Things your coach thinks when they watch you dance.
Hello and thank you for checking out my first (of many planned) dance blog articles!
Competition season has officially started for us at Bradshaw (we do mostly All Star style dance/cheer-dance competitions and the Australian season has just begun) and I thought the perfect place to start my foray into dance blogging would be to talk about a competition or eisteddfod from the view of your coach.
All dance teachers, choreographers, and coaches ride an emotional rollercoaster watching their pieces performed on stage. While it is a shared experience understood between all of us in the industry, I think it might be illuminating for the dancer or parent to realise what might it might be like for us! So. in 5 brief(ish) points, this is kind of what that ride is like for me.
1. The Nerves
As nervous as you are, trust me, we are too. The routine is our baby, right from the moment we conceptualised it in rough form. We choreographers are extremely passionate creatives and any artist be it a writer, painter, designer, knows the trepidation of presenting your finished artwork to an audience – let alone a judge! Will the judge/adjudicator like it? Will the opposing teams be impressed? Will the parents be happy?
From another aspect, we are always nervous for you. One thing we hate is seeing you come off stage disappointed in your performance. We are all dancers or used-to-be-dancers who know and love that feeling of absolute elation that comes from knowing you just gave the best performance you could. It is magical! And we want absolutely nothing less for you, every single time you dance. This is why we mentally dance every single step with you!
2. The Mental Commentary
I wish I could put into words what your dance teacher’s brain is doing during a routine. It is watching, thinking, feeling – a million things at once. Your mind is checking that the spacing is even, that the dancers are actioning their notes from class, keeping an eye on the girl who wobbled on this part in the last lesson, waiting for that one rhythm the team sometimes rushes, having a quick micro-celebration when something great happens. Like many coaches, I am even twitching on the parts that need to hit and squeezing my own core muscles on the turns (yes, seriously!) …and all of that is just one count of 8.
For any given section of a routine, my brain’s inner dialogue is usually something like this:
“Ok come on guys you can do this, good opening, good, good, GOOD, whoops timing girls!!!!! Aaaand remember that change, got it, yes! Boom ta ta good. Remember hit on two, one TWO! YES! Ok hows this visual looking? Yes! 6,7, and gooooo, YES! TOES SALLY!!!!! Shoom boom ah. Hit 7, hit 8. Squeeze squeeze squeeze SQUEEEEZE!! 7,8 and 1 YES! Here’s that turn, come on Suzie come on Suzie come on Suzie! YES SUZIE!!! Ok guys remember what we practiced on this part: bennnnnd and a boom ah shoom YES! Damn not quite right, ta ta budoom shoom ahhhhh, oh wow that really hit! WOOOOO YES GUYS!!!!! Ok pull up pull up pull up ok whoops thats ok, ENERGY GUYS COME ON YES THERE YOU GO KEEP IT UP COME ON WOOOOO oh wow that bit looks really good! Now the new part Sally new part Sally YES SALLY! SHE GOT IT!
3. The Screaming
Trust me, we all know how crazy we as coaches can look when we are screaming and our bodies are jerking around half doing the choreography. We know. We just can’t help it. (Those who do eisteddfods may not have this problem, but one thing I really love about All Star and Cheerleading style comps is that cheering by the crowd is encouraged. Perfect for the crazy screamer style of coach.)
No matter how I’m feeling, I know the kids will be listening out for my energy. If you are in the audience at once of these competitions I really encourage you to show your support this way. Energy from the audience in front of you makes a huge difference and as performers it is the very thing we thrive off.
As soon as the routine is over the dancers notice if the coach/teacher just claps, cheers, or goes mental. It is their first piece of feedback from their coach. Ever since I was a kid we placed so much importance on Miss Coralie’s dreaded reaction at the end of a performance – a cheer from her was our holy grail. In the eisteddfod enviroment where I grew up, the teacher would stand in a quiet and dignified manner at the back of the auditorium and noise during the routine was not encouraged. All we had to go on was her cheer at the end, OR if the audience wasn’t too dark, we were dancing for “the nod”. The sacred nod meant we had done very, very well. Without fail this was the first thing everyone would talk about as we made our way back to the dressing room,
“I didn’t hear Miss Coralie, did she cheer? Did any one see her face?”
“She didn’t cheer, I saw her nod” – then a flurry of Chinese whispers all the way down the corridor to the last dancer:
“Miss Coralie nodded!”
“I saw it too, she was smiling”
“Guys she was smiling!”.
I remember those moments more vividly than receiving any trophy, and any coach who grew up as a young dancer does too. Those memories are exactly why we as teachers now measure our reaction, comments, and energy so carefully.
4. The Pride
This is the big one. Dancers, you probably don’t realise how proud you make your teachers! It is such a beautiful thing. Working with you even over the course of one term, helping you improve, finding ways to overcome a mental block or stick a skill or just have more confidence: it all pays off when we see you on the stage.
Usually with long-term studio dancers it goes even further. We watch you dance as a senior and can’t help but be transported back to the studio where a young, shy little girl was still learning coordination and basic technique. There have been a few truly tear jerking moments like this for me, particularly on the Worlds stage, and those moments of seeing your students achieve great things and bloom into beautiful mature dancers and confident young men and women are worth more than gold.
5. The Debrief
The second the dance is finished a new checklist starts in your coach’s brain. There is one overwhelming feeling (usually joy, relief, or pride, but sometimes it can be disappointment or dissatisfaction, too). Under that main emotion however is my brain having a micro-debrief. Usually we only have 30 seconds before we are going for a costume change or warming up the next routine. So that chat will go something like this:
YAYYYYYY OH I AM SO HAPPY THAT WAS BEAUTIFUL!
*insert skill here* needs more work at our next class
So proud of Suzie she was fantastic in that part
Sally didn’t nail that combo but its ok we’ll get it
SO happy the visuals worked/lift stuck/dancers remembered their notes
Still not happy with that second section, should I change it? Ok think about it later.
Need to remember to tighten that transition next lesson
Costumes looked great, glad we went with the gloves
Oh there’s the team go hug them!
Then I get to exhale the nerves and run to the dancers and share in their excitement and happiness! I have a quick, warm moment where I just love my job and every member of the team, and then I tear off into the dressing room and prepare to do it all again.