For dance team girls all across the country, the University of Minnesota Dance Team is the team to be admired, respected, and they inspire awe everywhere they go. This past Friday I got a chance to take a look at the auditions for this top notch group and see what really goes on behind the scenes at the U.
Arriving at the sports pavilion on the U campus was a treat; having been a U of M grad myself it was a fun homecoming. I was surprised at first to see only about 40 girls at the first night of the tryout, but I realized very quickly that the girls that did show up were all of a high caliber that any high school coach would dream of having walk in the door. The staff and instructors of the team were also not quite what I expected from such a high performing group – so nice and approachable. It was a pleasant surprise to see that they have to teach and demo basic turn technique on day one just like anyone else. With a team as good as they are it’s easy to forget they have to start somewhere (and that they really are human!) Here are a few of the highlights of what we talked about:
|“Practicing” a double turn….looking good already!
First off, I got a chance to talk with U senior Rachel Caughey (a former Wayzata Trojet) about what it’s like to dance for the U and the challenge of dancing in college.
Erin: So tell me about some differences between high school and college dance teams.
Rachel: High school dance is a very direct motion, sharp and to the point, where as college dance is much more about the whole movement, the emotion, and stretching the lines. There is also the factor of the judges being so close in college vs. being in the back of the gym for high school; it makes you emphasize different things.
Erin: What will be new with you guys this year?
Rachel: Taping of the routines to qualify for nationals bids is out, so we’ll be free to do something more fun or experimental for camp this year and know we’re getting a paid bid to nationals because we won last year. There will also be a maximum of 16 girls on the floor at nationals, so we’re looking to take 18-20 on the team for the first time.
Erin: If you could tell a high school dancer one piece of advice about college dance what would it be?
Rachel: Certainly don’t be intimidated to come and just try – you never know. Also that it’s very important to be able to learn and adjust your skills and style with confidence in yourself that shows.
Erin: What about tryouts for other post-high school teams or colleges? Any advice on preparing?
Rachel: We have a great clinic earlier in the spring that is open to all high school age girls to come and learn some college skills and style without the pressure of a tryout, and it’s a great chance to see if this is for you. Anyone can come even if they’re not coming to the U in the future. Also be sure to research what your future team wants to see, as all teams are different.
Erin: Tell me a bit about what it’s like to have a college dance team commitment. Is it do-able? Expensive? Hard on your grades?
Rachel: We all pay an activity fee, but other items are paid by the athletics department or our paid bid to nationals. We practice 6-9 on Tues/Thurs and Sunday 4-7pm. There are also some Friday before a game practices, then performances and competitions. Grades are all about time management, and can even be better in the fall semester when you’re on a strict schedule that makes you get things done.
|Flying in Motion
I also got to catch up with Amber Jackson, head coach of the program to talk about what she’s looking for as a college coach at these auditions:
Erin: There is so much talent here! How do you only choose 16?
Amber: We are always looking at the girl’s talents but we also want to see someone who knows their weaknesses, is confident, and is humble. Someone who can take correction and adapt is preferred over someone whose talent stands out and doesn’t blend with the rest of the group we’re choosing.
Erin: What would you tell high school dancers to do to be ready for a tryout like this?
Amber: Work on many styles and get in front of other instructors for clinics and classes. Too many dance team girls have only had one instructor and aren’t as adaptable to other situations.
Erin: Is there something girls may not realize about your program or have a hard time adapting to coming in?
Amber: It’s important for them to know they are ambassadors of the school and that we value football and other sports performances just as much as our nationals dances. We need girls who can represent us well in those events as well as on the nationals’ floor.
I’m pleased to say that the whole atmosphere was much more welcoming and relaxed than I had expected. It was nice to see the whole team and staff present an attitude of let’s see what you can do and see you at your best, not just pick apart your weaknesses. There was a great sense of appreciating individual abilities and rewarding breakthroughs on new skills that I thought set a great tone for their next year – I can’t wait to see what this new group will do! I hope there will be more high school grads that tryout for college level teams next year, what a great experience that is worth the risk for these ladies to audition. Special thanks to the U of M team and staff for having me.
|Learning the Dance