University of South Carolina's Lindsay Sprague Teaches a Dance-Team Trick

Sprague and her student Katelyn Barber at the Carolina Volleyball Center in South Carolina. Photo by Brennan Booker

It's nearing 5 pm on a Sunday in February, and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" reverberates through University of South Carolina's volleyball gym, where the Carolina Girls dance team is rehearsing a Nationals routine. What's most striking isn't the dancers' radiating energy or the team's precise unanimity. Instead, it's the complexity of the choreography—the weaving formations, transitions, level changes, directional shifts and moments of partnering—that seems out of place on center court. It's a scene that would make more sense in front of a mirror (not bleachers) and on marley (not wood). Yet the 28 collegiate dancers, clad in well-worn jazz shoes and official Under Armour team apparel, look right at home, happily working out the kinks in each phrase and troubleshooting lifts.

At the helm of the group is Lindsay Sprague, who has been head coach since 2007, the team's inaugural season. In that time, she has grown the program, working within the school's athletic department to increase performance opportunities for the dancers and boost the team's visibility. At first the team only performed during men's basketball games; three seasons later they made their first appearance during a football game—in front of a crowd of 80,000 fans. And this fall, the group left their usual spot on the sidelines to perform on the field, something she hopes continues in future years.

While the University of South Carolina has a renowned academic dance major with a classical focus, students who seek a place on Sprague's team aren't looking for conservatory-style training. (Sprague herself holds a degree in accounting.) Still, several Carolina Girls from past seasons have gone on to dance professionally for the Carolina Panthers TopCats, Atlanta Falcons and the Knicks City Dancers, and the Carolina Girls have placed in the top five in their division (1A) at National Dance Alliance's Collegiate Championship Nationals since 2010. (At press time, the 2019 Nationals had yet to take place.)

Like most collegiate dance teams, Sprague's falls under the school's spirit program—along with cheerleaders and mascots. Yet the majority of students who Sprague auditions and selects for the Carolina Girls come from the dance-studio world. Though they are proficient in jazz, contemporary and hip hop, they're often new to pom and tumbling.

"About a third of our team this year trained at The Southern Strutt," Sprague says, citing the popular dance studio in nearby Irmo. And while she relishes the dancers' technical strengths, there are some tricky transitions for a studio dancer. "The precision aspect of a dance team is probably the biggest shock to a studio dancer," she says. "As performers, we're praised for artistic expression, and having one's own independent style. At conventions, you want to stand out in the class. But that's not the case on a dance team. You want dancers who'll mold and gel with the team style. Every pinky finger placement has to be exactly the same—uniformity is very strict."

Likewise, tumbling tricks that are evaluated during auditions (like kip-ups, side aerials and headsprings) are sometimes foreign skills, and Sprague spends time breaking them down during pre-audition clinics. "We teach them progressively," she says. "So they'll first learn how to get comfortable in a headstand, or getting in and out of backbends to get used to the movements and being upside-down. And we do everything on mats with current teammates spotting the new dancers, which tends to make everyone more comfortable."

DT June 2019 Technique Video

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.