Erin Harold is in her 7th year as head coach of the dance team at Texas Tech University. Her team won their first Division 1A Jazz title at NDA Collegiate Nationals in 2017, and they returned in 2018 to win double titles in both D1A Jazz and Pom. We sat down with Erin, hot off their win, to discuss what it takes to be a part of a such a high caliber, prestigious college dance team.
Thank you for talking with Jo+Jax, Erin! Let’s get right to it: what kind of training and practice goes into such an intensely competitive dance program?
A lot of our dancers training happens at home and in their studios before they ever audition for us. Once a dancer is on our team, we have weekly challenges (both technically and in the weight room) to keep them training in our summer off season. When we’re back on campus in the fall, we train four times per week, for 3-4 hours each rehearsal. The dancers also train with their strength coach three times per week.
At rehearsal, we spend at least one day training technique–the first hour is our “combo time”. We rotate through the team and each person teaches a combination to the style of their choice. Doing this allows us to get on the same page stylistically. After the combination we spend the remaining 2-3 hours training our skills and technical progression. We will go across the floor, do center work, and usually finish with some dance specific conditioning. Incorporating a full team warm-up for the first thirty minutes of each practice to ensure that everyone is continuing to increase their flexibility is a huge priority for us, as well. We never stop training our technique–not even during those last few weeks before we compete. Our last team combo is the week before we leave for nationals and by that point we are already starting to work on new skills for the upcoming season.
What are the expectations of dancers auditioning for your program? Do you recommend a specific type of training or experience for incoming Texas Tech hopefuls?
Our technical expectations change as the landscape of college dance teams change. We are looking for elite level dancers who are highly skilled in at least one area. We always say our team is a puzzle. We don’t want 25 people with the same exact skill set. We have to have the wide range of skills to help push each dancer to reach their fullest potential. Every single one of our dancers has extensive studio training. We are looking for well-rounded dancers who continue training their technique, style, and artistry throughout high school.
At Texas Tech, we are also looking for dancers who aren’t afraid to be challenged. We are looking for athletic dancers who can improve their skill-set through our strength and conditioning program. Our dancers max out in squat, bench press, and pull-ups each year with our strength coach. It’s a huge adjustment from most of their previous training, but it helps us limit injuries and develop stronger facilities.
Describe the feeling and scene at NDA Collegiate Nationals. How is it different from studio competitions or conventions?
Being a studio dancer first, I vaguely remember my first time at NDA College Nationals. One major difference from studio competition are the three different types of venues we compete in. First we compete on a stage, then in a convention center, and finally outside on the Bandshell.
Since it is a cheer & dance event, the atmosphere is electric. Everywhere you look you see a cheerleader flying through the air or a dance team running through some last minute spacing.
What I love the most about college nationals is the sportsmanship and camaraderie. All of the athletes respect each other because they have all sacrificed so much time into perfecting their craft for these eight minutes. Unlike studio competitions, there is no other place for these dancers to compete again in a few short weeks. More often than not, there are no regional competitions before nationals. These dancers only have these 1-4 performances to showcase what they have been training to achieve for not only that season, but their entire lives. Everyone wants to see everyone else’s performances, so all of the venues are packed both days, making the environment even more special.
That sounds phenomenally exciting! Can you share with us a little bit about your motto or core values for the Texas Tech program?
When I first started at Texas Tech we used the motto “hard work and dedication”. This quickly morphed into the hashtag #HWAD, which we still use to this day. Each year we vote on what our theme will be for that specific team. This year’s motto was “Unstoppable Together.”
We talk A LOT about having zero missed opportunities. By doing this, we have developed a culture of eager teammates who push each other on a day in and day out basis to be the absolute best version of themselves. When you combine 25 dancers and a coaching staff who are all highly committed to these values individually, it makes our team unbreakable as a unit.
To learn more about auditions for Texas Tech Pom, visit here