Teri Rowe

Teri Rowe’s dance team experience goes way back!  She has coached and judged dance teams at the middle school, high school, college and all-star levels for over 30 years. Her teams earned numerous state, national and world championships, and she has also served as the President and Vice President of the Washington State Dance/Drill Coaches Association. She was honored as a Lifetime Member in 1999 and selected to the WSDDCA Hall of Fame in 2012.  She is one of the founding members of the National Dance Coaches Association, an organization that continues to offer support and invaluable tools, resources and networking opportunities for dance team coaches all over the country.  On this episode, she offers so much advice and insight on coaching and its many facets including perfecting choreo, motivating dancers, dealing with different age groups, and how to maintain your own sanity and drive.  I love learning from this energetic force that is Teri Rowe and you will too!

On balancing coaching with family life:  I had a mom moment and I thought I have been giving all these hours of my time and my passion and everything to everybody else’s, I really need to focus on being a mom. And my kids’ college careers, there’s going to be a short window there. So I decided to be a mom and I decided to sell my studio and walk away from coaching.  It’s tough. I don’t know that any woman who does all these things, doesn’t have the guilt, the mom guilt, you know. Am I giving enough time to my own family? Do I give enough time to my husband? Do I give time to my dancers? It’s a tough juggle. It really is. And you have to take a step back at some point and first and foremost, take care of yourself physically and mentally and do what makes you happy. And you know, there’s always going to be guilt. I don’t care. My kids are in their late twenties and early thirties and I still feel guilty.”

Dealing with Covid as a coach:  “It’s about being adaptable, being flexible and getting a seat at the table.  If you’re sitting there waiting for your athletic director to tell you how to return to dance and what that should look like, then you’re not taking an active role. So we’re encouraging coaches to get a seat at the table, create your own return to dance plan and go in and really come up with workable solutions. You know, so often other people dictate to dance, what dance should look like and what dance should be. And it’s non dance people. And it’s like, well, that doesn’t work well for dance. So we really encourage coaches to be quick on your feet.  You’ve gotta really be proactive and charge forward. Take control.”

Teaching dance at the middle school level:   “It’s a time of personal growth and they’re detaching from their parents. And so assimilation into their peer group is really, really important. And finding people to connect to and dance.  I would choreograph routines that had different parts in it. So I could challenge the more advanced level kids. And then there would be sections where I would move groups around and then the kids who have less skill could be featured, they would come to the front and do a little thingy.  I tried to  incorporate a lot of things to prepare them for a high school level.  It’s mostly about making kids feel like I can dance. I may not be the smallest girl. I’m not stick skinny or maybe I don’t look like a dancer, but dance is for everyone and really selling that mission that dance is inclusive for everybody and finding styles, not just doing something that makes the really talented kids look good, but choosing categories or choosing routines, if you’re not forced into categories, if you have options, then finding options that make everybody successful, like a prop or  production routine or a hip hop routine.”

High School level:  “They’re attaching to their peers so that’s where fear starts to come in.  I don’t want to look stupid, not cool.  And so finding categories, and this is where I think coaches make a lot of mistakes is again, unless you’re locked in which you’re not in your school year, like for pep assemblies, for PR performances and stuff, those are the opportunities where you want to get out of your box and find categories that more kids can be successful at, and have more diversity in your training instead of just, if you compete in jazz and you compete in kick and that’s all you ever do.  I call it Swiss cheese training. And I see it a lot at the college level.  I can look at a dancer and I know they have Swiss cheese training, meaning they have holes in their training. There’s things that are missing from a well-rounded collegiate dancer. So make sure  that training is diverse, that they’re getting good pom technique, good jazz technique, good hip hop, good kick, whatever you’re going to teach.”

Dealing with parents as a coach:  “Well, I got two kinds of parents back in the day, you had the drop-offs and never see them. And then you had the really super, what can I do for you? Can I sew costumes? You had the really helpful, awesome, fully supportive parents.  And nowadays I think that what you have is parents who are super involved with their own kids and they tend to forget we, and they emphasize me.”

“I think being super organized and really being careful about crafting your program goals and your program expectations and spelling them out very carefully.   The days of just sending a packet home and getting it signed and sending it back in are gone because you have to sit down with parents face to face. At the very beginning, when you have the parent meeting  give situations, give real life situations to say, here’s the situation. This is what happened with the dancer. This is how the parents reacted. This is the consequences. Fairness and consistency are two mantras that coaches need to have.  And you need to make sure that your expectations are fair and that you keep them consistent for every athlete. And then you have to hold strong to your commitment and to whatever your values are as a program. And sometimes there’s been times when I was coaching where a parent would get mad at me about something, and I would call my athletic director and I would say, here’s the expectations they were spelled out. They were aware of it. This person got strike one, strike two, strike three. Now I have to implement the consequences. And so if the parent is going to rant and scream, and if you need to fire me, then you go ahead and fire me, but I’m not going to budge on it. It’s not fair to everybody else in the program to accommodate one person.  It’s about fairness and consistency in your expectations and your application of your consequences.”

Dance teaching vs. dance coaching:  “First and foremost, they are a dance teacher. And then they’re a dance coach. What I see a lot is coaches who just coach dancers to execute two or three routines. That’s when the Swiss cheese training comes into effect, that’s why they have holes in their training because these kids can execute these three dances. But if you put them in a workshop and they have to a learn combos fast, they can’t do it because they’ve never been challenged that way to learn things quickly. Some teachers and coaches do a great job at it. You still need to be focusing on fundamentals and doing those fundamentals every single day, whether it’s proper stretching, whether it’s your center floor work where you’re doing tendus and plies and whatnot.  All basketball is shooting, free throws, shooting, free throws. And they’re always doing fundamental drills. Well, we tend to get so hung up on our competitive choreography that we shift away from doing those fundamentals. Everybody comes in and does technique at the beginning. And then all of a sudden you’ve got to go to camp and you’ve got to get a home routine ready. And then you’ve got to report back and you gotta get your football material ready, and fundamentals go out the door,  and so really watch for your balances and understand that just like in any athletics, repetitive movement and  muscle memory is really important for dancers. So don’t shortchange your dancers by just coaching your routines, teach dance along the way. That’s just one hack. The other thing I would tell coaches is, although you might hire your choreography out, at some point, you’re still responsible for some degree, whether it’s your kids choreographing or whatnot, but you’re correcting. You’re the one that’s there every day in the trenches, working with the kids, fine tuning your product. And so coaches really need to diversify their own choreographic library of knowledge, whether you’re choreographing or not, it doesn’t make any difference.”

Finding inspiration and staying current:  “If you’re a hip hop person, don’t just watch hip hop shows, right? Watch ballet, watch contemporary and vice versa. What’s really cool about dance right now is so many genres are crossing over to each other. You see hip hop tracks in jazz and contemporary. Explore your education and your library of knowledge about dance and go on a pilgrimage each year. Go to a college show and look at what’s on the college campus near you, go to New York, go to LA and go watch dance classes. I was just scrolling through Netflix and I was looking at on-demand movies.  I just looked at musicals and I thought, man, this is a time when people should be rewatching Grease and Sweet Charity and all those old Fred Astaire movies. There’s just so much knowledge there and all the Gene Kelly stuff, Twyla, Tharp, Hair, just so much that you can watch and take from. I would also tell coaches to kind of do a deep dive, choose a choreographer, study their pieces and incorporate that with your kids.  What did you learn about Isidora Duncan? What did you learn about Martha Graham?  And that’s the other thing with kids, their knowledge, their dance library is just this little pocket of like Tik Tok and YouTube. And I think it behooves us as coaches and teachers to expand their library and, and bring up someone and something or a dance style, and show videos and talk about it. There’s just so much out there. And unless we as teachers and coaches help them, they’re going to stay in their own little pocket that they think is really cool.”

Team building:  I’m a firm believer in that if you don’t build a really solid foundation of a team in the very beginning then you’re going to get blindsided by stuff down the road.  The more you invest in them as humans and as young people at the very, very beginning and getting to know them and putting them in team situations and giving them opportunities to fail and work through things, the better off you’re going to be, because they’re going to hit stumbling blocks and get up and go through it, or they’re going to find they have conflicts, interpersonal conflicts, and then you teach them communication techniques. So at the very beginning, I had like traditional team building things at the very beginning of the year. (Lots of overnights with whole group and small group activities, and dance was always worked in there too, even if it was just learning a different, fun style that they weren’t going to compete.)  It was fundamentals of dance. It was fundamentals of team building.  I would tell coaches to put in the time and effort to build your team unit, because it saves you so much hassle and trouble down the road.  And then the other team bonding activity that I did, and I would always encourage coaches to do, and this is how we were always really successful in staying on the cutting edge of the newest and latest tricks and lifts when I was coaching.   I would put them in groups and I would say, okay, come up with a hip hop trick or a lift that involves all five people. And I would turn them loose and let them create and let them play. And they would laugh and fall down and then we would share. And then I would put them in different groups of like maybe three or maybe seven, or maybe just a partner. And from that play time came really innovative trick combinations and lift combinations.”

Choreography:  “One of my biggest complaints as a consultant is when the coaches are not sitting right in the room, when the choreography is going on and taking detailed notes. I love that filming on iPad. The choreographer is going to leave, and then here’s where you get into trouble. And this is what stymies coaches. And this is what stops the cleaning, because if the coach isn’t paying really close attention to  were her feet in first position, or were they in second, were her hands palms forward or palms back?  The coaches have the responsibility to pick up all those fine details. And the coach needs to be able to say, no, here’s the video. So the coach has a responsibility to have a really active role in paying attention to choreography, paying attention to every single tiny little detail.

The second part of choreography is preparing your kids for choreography. And this helps in cleaning.  You have to teach your kids to learn better.  Kids pick up about 50 to 75% of the movement and they don’t pick up the fine details. And they also don’t pay attention to musicality when they’re learning. It is a skill, and you have to teach your kids how to learn choreography better. So before even the choreographers would come in, I would give them this big talk and we would talk about it all the time, pay attention to their feet, pay attention to their hands, pay attention to the musicality, to pay attention to their chest movement. And I would groom them ahead of time with experiences, little ditties of choreography to learn how to do that better. So by the time my kids came through our program and were seniors in high school, they were really good at taking workshops and learning choreography. So then it made my job 10 times easier on the backside cleaning because I had paid attention to detail. I took video tapes, I asked questions and took notes. I sat right smack in the front. I would move to the back. I would move to the side. I would pay attention to every single detail so that when it came time,  I knew the answer. So we could expedite our cleaning a lot better.”

Cleaning:  “You have to do it in layers and you have to realize you’re never done.  And that is a mistake that a lot of coaches make. They clean once. They do the big cleaning, and then they do like a cursory cleaning and then they think they’re done. I think I would concentrate on musicality because that’s the first thing that gets lost in cleaning choreography is musicality.  So first thing to go.  It is gone because we get so focused on synchronization. And then what happens is the dancers become stick bodies and are super rigid and you have beat all the expression out of their movement and they lose the capability to just have free movement and dance. And that’s a really tough juggle in dance team is yes, you have want to have style and yes, you want to have musicality, but ultimately you would have to have them clean and synchronized. So it’s a very difficult balance. But, and the one thing I would tell people is at the very, very beginning, go back and talk and just work on the musicality of the routine and style points to the routine.  Then get down and dirty and nitpick it apart.”

Advice to a coach just starting out:  “One of the biggest mistakes that young coaches make is I know everything and I can do it myself. And no you don’t and no you can’t. Learn in the beginning and go to other people who have coached for a long time and ask questions and get help. And don’t be afraid to ask people to come in and look at your routines, and don’t be afraid to ask other coaches, how do you do this?  And pick the brains of as many people as you can.  Have people come in and look at your routine. Don’t get married to the choreographer or the choreography.   But for young coaches, I would say, just spend your time. One of the things that a lot of young coaches, because they’re usually really good dancers, they have a really good dance knowledge. They coming off of a college team. Well, you could be the world’s greatest dancer and the world’s worst coach are two different skill sets. So what you have to do is spend your time and get educated about coaching.  And you can do that. Not only by joining groups like the NDCA, there’s a ton of a really good coaching resources and really good coaching books.”

Advice to a coach in a rut:  “It’s usually a point of recharging your personal batteries.  It’s probably, you’re kind of exhausted in life in general. Let’s look at your sleep, let’s look at your diet, let’s look at your health. Sometimes they think it’s coaching that’s doing it. And a lot of times it’s not, it’s just, you personally are in a place in your life where you’re frustrated.  I would tell coaches really take a look and assess your whole entire life. Maybe you need to pick up a new hobby. I started playing the ukulele.  I sit there for like 30 minutes and just kind of decompress.  Learn Spanish or do something new to kind of recharge your personal batteries. Chances are it’s you personally, not the coaching. 30 minutes a day to do something that kind of just sparks your brain a little bit differently.”

You can email Teri at nationaldancecoaches@gmail.com

And you can get more info and join the National Dance Coaches Association at https://nationaldancecoaches.org

Connect with Larkspur at the following links:

Website: https://www.larkspurdance.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/larkspurdance/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LarkspurDance/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LarkspurMelanie