Spring is here (hello 70s!) and we’re already ramping up the spring tryout season for dance teams across the state. This can be a high anxiety time for dancers who want to make that step up to varsity, new girls who’ve never had the chance to join before, and for coaches who need to make those tough decisions when the season is still so far away. I got a chance to catch up with a few of our area coaches about their tips and tricks for running tryouts smoothly and what they’re looking for in a spring audition cycle. Joining me today is Lisa Roth from Aitkin, Molly Carlson from Mound-Westonka, and Bethany Morrisey from Rochester John Marshall.
Erin: Teams across the state all have unique ways of picking their next team. What do you prefer – bringing in outside judges or using only your coaches? Do you have a formal scoresheet with points or some other system? Do you do audition in groups, solo, or as a full group with no set times?
Lisa: No I do not bring in outside judges. Just our coaching staff does the judging. We have a score sheet that you write the dancers number on. On the score sheet it says Kicks: we then can write how high their kicks are, how their kick technique is, ect. We have a spot that says split, Right and left. We write flat or how many inches they are off the ground. We then have another spot that says other. This is where we let the dancer show us any other skills she may have, like russians, pirouettes, leg lifts, 2nd turns, ect. We also have a spot to circle A B or C. A meaning varsity, B is JV Black, and C is JV Red. I do have the final say if coaches cannot agree where a dancer should be placed. I use one gym and we divide up the kids by grade level. I split up my returning varsity members and assign some of them to each group. I then will go over proper kick technique and what I am looking for. The groups then work on this as the judges come around and take notes on each dancer. I think this really takes the pressure off of the dancers.
Bethany: I bring in outside judges. All coaches are present and taking notes during process, however outside judges create the breakdown of scores. We have used both a scoring system and a scoring/ feedback sheet. The feedback sheet is nice as we are able to then reproduce to hand out to those that do not make the squad. Gives them something to work towards if interested in the future. We audition in groups of three. They audition in ability level groups, so beginner, intermediate, and advanced. These groups are determined the first day of tryouts by the coaching staff.
Molly: We have really benefitted from bringing in one outside judge each year to help us with tryouts. Our 3 coaches judge the tryouts, along with our guest judge. We try to bring in someone who has had MSHSL coaching or judging experience, and it is so nice to have their input. As much as we try as coaches to be unbiased, it’s really hard! We tell our returning dancers that they cannot wear any apparel that indicates that they have been a part of the team before. We also do not tell our guest judge who is returning or what grade any of the girls are in. This way, we can look at their scores without the bias of “she’s a senior, so she should make it,” or “she was on the team last year, so she should make it.” We love to consult our outside judge on these difficult matters. We also like to be able to tell parents who may question decisions made at tryouts that we brought in an outside, unbiased judge.
Erin: Any tips for dancers on how they can be the most prepared or make sure they get noticed at tryouts?
Molly: We definitely encourage dancers at our pre-tryout meeting to take advantage of any “dance team prep” classes that are offered in the spring at several metro dance studios. We also dedicate our first 2 days of tryout week to technique clinics in which the girls simply work on jazz/kick skills without any choreography. The girls who really take advantage of these clinics, ask questions, seek out help when needed, etc. really benefit from this time. We also tell them that even though they are not being “judged” during the clinic or choreography days of tryout week, we really like to see their work ethic during this time and how well they catch on/improve in a short amount of time. We tell them that we have often taken girls on the team who may not have had a lot of previous experience, but definitely showed us a strong work ethic along with potential during tryouts week.
Lisa: They need to have excellent presentation with good technique.
Bethany: Be aware and knowledgeable of what you are trying out for. Attend all clinics and ask questions if needed — coaches notice attendance and work ethic during the tryout week process. Stay positive and do your best.
Erin: Deciding to take those “bubble” girls between varsity and JV can be a tough choice. Any tips for how you decide who goes up and why someone might stay on JV?
Bethany: We take a full squad in spring based on who is ready and those we feel progressed well during the tryout week. We will then be able to work with them during the summer months. We open up tryouts again during first week of season to place our athletes as well as welcome any new/ transfer students. During this week squads are set for varsity, jv, and b squad. We used to do alternates but found that this worked against those athletes as they did not get the performance aspect of the sport. We decided to remove the concept of alternates and when an athlete was ready to move up they moved up and were immediately put on the floor. No in between. You either could do it or not.
Molly: A lot of this has to do with the girls’ age for us. We have found that it doesn’t seem to work well to place seniors on JV. At this point in their dance team career, their heart just does not seem to be into it when they are a senior dancing on JV. We have, in past several years, had seniors who are not varsity-ready be alternates for our varsity jazz/kick teams. This has gone surprisingly well. By the time they are seniors, they seem to care more about being with the varsity dancers at practice and competitions than they do about actually being out on the performance floor. I have had seniors tell me flat out that they would much rather be a varsity alternate and experience everything with their friends than they would want to compete at the JV level.
It is difficult to know what to do with the younger girls who are “on the bubble.” We are torn between wanting these girls to learn the varsity dances and the practice the higher-level skills, and wanting them to gain the performance experience/competition experience that goes along with competing at the JV level. We have actually done something the past 2 years that has worked well. We have had a few girls practice with the varsity jazz team for October/November/December and learn/practice the higher-level choreography. Then, over winter break, they have learned the JV jazz dance and competed in all of the January competitions with the JV team. This has worked out great and given these “bubble” girls experience in both areas!
Lisa: When I have to decide between some dancers I always to try to take the dancer that had a good attitude last year and worked hard. I do not like to take a bubble kid that is a slacker. I also will consider what grade they are in and also their presentation.
Erin: Do you have any ideas to share that have worked well for your tryout process that others might not be doing?
Lisa: The thing that works the best for us is getting this done in one day. I also quit teaching them a routine. I felt that this was just a waste of time. There are really excellent dancer that are not quick learners. I am looking for presentation and kick technique. I have a rule that this is the only day you can tryout and after tryouts varsity and jv black teams are closed. If someone wants to join before the season starts they will be placed on jv red. This gets all the kids there because I do not have a 2nd tryout. After tryouts I give the girls a lunch break and then the coaches place dancers on each respective team. Once they are placed we give each one of them a letter to read that lets them know what team they are on. I like this because the dancer can take her letter and go off by herself and read it and then she can let her friends know what team she is on instead of saying it out loud. They also then can put it in their scrapbooks.
Bethany: I really like placing the athletes in groups based on ability. It really allowed us as coaches to see dancers succeed and show skills at tryouts rather than fail or not come back because too hard. It also was a way to challenge the returners with more difficult tryout combinations. Based on how these athletes audition we as coaches had a good idea where to start for training during the summer months as well as prepare for squad numbers during the season.
Molly: I mentioned this above, but the 2 days of technique/skills clinic followed by 2 days of choreography, followed by tryouts day has worked out great. The technique days help not only our new girls, but also provide a great refresher for our veteran dancers. I also like that there are only 2 days to learn the tryout dance. It lets us see who can pick up choreography in a shorter amount of time, which is so important. Then on tryout day, having a guest judge really helps. It also really helps us to not only see the girls in partners, but also see how they blend in a group of 6-8.
Thanks to our coaches who contributed – lots of great insights on how tryouts are done all across the state. My advice to dancers as they prepare for upcoming tryouts is to always know what your coaches/judges will be looking for in advance and make sure you’re doing what you can to look your best – not coming in unprepared. Best of luck to everyone in their upcoming tryouts! Keep checking back at mnhsdanceteam.com for updates on tryouts, coaching changes, summer camps, and new ideas for fall. After all, dance season never ends. Happy Spring!