I still remember the first routine I ever choreographed. It was for a high school in Kentucky. I was so new to the cheer world (having only cheer for a whopping 6 months), but I was so excited to create a routine!
It. Was. Awful.
I had no idea what I was doing. I taught the routine to words in the songs rather than to counts and I am not even sure we did a pyramid at all in that routine. In fact, I know we didn’t. The kids were excited, though. They won their regional competition and qualified for State. Their coach asked me to do the routine again the next year. I felt on top of the world.
Looking back on all of this, there is one major problem from which I hope you all can learn. Thankfully, the kids had some talent and managed to squeak by into States, but their coach did zero homework in finding the right choreographer. She had no idea who I was, who I had worked with, how good (or bad) I was, and never once talked to me before camp. In looking back at it, I almost laugh because it seems so strange to me.
I am sure many of you are heading into choreography season over the next few weeks. Hopefully you have done a good job of selecting the right person for your program already. If you haven’t – I’d encourage you to do some research before your choreographer shows up and you are blindsided by an awful situation!
- Ask for references from past clients.
If you haven’t asked for references (not YouTube links) from your choreographer, you’ve already messed up. Don’t assume that because you have seen a great routine on You Tube or at a competition that the choreographer is good. The routine is the easy part – making sure the choreographer knows your expectations, how to work with your program, hours, days, details, how you run your program, etc. are all important. I worked with a program last year who told me that the choreographer they hired the year prior walked in and said “I do things my way. If you don’t like it – I’ll just leave!” Not only did the gym owner have 5 kids quit during choreography week, but they also had a miserable experience. It happens all too often that we hear of huge egos in this industry, but let’s be honest … if you are paying someone thousands of dollars and they could care less about how you want things done – fire them.
- Make sure their experience matches your needs.
Just because you love Super Mega Competitive World Champion All Stars’ routines and choreography, don’t assume that hiring someone from their staff to do your routine will give you the same type of routine. While many big programs enjoy some in-house choreography benefits, many of them still hire someone to come do their routines (or parts of their routine), too. Ask them if they do ALL of their routines. If you like a particular part of their routine, ask them who does it. If you like their style, ask them where they got it. If they can’t give you straight answers – they don’t do it themselves. It always cracks me up when I hear a gym owner say “I got Mr. Amazing Guy from Super Mega Competitive World Champion All Stars to do our routines this year! We are totally going to win everything!” I only laugh because more often than not, that coach is from their Mini 1 team (not saying that there aren’t some fierce Mini 1 coaches out there) but the point I am trying to make – is never assume that you will be getting the same product that someone else coaches. Your program is your program, not theirs.
- Ask if they know the score system.
Speaking of getting your money’s worth, I can’t stress the importance of communication with your choreographer enough. If the first question your choreographer asks you is not “Where are you competing this year? What score sheets will you be one?” then you are wasting your money, and all you’d be getting is a routine, rather than a routine that will score well. Let me say that again – YOU ARE WASTING YOUR MONEY! Your choreographer should be an expert on all score sheets and grids. They should know how to get you a 10 every single time. And if you gear your routine to a specific score sheet, they should be able to leave a list of things to do to make it work for other score sheets. If they can’t – you are paying for a less than superior product.
- Be sure your routine will work on any score sheet.
Never choreograph your routine to any one score sheet. This is the advice that I always give gym owners. While it seems simple, it is true and you would be surprised how many people never think of it. Get every single score sheet you could potentially compete on. Find the most difficult part of each score sheet (or better yet, ask your choreographer what they think is the most difficult part of the score sheet). In that section of the routine, be sure the routine is choreographed to the most difficult score sheet. In theory, if you are always choreographing to the hardest score sheet in any given skill set; you will always score well no matter where you go. Trust me – it works!
- Be realistic with your expectations.
When I ask people what their biggest goals are for a specific team when teaching them routines, I always stop gym owners when they say, “We just want to beat so-and-so …” because they won’t. You will lose to them. Something will happen at one competition that you can’t help. Someone will drop a stunt. Someone will forget where to go in a tumbling sequence. Someone will trip and fall moving to the dance. It happens – and it’s okay. I always ask them, “Wouldn’t you rather have the best routine possible than only worry about beating them?” While they typically feel silly after I say this, they come around.
All in all, I want you all to get great routines. Most importantly, though, I want you all to have the opportunity to win, and that starts over the summer. Get the most for your money, communicate, make sure you are getting a good product for where you are competing, and make sure your goals are realistic for the season.
And if all else fails – PLEASE send your routines to any event producer and ask them to review them and score them and tell you how to score better if needed. If the EP won’t do this, then find another EP. We are in this industry together – and we should all be willing to help each other out. Have a great summer – have great practices – and see you all very, very soon!
CHAD LEMON, Brand Director- COA