This week we had choreography at my gym. To say I love my choreographer is an understatement. To say my athletes and their parents love her is also an understatement. She is amazing with my kids, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yesterday, on a Tuesday, at 11 am., my lobby was packed. My parents love staying and watching the routines form. Some of you might think that’s crazy, but it’s part of my open-lobby policy to keep athletes safe. If you’re wondering, sometimes I get parents who have some opinions on our choreography. I’ll actually talk about how we handle that in my blog tomorrow. 

Today, I want to tell you how I finally found the right choreographer for my gym!

I used to think it was about great routines. I wanted someone who was going to give us a flashy routine, challenging stunts and all the creativity. Those are the questions I asked when I was looking to hire someone. 

My coaches and I always stay for choreography, so I hadn’t really put much thought into the coaching ability of the choreographer. That’s not to say it wasn’t important to me, but I hadn’t worried much about how this person would interact with the kids, because they were there for a short period of time each year.

Then 2016 happened. 

I had a choreographer with a short temper. He was frustrated with my senior 2 team and called a girl, “mental”. They weren’t learning the dance or transitions very quickly and she was a people-pleaser. She was starting to get frustrated with herself, and her frustration was starting to show.

She was a kid.

The choreographer wasn’t though. He was an adult who had put together a couple of good routines for other teams that week. But, then he got to this team and it was obvious he wasn’t as thrilled to be working with lower-level seniors.

The athlete was generally a mild-mannered kid. She had a hard life at home, and I knew it. In spite of that, she was spunky and sweet. She struggled in cheer as she had hit puberty just a couple years prior to this and was still developing. Her tumbling had declined a bit, her jumps had declined in technique, and though she was a flyer, it was only getting more challenging for her. I had coached her for many years, so I was pretty patient.

So, when he called her “mental” (in a derogatory way), you can imagine I got pretty angry pretty fast. That’s not how we talk to kids in my gym…and we’re not in an episode of Wayne’s World (for the few Gen X’ers who may be reading this and know the reference.) I kept my cool around the athletes as we had just an hour of choreography left for the day. From that point on, I stood up and took charge. I was no longer willing to let this choreographer run the show. He could give us the choreography, but I was going to coach the kids.

Some choreographers might call that rude. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to allow someone to come into my gym and behave that way. If it were a coach, I would have sent them home and we would have a serious conversation to see if they were a good fit for the job. At the end of the day, I had a conversation with the choreographer privately letting him know his temper and his language was unacceptable with my kids. If he spoke to them that way again, he would be fired. I also called his boss and told him the same thing.

That was the year I realized I needed to be asking different questions when hiring a choreographer. There are many talented artists out there who can put together a stunning routine for me. More importantly, I wanted someone my athletes would look forward to seeing year after year. I wanted someone who looked beyond the skills to the athletes themselves and recognized when they needed to take a short break or make choreography fun for a few minutes. I needed a choreographer that recognized teen girls are emotional and every one of them is extremely different in what they can handle emotionally and physically. 

I wanted someone who looked at the job as an opportunity to mentor kids and not just to selfishly create a routine that they could brag about to their colleagues.

So when I went in search of my next choreographer, here are the questions I asked:

1. What’s your favorite age group to work with? 

Someone who told me seniors may struggle with my minis. Someone who told me minis likely was patient enough to handle my seniors.

2. What’s your coaching style?

I wanted someone who was in this for the kids and not just because they love cheerleading. I don’t mind someone who pushes my kids to be better and challenges them. I want that! I don’t want someone who is in this to brag that they choreographed a winning Summit routine and took the credit for themselves.

3. How involved would you like our coaches to be?

I personally want a choreographer who is asking for my opinion. Once they leave, it’s on us to produce a great routine. If it’s too challenging, we’ll have to change the choreography to water it down. If it’s not challenging enough, we’ll have to change the choreography to increase the difficulty level. If they put my kids who struggle with jump timing in the front, I’ll probably move them as I know it can be hard for the kids in the back of the formation to maintain their rhythm. I don’t need to give an opinion on everything, but I want a choreographer who will listen when I say, “That move is a bit too mature for my team” or “Can we readjust this pose a bit? My parents will not be a fan.” I need someone who will understand that while they’re the expert at choreography, I’m the expert at what my parents and athletes can handle. I need someone who is humble (and that can be hard to find with a choreographer.)

So what happens when you hire a great choreographer (aside from getting great routines)? 

  • Your parents and athletes are excited for choreography and clinics. They understand why you want to do fluff before your end-of-season events and they’re far more supportive of paying for the choreographer to return.
  • They tag the choreographer on social media and rave about how great they are.
  • They trust YOU as the gym owner to make the right decisions for the athletes in the program.
  • You have someone you can hire back year after year who builds relationships with your staff and is there when you have questions throughout the season.

My choreographer is so connected with my athletes and staff that she asks how they’re doing from time to time. I had an athlete doing open gym when my choreographer was leaving a few days ago. She stopped for a few minutes to coach the athlete who is trying to get her full. 

My choreographer identified someone on my team who might be “at risk” as a teen and gave her a little part in the dance to help her feel amazing. 

My choreographer trusted me when I told her someone who has never flown before could handle flying on senior 3. She put her in pyramid, and the athlete’s skills hit every time (even NOW in July!)

My choreographer knows I want my coaches to be more confident with the rules and scoresheet. She knows I want to have a staff member who is as confident as me at accuscore so that if I were in the back with a team, she would know if a deduction was accurate or not. She identified which of my coaches would be best at that and why. She was 100% right, and now I know who I should take with me this year to accuscore and empower to be me when I’m not there.

I know my gym isn’t like other gyms. While I am a naturally competitive person, it’s more important to me that my athletes are well-rounded and coached in every aspect of their physical and mental state. Because of those things, I need someone who will give me more than just a great routine.

If your gym could use help growing your all star program and building in a budget for choreography, music and camps, the Next Gen Academy can help. We’re experts at helping you build a budget that will be profitable while also being sustainable for your gym families. To learn more, book a call at