Shan Headshot

Shan Stavropoulos

In this episode, I got to talk with Shan Stavropoulos, choreographer and coach for the Millard West dance team, which has been placing at the top level at UDA nationals for years now.  I talked to Shan about  how her very first year at nationals went and what she did to climb to the top of the ranks, how she plans a successful dance team year, her formula for success, and  some valuable lessons that she’s learned in her many years of experience. She’s so down to earth and an open book, more than willing to pass all the good stuff on to us!

Millard West’s First Year At UDA Nationals:  We did not get out of semifinals.  And from that moment on while everybody that Sunday morning, when finals started for UDA, this is how I knew this is what I wanted to do. And really focus on. Everybody went to the parks, all the girls on the team and the parents went to the park.  I’m here for a purpose and I’m fierce and I’m competitive. So I went, I walked myself to a store and bought a notebook. I caught the bus. I sat in the same seat from 8:05 AM till midnight.  And I still have that notebook to this day.  And I took notes on every team and what they did and the top teams and what I thought they did to get there.  And after that moment, there was never another year that we were not in the top 10.”

Planning and preparing for a dance team year:  “You have to be able to change because the kids change.  Every year is different and totally different from when I first started, because when I first started, we would take a home routine to camp. We would then work on a pom routine just for fun. Then we would do a pom routine that we would compete just in the November competitions that we wouldn’t take to nationals. We would do a fun jazz. And then in November I would start teaching the real pom that we would take to nationals. Then as a treat, they would get to start to learn hip hop in December. That’s not like that anymore. These kids now need to learn the routines in August and September or they freak out. You have to change your year every year, but you keep those things at work.   We do a workweek the first week of August and it’s every single day, Monday through Friday, all day. And we work on every single routine we’re going to do as a school team through the year.  You make it fun, you order in pizza, you do some fun bonding things, make the choreo fun. We take things we learned from camp. We break them all up into groups and we have them each work on their own routines and it’s two routines per day for five days, then you have 10 routines that you can use for games and as a warm up for national routines practices.”

I love Shan’s formula for success, because I think a lot of times coaches put a lot of pressure on themselves.  “It’s chemistry and consistency.  You just knew those years that it was going to be an awesome year because the chemistry of the kids, the parents and everything that it encompasses like there. And I’m not saying everything goes smoothly. Those years are never the years that I did good. It was always some sort of rough start or something happened. Obviously you’re dealing with a whole bunch of parents and a whole bunch of teenage girls all year long. If we only did this for three months, nobody would ever quit because you would just love it so much. You know, it’d be such a highlight of your life, which it is still, but it’s still a long season, 360 days out of 365, honestly. And so those years that I, that I still think about, are just where those kids, they just had it and they just got it. And you know it right from the beginning. I mean, they’re in it. Things don’t bother them. They’re not so emotional. There’s just those kids. One year, the year that we almost won nationals again,  in 2011, I had eight new girls out of 14. And at the beginning of year I’m like, this is going to be rebuilding year. The chemistry of that team was amazing. And the leaders of that year, if I could bottle them the year we won nationals and that year I would.  You cannot do it alone.”

Inspiration for choreography:  “Literally, for me, it’s all about my music. It has got to pull me through the process and if it doesn’t, then I just know I’m going to struggle choreographing.  There are years that I just feel like, man, I nailed this. And then there are years where you’re just fresh out of ideas where you just feel like you’re struggling.  So as far as inspiration, I look at those teams that I love. I look at like Westmore, for instance, they’re just an amazing team that I really look up to and she just dances out of the box. She doesn’t care. And years ago I saw a routine of hers that really changed how I choreographed because I was like, okay, I shouldn’t be afraid to do these weird ideas that I have in my head because they can be cool. So it’s really cool to see it all evolve. And now even with World of Dance, like all these teams, we’re surrounded, surrounded by inspiration.”

“Beginnings and endings are the worst for me. So I always start in the middle and I am a musical girl. I have to see big pictures. I don’t do intricate moves and a lot of moves. I do like really big whole team moves.  Every year as a choreographer, you’re like, ‘hey, that didn’t work. I better start studying the score sheet again.’ And I’ll go through and break down the score sheet. And you know, you see it every year. It changes.  They want big this year. They want lots of movement on the stage this year.  Last year, they were really looking for intricate and it’s ever changing. Some years t slow was their favorite. I change it based on what I think they want and that’s where I get in trouble. And so as I’ve gotten older and matured, I just stick to what I love.”

Biggest mistake you’re seeing in dance team:  Dancing beyond your kids years and what I mean by that is, okay, we got to do a quad. You guys, that’s the only way we’re going to get difficulty points. Right. But five kids are falling out right after a double. I would, you know, everybody says I’d much rather see it cleaned double, right? No, push your boundaries, have one girl, do it, then get creative with everybody else. Don’t think you’re going to win something by making the whole team do something. So that would be my biggest thing right now as a coach. Let’s start with a really clean single, you got to build up to that triple. Take the time to learn how to do it. Implement one Headspring, it’s not going to make or break your routine to have all these head Springs. In fact, I hated I’m bored of them. Do something more creative. But do it right. Because it pains me to see that people are attempting things that they’re not ready for.”

How she finds balance”  You know, there are days that you don’t, there are days where you feel defeated. But honestly, my mother was a single mother who became a big time lawyer here in town. And she had two young girls and went to school, was a nurse at night, eight, 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM. Then went to school all day, graduated number two at Creighton. She used to have this quote and she says it to this day. And I truly believe in it. She said, ‘If you want something done, give it to the busiest woman in the room. She’ll get it done for you.’ Because I feel those times when I’m not as busy is where I don’t get stuff done.


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