MDTA’s Brett Elder
On this episode of the podcast I talked with my dear friend Brett Elder. Brett and I go waaaaaay back. I busted him when he was a coach and I was a camp instructor and he broke the rule about getting food delivered to the dorm. He eventually started working for the company, and the laughs and good times we had are too numberous to count, and the laughs continue to this day, including this podcast episode. He’s been a dancer, coach, choreographer and instructor. He still serves as a judge at the local, state and national level, and he is also the President of the Missouri Dance Team Association. He is a loyal and trusted friend and I absolutely treasure our friendship and the role he has played in my dance story. Brett and I discussed his experience as a dance team coach, the insights he has gained from being the President of an organization that includes hundreds of dance team coahces, and some invaluable tips as a seasoned judged. Here are the major takeaways:
1. Winning was great, but it wasn’t the most important thing when he coached. It was about team building and forming relationships. They did a lot of team bonding things. He was very regimented (some would say strict) but he always gave reasons for why they did what they did. He would have full team check-ins at least once a week where they would sit in a circle and talk about what was going on with them as a team.
2. Part of their team bonding was being together during games and supporting the school and yelling with the cheerleaders until it was time to stretch before halftime. He’d give them most of the third quarter off so they could eat or hang out with non danceteam friends, but when 4 minutes were left in third quartey the team was expected to be back for the remainder of the game.
3. Another part of team bonding came during competitions. They sat together and watched other teams and then they would have discussions that everyone was expected to contribute to about what they saw. They were there as a group to learn.
4. Don’t ask your dancers to do things they are not capable of doing well, even if you paid a lot for it. It’s better to do some sharp, fast and intense things that are visual than to do something that is going to be done incorrectly or sloppily.
5. Ask for help as a coach if you need it, and not just with choreography. There are resources to help teach technique and to help with cleaning routines as well.
6. Dance team should be an opportunity to be involved, not just competition. Not every dance team member needs to be on the competition team. It’s a joy to put as many kids out there as possible for football games or other events that aren’t competitive. Kids really benefit from being involved in activities at their school.
7. One of the most fulfilling moments from his coaching career was having alumni return from the past 10 years of his coaching and perform at a game. Consider involving alumni to increase engagement and up the joy factor with your team.
8. Set an example for your team. Are you teaching them to go out there and do the best they can and celebrate how well you do, regardless of the trophy? Or are you teaching them to be rude, disrespectful, petty, and overcompetitive?
9. If you danced at the college level on a really competitive team and then coach a high school team, you can’t expect all high school level dancers to be able to perform and commit at the same level as your college team.
10. Try to support every group in your school. When he coached, he tried to extend dance team support to all the teams at the school and it doesn’t even have to be a performance at a game. It could even be as simple as putting a little sign on the lockers.
11. How to avoid burnout: communication with administrators, other coaches at the school, and other dance team coaches from other schools. That will help you to not feel isolated. Another way to foster teamwork and support is to perform with other schools, especially with ones in your district. Even if it’s an event that’s not a game. Create some fun.
12. If you really want to quit, give yourself the summer to see if there are some changes you can make to make you love it again. Try something new and different if you’re in a rut. Shake things up with different genres of dance.
13. The top 5 things to do to up your score for competition:
Attack your choreography. Up the intensity. Concentrate on not loosing stamina and getting messy at the end. Work on stamina.
Work on precision and sharpness. Fix the small stuff so that everything is really precise. Clean all the little details. Fix placement issues.
Think about music choice. Choose music that works for what you want to do, but also keep the judging panel in mind. It gets monotonous and repetitive, especially if it’s a popular song choice and a lot of teams have chosen it. Don’t be afraid to pick something that’s older.
14. As a judge, Brett finds himself having to say these things repeatedly to multiple teams:
Pull up in your turns.
Focus up not down.
Work on strengthening your core.
Attack the choreo.
15. Don’t compete in a genre just because everyone else is doing it. For lyrical, you really need connection to the piece and the music.
16. On the other side of that, everything doesn’t need to be super fast in pom and jazz.
17. For showmanship, communicate with your eyes. That will eliminate some of the more unnatural facial expressions that are seen during competitions. And rehearse enough so that the performers aren’t nervous about the material and they can really perform.
Brett and his wife Lisa have also done a great job of raising their kids, so I picked his brain for some parenting tips. He said that he and Lisa are a good balance of building their self esteem while also instilling discipline, manners, and good behavior. No social media until 16, and no cell phone until 7th grade and you have straight A’s, and the phones are turned in to them at 10:00 pm unless they were driving.
Many thanks to Brett for all he has done for dance teams and for taking the time to be on the podcast!
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