What Award Should You Win??? You deserve to win something!
(this is ADORABLE and will make you feel oh so good)
What Award Should You Win??? You deserve to win something!
(this is ADORABLE and will make you feel oh so good)
A Critical Assessment of “Drill Team” vs. “Concert Dance” Culture
“Drill team” is its own culture in the dance world; it has its own set of expectations, language, behaviors, and customs. A drill team is a group of trained dancers that perform precision in various dance genres during football halftime shows, local parades, and dance competitions. Over the years, I have noticed a regimented trend within drill team choreography. After experiencing collegiate dance making processes and developing my own personal process, I believe the process of generating high school drill team choreography can be expanded and explored to parallel the ideals of concert dance making.
Typically, drill team choreographers have a limited amount of time with their dancers, while a wide range of choreographers in concert dance have residencies that last from a couple of days to a number of weeks. Both processes also pose different outcomes. The drill team choreographic process is final product based, whereas the concert dance world is more interested in the actual process. In attempts to introduce the drill team industry to the processes of concert dance, I believe there are various avenues to generate choreography. Some examples of these avenues stem from Tere O’Connor’s “lines of research,” which is taken from a workshop with Headlong Dance Theater’s choreographers and Larry Lavender’s “IDEA model,” which comes from his book about “facilitating the choreographic process.”
As previously stated, Tere O’Connor’s “lines of research” would be an essential attribute to drill team dance making. “Lines of research” is an investigation of particular obsessions that can be as simple as a hand gesture. Exploring this single movement can then become a process in and of itself. What is “interesting, evocative, [or] curious” about this particular movement and how many different ways can you explore this hand gesture through timing, direction, and manipulation? By investigating this single gesture, a person can be provoked to make an entire work about that one move (if they so desired). This “lines of research” idea allows the movement to evolve and develop, rather than dictating what the movement should be. In Tere O’Connor’s “blook” (his version of a book and blog), he mentions that he wants to “make work as a method for processing a constellation of ideas.” In drill team, the final product is the goal, but by exploring O’Connor’s method, I would hope to see a shift in the mentality by allowing the process to be the rich, driving force of the work.
Another intervention of drill team that could be implemented is Larry Lavender’s “IDEA model.” This model serves as a way to approach, generate, and manipulate choreography. “IDEA” is an acronym that stands for Improvisation, Development, Evaluation, and Assimilation. While I believe drill team choreographers use some of these modes, I do think there can be more involvement with each of these four modes to enrich every aspect of drill team choreography. In the chapter of Lavender’s book Contemporary Choreography: a critical reader, he mentions that all of these IDEA modes should be present in the creative operation of dance making.
The one mode that is not present in drill team is improvisation. The mode of “Improvisation” is essentially what it sounds like, experimenting and improvising with different movements with different bodies. Reflecting on my background of drill team, improvisation is unheard of and somewhat frowned upon in this industry. My intention with this method would be to develop a movement dialogue with the choreographer and dancers, while also making and inventing different movement through a more artistic, personal, and vulnerable place.
As explained above, there are numerous possibilities that are feasible for the drill team industry. My ambition is to one day shift the paradigm of drill team choreography by infusing the principles of Larry Lavender and Tere O’Connor into the world of drill team by diving deeper into the work and creating richer developments and opportunities of movement in order to lead up to a process-based final product, instead of simply a final product.
Angela Falcone, a Houston native, graduated from Friendswood High School in 2007. She was a member of the drill team, the Friendswood Wranglerettes, where she held the title of Grand Marshal. After graduating, she followed her dream and tried out for the Kilgore College Rangerettes. She had the honor of being chosen as the Freshmen Sergeant and Swingster her freshman year, and received the greatest honor of being chosen as Captain her sophomore year. Following graduation from Kilgore College with an Associate in Fine Arts, she was accepted to the University of Texas at Austin, where she holds a B.F.A. in Dance. Angela currently attends Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas where she is pursuing her M.F.A. in Dance. She is specifically interested in shifting the paradigm of high school drill team by reinvigorating the choreographic process and bringing a somatic awareness to high school dancers’ bodies.
As I sit here trying to figure out how to start writing about my experience in graduate school, I am becoming keenly aware of my many mixed feelings about my time there and my time since. So here is to hoping that whatever comes out here makes some sort of sense, for me if no one else.
First let me say that if I could go back and do it all again, I would have waited a few years after undergrad before going to graduate school. I started my doctorate at age 22, immediately after completing my BFA. A lot happened in the subsequent five years of my life while I was in school and working on my dissertation. Your early twenties are incredibly formative years, but I wouldn’t know because I spent them ALL in school. So all I know is how formative graduate school can be.
The moment I learned that a field called “Dance Studies” existed, something in me shifted. Growing up with parents who were teachers and in an academically rigorous community, I have always enjoyed traditional learning. But dance was always my passion. Until college, I thought the two things existed separately.
Although I have danced since I was a child, I’ve never thought of myself as much of an artist. When I was given the choice to write a thesis or choreograph a concert for my Senior Project in undergrad, I only considered the concert option for about 15 seconds. I wanted to write. I was interested in the research process and wanted to be a part of something that blew people’s minds the way Dance Studies did for me when I was 19. After dancing and thinking separately for two decades, I was excited to discover a place where both worked together. I’m not suggesting that choreographing and performing doesn’t require both activities simultaneously, because it certainly does. For me, growing up dancing meant just replicating with no thinking. And while I logically understand that both can, and do, happen in the same body at the same time, I am not sure I have ever fully understood how to make that happen for myself. Even to this day, I don’t fancy myself much of an artist and am incredibly insecure about my own artistic process and choreographic product. But give me a page and I will write! Give me an inspired theoretical text and I will happily analyze movement! In fact, at my going away party before I moved for grad school, I remember a conversation with a dear girlfriend and brilliant choreographer. She couldn’t quite understand why I was choosing to subject myself to even more schooling immediately after graduation. I remember telling her, “I want to be able to write about what you do. I want help people know it exists and remember that it exists for the rest of time.” So when I was 22, that was my plan: To write. About dance. Beyond that, I had no idea what graduate school and a doctorate in dance meant. This should have been my first clue…
I was excited for the letters after my name. I was excited because it sounded cool. But, frankly, the whole thing was hardly planned. I applied because it came recommended from a trusted mentor and I didn’t have any other plans. I honestly didn’t think I’d get in. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. I wish I could have taken an extra year to work, even if it meant working as a caterer, to think about life, about myself, and what I wanted in my future. I could have read more, increased my vocabulary, and written more. I would have interacted with more people, learn what life was like outside of that of a full-time student, and simply enjoyed a moment in my 20s before real life became too permanent and demanding.
I think that year in between would have helped me avoid the panic attack I had the third week of classes. Towards the end of a seminar, in a small and crowded room, after trying to stay calm for several weeks, the realization that I simply had no idea what I was doing came flooding over me. It turns out everyone in graduate programs are REALLY smart (usually). It’s like having a class full of only the smart kids that raise their hands. Let me clarify, it’s not “like” that, it is that. This is really intimidating for the quiet 22 year old who is keenly aware of her own inexperience. So in that moment, I couldn’t figure out why I’d moved away from everything I knew. I couldn’t figure out how I came to sit in a room with so many people who were so much smarter than me. I was convinced that I’d never succeed, that I’d possibly even truly fail for the first time ever. Suddenly, the classroom door got farther and farther away, the tears welled up and I realized that I would not get through graduate school without crying in public…
Now, I’m not suggesting that a year serving food and working for minimum wage would have kept me from crying in graduate school, but I do think it would have made me more confident and more self-assured. I think I could have come in with a better perspective of the world and not one developed solely from books and research. Or maybe even a master’s program would have helped. I thought I was on the fast-track because I was special, smarter than the average bear. And I might have been. But no matter how good I felt when I got that acceptance letter, no matter how smart I may have been in undergrad, I found myself in a room with a collection of people that still, to this day, are the smartest people I know, with more experience, more knowledge, and more skill than I had in that moment. If there is one thing I am confident in in life, it’s my intelligence. But graduate school is NOT real life. These people were/are really brilliant. I was too inexperienced to have confidence in my own intelligence in that moment (and many more to follow).
The one thing I wish someone had told me before I went to school was: “Wait, not yet, maybe next year.” Graduate school is only what you make of it, so be sure you have all the tools and resources you might need to get the most out of it. It’s like trying to paint the walls before you’ve done the primer. It’ll get done, but the color could be sharper and last longer if you prime it first.
Dr. Alexis A. Weisbord received her BFA in Dance from University of Minnesota and her PhD in Critical Dance Studies from UC Riverside. Alexis was a competitive dancer in high school and later spent over ten years directing dance competitions throughout the US. Her dissertation was entitled “Redefining Dance: Competition Dance in the United States” and she has a chapter, “Defining Dance, Creating Commodity: The Rhetoric of So You Think You Can Dance,” in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen. Alexis has held positions as Lecturer in Global Studies at UC Riverside and Associate Faculty in Dance at Norco College. Currently she is an Associate Faculty member at Mt. San Jacinto College, Managing Director for The PGK Dance Project in San Diego, and founder/co-director of an emerging dance company, Alias Movement.