As the director of the Centennial High School Sparklers drill team in suburban Fort Worth, Texas, Drew Ellison knows how to delegate. “We have 48 kids on the team, so it's hard for just me to give them feedback," she says. To solve this, she has her seven team officers work with groups of six or seven students, to go over choreography and offer corrections. “I am all about creating leaders in the classroom," she says. “That's going to get them farther in life." Ellison notes that many of her students discontinue dancing after high school, so helping them develop life skills like leadership and working well with others is her ultimate goal as a teacher.
On “Technique Tuesdays" Ellison gives the Sparklers a thorough technique class consisting of jazz, ballet and contemporary skills. Because roughly 75 percent of the team is new to dance when they start high school, Ellison sticks to ballet basics like pliés, tendus and dégagés and then moves on to across-the-floor and center combinations that prepare them for their performances at football games and during competition season. “We'll take the choreography in pieces across the floor so they can later translate it into their dances," she says.
One of her most successful teaching strategies appeals to the digital-age teens. “They like to get their phones out, so sometimes I'll have them videotape each other. They can see what their dancing looks like and get an extra perspective on what they need to work on," says Ellison. “When they see it, they realize, 'Oh, my leg isn't straight,' or 'I'm not lifting up when I leap.'"
Photo by Whitney McAnallen, courtesy of Ellison