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Is drill team really dance?

You can debate the merits of dance-team participation versus the study of dance-as-an-art-form all you want. But for dance teachers, it boils down to one thing: Dance team means competition--competition for business and for the time and focus of their students. From California to New Jersey, the extracurricular school groups that perform choreographed movement at athletic events are a reality that private dance studio owners face with a spirit of "if you can't beat them, join them."

"The kids like dance team because they're part of something at school and they like to perform. The teams in this area perform at a very high level. In some areas it's not that way," says Lee Garrard, who owns Lee's School of Dance in Buffer, Pennsylvania, and serves as president of the dance teachers' organization, Dance Masters of America. "It's not a perfect situation for the dance teacher, but let's face it: You're not going to beat the school system, so you might as well work with it."

"[Our studio] has a list of schools that offer college scholarships for dance team. It's a big deal. You can't just tell a kid, `Don't do it.' Scholarship money is important. Being a part of their school is important," says Deborah Sanford, owner of Twin Arts Dance Studio in Pasadena, Texas.

Sanford, like many teachers, says she warns students who are interested in professional dance careers to think twice about dance team. With team practice or games nearly every day after school, students are often forced to cut back on their time in dance classes and they could miss out on essential training. The emphasis of dance team is on learning and performing choreographed routines rather than on the underlying technique.

Teachers also express concerns about unsafe conditions, such as physically risky choreography, practicing on hard surfaces, and coaches who have little or no dance training. Sanford notes, however, that a new wave of professional dancers working with dance teams has brought improvements in dance-team style and training.

Debbie Davenport of the Performing Arts Centre in St. Charles, Missouri, adds, "I know [that in] some places dance team is extracurricular, so kids can put it on their college application as a school activity. Here, it's counted as a class in school. It's like a physical education credit, so you can't argue with that. It's been big around here for ten years." The frustration, she says, is that some dance-team directors have suggested that her students cut back on their dance classes to devote more time and energy to the team. Other teachers admit that some students make that choice without prompting.

A few private studio owners have confronted the situation by telling students to make a choice. "The woman I teach for now finally said to the girls in the performing company, `Either you want to be in the company or you want to do dance team or cheerleading, but you have to make a choice,'" says LeAnn Royal Schultz, a ballet teacher in Bountiful, Utah, citing the time factor as a chief problem. "You do fear about business ... but it's worked fine so far. You have to have the courage to say, `Make a choice.'"

However, many studio owners advise against such ultimatums, saying they aren't realistic for business and may not be in the best interests of their students. "I remember being that age and being told I had to give up everything else. I did it, but it was very hard," says Joanne Zavisa, director of Joanne's Dance Extension Company.

But being sensitive to the needs of their students doesn't alleviate concerns about safety, some dance teachers say. Zavisa tells of a student who suffered a severe injury several years ago. "You know how the kids do these turns in dance team and slam to the floor? This student of mine was trying things beyond her skill level; [she] slammed to the floor, landed wrong, and bruised her sciatic nerve. She's coping now, but it will be a lifelong problem for her," Zavisa says.

The injury caused Zavisa to reassess her approach to the dance-team dilemma. "When someone at the studio asks me about doing dance team now, I tell them they need to find out what the standards and training procedures are and to make sure the program has qualified coaches, not a mom or teacher who knows nothing about dance.

"And if they're thinking about a dance career, I stress that they need to focus on a formal dance education because dance team--as much fun as it is--is a recreational form of dance," says Zavisa. "It's not a replacement for dance training."

There are some best-of-both-worlds examples of private dance schools and dance teams successfully coexisting. For instance, Garrard says the dance-team coach at the high school near her studio is a former professional dancer who trained at Garrard's studio. Several of the dance team's captains are longtime students at the studio as well. "There's an understanding that dance team doesn't replace what we do at the studio, and there's also cooperation about things like scheduling of practices," Garrard said, adding that she reminds her students about safety, such as properly warming up their bodies before dance-team practices and performances.

Sanford's studio, located in the heart of football-crazed Texas, is one of many studios across the country that offer special classes for students wanting to brush up on technique or learn acrobatic tricks for their school dance teams. And it works the other way as well. "We even have some dance-team coaches who tell the girls they need to take some classes in ballet and jazz if they want to make the team," Sanford says.

Karyn D. Collins is dance critic and entertainment writer for the Asbury Park Press and Gannett-NJ in Neptune, New Jersey.
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Author:Collins, Karyn D.
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Previous Article:Dance theater.
Next Article:Thoughts from a dance team member.

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