together to practice.  Talk to them about warm up rooms before they get to competitions.

Have them hold hands when they enter the warm up room.  Once they are in there, make sure you get them to a huddle together as fast as you can.  Warm up rooms are puzzling to little bitty ones.  There are generally many other teams in the warm up rooms that take up a lot of spacing, and it can be noisy.  Your little ones might not understand why they have to bunch their lines together to practice.  Talk to them about warm up rooms before they get to competitions.

Older dancer, DO NOT need their parents in the room, unless that parent was asked to be there.  The most important thing is to stretch out!   Look over your lines, and nail those turns and combo sections.  Parents your dancers need to be looking at the instructor before going on.  Don’t become a “warm up troll”.   Find your seat and make sure that you can be heard when they perform.  Warm ups for older students should be a closed session.  There is already enough distraction in the room to keep them busy for a long time.   Some students don’t react well to other parents in the room either.  This is your curtain call “all parents to the stands”.

Music

Ahhhhh..  I can’t stress enough that you need to have at least 4 copies of all your music.  “Why?”  One, to give to your assistant, just  in case you don’t make it.  Two are for  your travel bag (a warm up CD and a performance CD for check in).  The fourth one you should  give to your top gofer.

Don’t let your students over run your common sense when it comes to music either.  It’s not a team decision – it’s more a, what is appropriate decision.    Just because a song is popular doesn’t mean it is the right song for your team or solo performer.    Truthfully, if the song is too popular you may be in for a shock when you get to competition.   There are lists out there, of the most overly used songs on the internet.  Check out the lists at www.DanceNet.com.    Not all songs have that over use feel,  but it doesn’t hurt  to be careful on your selections.

Awards

I was fortunate enough to work behind the screens during  a lot of  award ceremonies.  We set up everything for awards, including all the trophies, we did lane running, transporting score sheets to the tally rooms,  sweeping floors for acts, to crowning the dance champions.   During my time at the University of Utah on the Crimson Line Dance Team, we were sponsors for the Utah Drill Championships.  You work! You dance! You work some more! Did I say you will work?  You will!

If you are a returning dance champion and are asked to help with awards, be sure you understand that it could be very late before you are allowed to go home.  It isn’t uncommon for awards to end at midnight, or 3 pm, or 5 pm, etc.   Timing for awards isn’t an exact science either.    Just because they say awards at 7:00 p.m., that doesn’t mean they won’t start awards earlier or later.   If all the scores are tallied, and the competition staff is ready, they may go ahead and start the awards ceremony, to get people home earlier.  It is fair when you consider that you might not get out until 10 or 12 p.m.

It is nice to get away from competition to go somewhere to eat, but you need to make sure you are in contact with your instructor/director in case the event planners call an early awards ceremony.   Don’t drive 30 miles away for food either.

You should have your team on site early for awards, and they should sit together either in the stands ,  on stage, or on the  gym floor.  I understand that little girls get tired, and that a late awards ceremony is often hard on them.   But this is what you have spent your hard earned dollars on.  All the sweat and tears are for that moment.  Your team needs you there.  You are a team all the way from the first dance on the floor, to the awards ceremony.   It’s not just your vacation, it’s everyone’s, so please be considerate.

The day after

It is important to have that time with your dancer, and to help him, or her, to let down after an event.  Let the activities of the events wash over.  Win or lose, everyone needs down time to recoup, relax, and just breath.  Hopefully you have something planned that is fun for your dancer and family members who also attend the competitions.  A motel with a pool is a great way for the family to let down.  Those who have to travel all day and night may not have that luxury – but hopefully you will plan down time once you arrive home.  Spend time with your dancer doing things that aren’t dance related, even if it is just a movie and popcorn.

Even dancers who win can have a low period after a competition.   They have been working at a high pace with their performance and now all of a sudden its stopped.  That is similar to hitting a wall.  I’ve seen solo winners not return to competition because they didn’t adjust to the let down time well.  They weren’t able to come back up to the level of performance that helped them win.

Even dancers who win can have a low period after a competition.

Losing doesn’t have to be bad either.  The best perspective is one that helps a dancer learn to compete against themselves.  What others are doing really isn’t of concern,  as much as knowing that they have made progress in their own studies.    So winning isn’t everything – sometimes it is the end for some dancers.  It’s high stress, I understand.

Well rounded dancers need other outlets to focus on.  If all they do is focus on dance, day- in and day-out,  they might not be maturing emotionally and socially as they need to be.  They can carry those negative traits into adulthood.   Take the time to recoup, you are worth it!

As kids get older and adjust to different stresses, they will pick the activities that they desire to be in.   Having 2 or 3 activities outside of dance is normal.  Play ball, piano, swim, run – whatever.  Enjoy your time in the spotlight “Be a Star!”

 

Competition Season

Different organizations have different time lines for their regional and national competitions.   We always ended our national competitions in Las Vegas.  Every summer we were in Vegas for nationals! I know that downtown better than most competition coordinators!  I’ve seen it from a kids eye!

Many things happen throughout the dance season, but some things you can always count on.

1. make over’s and fall photo shoots – the glamour shots.  Some days we were there  10 to 12 hours.  We were little kids.  Someone had the patience of a saint! We were snots, but we had our momma’s to reel us in.
2. Christmas recitals, and costume horror stories. Candy stuck to everything.
3. Game day performances.
4. Camps.
5. Endless fundraisers.
6. Dance challenge ran all year long (students work individually on technique).
7. Dress rehearsals.
8. Keeping the motel pools open “way too long”.
9. Shopping in every little poe dunk town along the way to competition, and more when we got into the city. Being the first to get that new “thing”.
10. Spending 1000’s of dollars a year to go to Las Vegas for nationals!  That was our family vacation, twelve years in a row.
11. the adrenaline rush that comes from performing.
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I recently stopped in to talk to my mom, and she had up on her 32′ screen  the JUMP competitions  that were being streamed online.   She liked this dance, I liked that one – so the judging war was on!   It was really great to watch this online competition.  It was so cute.   We must of both had a bad case of competition  withdrawals after we watched it.  There was something missing…there aren’t any malls here in poe dunk.

You kind of miss the “WHOLE thing” that goes with traveling to competitions.  We did find a pool and a hot tub, that helped some.  But, I really miss the adrenaline rush – for myself.

Competition season is a nine month season for most.  For me, it was generally year round.  I did most of my personal training and choreography in the summer months.   I loved it!  It was exciting to travel and train with an American gymnastic team and get my butt kicked in a ballet academy.  Those were, in my young eyes, way back then, “boot camp”.   I was proud of those blisters on both my hands and feet.

Competition is good for kids, teens, and young adults.  It gives them a chance to learn on a different level what success and failure really means on a personal level.  Here dancers can always come back and do it again, maybe win next time. 🙂  It is a growth thing.

You learn to read those scores sheets too.  As much as you like the high marks, it’s the low and middle marks you need to be reading.  You take your lowest score and work on that.

There are times when you get a judge that is maybe not as qualified as they should be.  If that is the case you need someone that can really understand those score sheets – looking them over with you.

It makes me so angry when I see  score sheets and they say nothing.  Nothing to improve, very little is written if anything.  SAY SOMETHING! Tell me, you were seeing what I saw.  Help me confirm that what I\’m saying to my young students, is also what you would say. Pick up on those basic’s.  It takes so long to get students to a certain level, it really isn’t helpful if you don\’t judge them at all.  They need to know what category they fit in.  They can only build upward, but you have to tell them.   That is competition!

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You always have the last day to build upon at competitions.  Some times it turns out pretty good.   Sometimes you are left shaking your head.  I’ve even felt at times, that I was sitting with the wrong group of people.  No disrespect at all – I love everybody.  But there were just some odd moments at competitions.

Here is another thing. Have you ever wanted to reach out to some other dancer in one of the other award circles; who was crying and felt really bad?  I did one year.  Her name was Valerie.  I beat her in competition, and then she cried. It was third grade, my first national win. I had mixed feelings, and then some, after seeing her face.

My mom had just bought me a dancing teddy bear from the merchants there at competition. All these years my mom thought I lost that teddy.  “Mom, I left it with Valarie”.

For years to come I would see Valarie again at competitions.  We became good friends.  I even talked with her mom, and sat with her in the stands. She went on to win her own competitions – it was all good.

What you learn at competitions isn’t about “YOU” always winning.  Sometimes it’s about meeting a friend, and being one. Sometimes it’s about “US”.

Some of you are winding down the competition season,  while others are just gearing up.  JUMP is all over the country, as is Show Stoppers and Hall of Fame.   I love them all.   STARS Nationals is coming up also. There are a bunch out there to pick from.  Other  favorite categories, clinics and camps  I’ve been watching  are:  Coastal Dance Rage, a Blake McGrath production, his looks really good – some big names (may be coming to the mid-west next year!)!!!  Dennis Caspary’s is a really good one too.  Love Dennis’s.  Had way too much fun this year at his.

I should mention The Pulse, NYCDA, and Star Quest too.  I know I missed a ton of comps and camps.   There are so many good ones.

Drill and Cheer camps are coming up soon.  USA Summer Camps

Here is the dance/drill link: DANCE

Here is the cheer link:  CHEER

If you get a chance to do the college/pro camp in your future DO IT! It’s a great time!

As you get older, I don’t want any of you to think it’s over.  It’s never over.  You are an alumni.  You are sitting with the right group. It’s just that now you are the teacher, and with that position comes a lot of responsibility.

Here are a few teacher rules:

1. You can’t keep the pool open until 1:00 a.m.
2. Yes, they can ask the team not to return to the hotel
3. Since her shoe is missing, have a back up pair for the ENTIRE team!
4. Don’t throw away those old solo costumes or choreography
5. Sixty’s music is music and works good for novelties. Ahhh, check your props….!
6. You can’t chew gum if they can’t
7. You can’t swear, drink,  or talk about ANYONE EVER AGAIN!
8. If you put so-and-so up front some one  is bound to pitch a fit.  Deal with it.  It won\’t go away until you do…
9. Being thrown up on at competition is a right of passage. New and old dancers will let it spew at the most inconvenient times possible.
10. You must now share the pool and hot tub.   Yeah, you are with the right group.
11. You will have to put up with people who really don’t know anything about dance.
12. Administrators make mistakes – and have to learn too.
13. Camps are over way too soon.
14. Gum isn’t a snack or team treat.
15. When the phone rings – it’s probably not for you anymore. Kids!
16. Competition is what you live for, train for, and do.
17. Mom’s and dad’s rock!
18. Friends come in different packages and sometimes on the other team.
19. Score sheets aren’t always understandable.
20. You are important to the team!

Love, hugs and kisses people.

Cricket

PS:  Aspen, I’m so proud of you!

Coddling kids from competition

By JB Radcliff

July 2, 2010

n726108421_1805622_7478655Coddling kids from competition is the opposite of stage parenting. Coddling is appropriate for your toddlers and infants, but as students age and are dancing before live audiences, parents and directors tend to lean one way or the other with their protectionism. It’s a wide scale between coddling and being a stage parent, and somewhere in the middle is the preferred zone:

Coddling<—————————–>Stage Parent

This article is not about the issues of safety as much as it is the issue of over protectiveness to the point where the student is afraid to perform at their peak level. I’ve seen both sides, stage and coddlers.  With coddlers I’ve noticed some very unique characterizations.

Understand that most are NOT this way, but you have a few that just smoother their child and/or an entire studio. Here is a list of some of the more extreme things you might encounter:

1. Withholding their child from team photos or videos
2. Demanding other parents remove images or videos from reputable dance websites, bulletin boards, or news paper submissions (parades, recitals, championships, trophy award ceremonies, etc)
3. Demanding costume changes
4. Demanding music changes
5. Denying a child the ability to compete in solo’s because it isn’t beneficial for the child to have to be challenged in that way.
6. Pulling child from a performance when they feel other children are at an advantage in positioning
7. Pulling child from team competition when they feel other children (team) will win, and they don’t want their child to suffer loss.
8. Unwillingness to work with other team parents – complains constantly and then wants to remain anonymous.
9. Scheduling a family vacation during recitals or competition as a means of avoidance
10. Alienation or attack attempts toward well known professionals in the dance community

I understand that these are extreme, and you could probably come up with a host of reasons why some of them  might be warranted in certain situations. However, when you have adults who are constantly dictating the morality of a child or a team, let alone an organization – pretty soon people will lose faith in the direction you may be going. You have to show that leadership is real.

Parents who are new to competition are on average coddlers. New directors too! I understand the apprehension, and the need to withhold. Everything is new, and you just do not have the experience necessary to deal with the spotlight yet. Doesn’t mean it can’t be gained.

I’ve seen it year-after-year; the first year mom and pop studios who come to competition with the idea that they have it all under control, only to find that they really don’t. They probably have an untrained staff as well, who have very little, if any competition experience. They stick out like a sore thumb.  In these instances, there is a lot of wavering in the stands amongst parents and students. It’s almost instantaneous in everyone’s mind –  you failed to train them properly and you led them there. The burden is on your shoulders. If you think you know it all, and you refuse to listen to professional advice, then all anyone can say is  “welcome to competition”.

It’s rare to see first year studios on top unless incoming leadership already has a competition background, and they know what to expect, and how to train their students. The real winners have their photos in the news paper, on the web, and posted on bulletin boards – with the winning  trophies beside them.

Mom and pop’s have a lot to learn. The first lesson is, hire people who actually know competition, have studied the genre of dance you will be performing, and have a background in the “winning circle”. Learn from them instead of waving them off with a swish of your hand.

Let me use an example: When football teams search for new recruits, they are looking at the quarterback’s not the waterboy.

STOP coddling your team! Grow up your studio or school team,  by making better choices. Allow those people who know how to teach – to teach. Get out of their way, and respect what they have gone through to get there.

Here is an ideology to  live with “I don’t need your permission to be successful”. Coddlers do.

 

 

Solo Instructors

 

By the time my daughter was in 7th grade she began teaching small teams and soloists. High school brought a lot of travel her way, with clinics, camps, and out of area events. With a closet, totes, and trophy case now overflowing with trophies, crowns, plaques, ribbons, bling and whistles – I have to admit it was worth it.

When my daughter was growing up I spent upward to $30 an hour for a coach to teach her a routine that she would use at both regional’s and nationals. I also paid lump sums of $200 – $300 for so many practices and choreography. It really depended on the caliber of the instructor. If the instructor was well titled, I paid more.

I picked the best of the best. That made all the difference in the world. I picked from those that knew and understood dance technique, stage performance, etc. Those are the ones I hired. Anyone can teach, but it takes someone with experience to teach well. For that matter, anyone can open a dance studio – doesn’t take a whole hill of beans to do that either. To be successful however, you have to have business savvy. Ethics helps too.

“No experience necessary”. I told that to someone who I knew was not a very technical dancer with very limited experience a while back. This individual wanted to study dance as their major. There desire to study dance however, did not filter down to “I know what I’m doing”.  Having taken on the role of instructor, I am hoping that now they understand that a two year degree in dance means very little in the competition world.  Word to the wise “Don’t quit your day job”.

My own kid donates a lot of time each year. I found it rather humorous when one of the little dancers from the studio where she taught told another mother that “they pay all the other teachers $5.00 an hour – but Cricket gets hundreds”. Well, humorous as it sounds, it “isn’t”  true. I wish it were hundreds all the time. Hundred’s huh? Hum…… Kids are cute…

When a solo coach hires out they can request whatever they want to charge. The parent or dancer can accept or refuse. That is different from what a studio may charge – it’s a set fee there. We have trained (cricket and I) nearly 30 soloists over a span of 7 or 8 years. At some point in time, girls have touched foot on the floor in my living room, the MARC gallery, the Stars studio, or fellowship hall. The money was used to travel to competitions, buy solo outfits for her own dances, and give her a little pocket change during trips. The rest of the competition money came from things like yard sales and baby sitting.

Now as an adult, she can free lance, and actually do what she wants! The number of students we helped out for free was also large. Truthfully, there are just families that don’t have the cash. We took some of them with us to competitions. Competitions used to be our vacation times – but we took other people’s children with us. It is hard to say no to them. You bond with them.

In Vegas we would often find that we became the built in team baby sitters. One year I had 13 girls in the room. What was I thinking? I wasn’t. I was just giving them a safe place to be, late at night, while their parents were out on the town. I wonder who really needed the sitter at this point.

Soloists tend to be the better dancers on average, after a year or so competing. Just for the sure fact that they practice more and hopefully learn technique from someone who understands technique. I hope they can spell it too. Teaching a soloist new choreography is always a challenge. You never know what they might be capable of until you put them to task. A lot of time and energy is spent just fine tuning technique before you even get started teaching new movements, let alone an entire dance.

Parents seem to be in a hurry to see the dance for their child made up ASAP. Well…part of the dance is technique, you choreograph the dance around the dancers technique and their abilities. I’ve watched parents become frustrated because they come to a practice and their student is still learning technique and not the so called “rock star” dance. My answer to those parents: The technique will be in the dance – it’s part of it. If it were my child, I’d want them to look good first.

That is what the judges will focus on in the end. Parents tend to get things backwards.  Some dancers just aren’t ready to learn a whole dance in one setting. That often times is  a recipe for disaster on the floor. Those are pro’s sitting up there in the stands judging you. These people don’t have time to waste teaching you technique. You are supposed to come ready to rock and roll. Show them your stuff.

ON THE FLIP SIDE: There are parents, who don’t want their children to do solos, and you know what? – that is just fine. But, in any classroom anywhere you will have competition. Doesn’t matter if you have soloists in the ranks or not. There really isn’t anything anyone can do about it. It is what it is. Girls will be girls, and boys will be boys. A little competition is good to keep a group motivated to learn more. Friendly competition that is.

When you shop around for a solo coach, know that you get what you pay for. If you take your child away from an experienced coach before they have actually had time to train and learn proper technique – you still get what you pay for. You can’t say it is the coach’s fault if you pull your child out or attempt to teach them yourself.  Having your child train with different instructors who aren’t on the same technique level is a recipe for disaster.     Your Child’s scores will reflect 100% what YOU the parent did right, and what you did wrong. But like I said before “no experience necessary”.

I can tell you that any money my own daughter made with soloists growing up went to pay for regional’s and nationals, clinic, and camps. But then again, she worked at four jobs, and attended college full time. She is motivated, and she passes that along to the students she works with. She keeps training to improve and learn. That is what real coaches do. They train and learn, so they can pass that on to their students.

When you look for a solo coach, $10 an hour once a week for a high school senior is about all you can ask for. Pay them out in lump sum and make them commit to a certain amount of time would be even better. They still don’t have that thing called “responsibility” down just yet. Time management isn’t really a factor either. Generally most (not all) make the dance up over night, and call it good. No technique required.

Steer clear of dancers who have a history of getting into trouble, gossiping, or won’t cover up vital parts. Dance clothes are slinky enough, but they shouldn’t be obscene. Little girls need to remain little as long as they can!

Setting your student up with a solo coach is a personal thing. There is a understanding that happens between the teacher and student. Some parents can’t deal with that. Some parents tend to want to jump in and sometimes think they could do a better job, and when they discover they can’t – they seek to discredit young instructors because they are jealous of the situation. I’ve seen it. I’m sure some of you have seen it too.

I have learned “the hard way” parents and daughters tend to bicker too much when they work together … that kicks off a  blame game … “Why isn’t my dancer doing well?” Who you going to blame for that? The coach of course. To make the blame game work, you have to paint that coach out to be the most evil demon in the world. But, remember you dropped them out of your program months ago right? You dropped them out because you could not deal with the bond that an experienced instructor had with your student. Or maybe your student just missed too many practices because the parents were always gone out of town. Folks….some parents are this way.

I don’t think I’m being to harsh here. I’m talking about the reality of what happens to parents when they get too caught up in the clic or the background noise of their children’s lives. Competition or stage parents, do you know one? Two? Three?

Parent’s DO NOT push your child toward solo’s if that is how you are. If you are a stage parent – please don’t. Instructors will and should have a professional understanding with their students. To some parents that is a threat to their nurturing abilities. In their eyes their child is a reflection of them, or to use another term “living your life out through your child”.

Summary: Pick your solo teacher well.
*If they aren’t strong technical dancers, keep shopping.
*If they can’t show you anything new, keep shopping.
*If they really don’t know what they are going to be doing or where they are going to be in the next couple months, keep shopping.
*If they hang on their boy friends in front of you, to busy with their own kids or friends, keep shopping.
*If the teacher is too occupied during the training, keep shopping.
*Got a resume?

Instructors – Welcome to the trenches.

There is an old saying “You can pay to keep your children in dance/sports, or you can pay to keep them out of jail. Either way – you will pay”. Might as well be something productive. If you raised your child with respect for others, decency, and a good work ethic, then let their little lights shine.

So now they have a mentor, someone to look up too. Years down the road you will thank yourself, and that mentor.

Solo’s are not for everyone. Some mom’s just can’t handle the competition.

I’m not a bury my head in the sand type of person. I’m not into the rumor mill. What I am into is the safety and education of our kids. That comes first. Dance is second. Any questions ?

When picking a solo coach, don’t pick one that is also training someone the same age and in the same dance category. You can end up with some really bad vibes. Have them do a duet instead. Dance should be enjoyed.

Dancers should only have to compete against themselves – to better themselves.

Dance on