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

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.