Genung-Koch a finalist for Dance Coach of the Year
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Jacque Genung-Koch did not want to walk in her parents’ footsteps.
“My parents are teachers. My grandparents are teachers. Everyone’s a coach in my life. That wasn’t going to be me – I was going to do something different.”
That was more like it.
But God knew differently; God knew better.
So she danced instead.
“Doors just kept opening that I didn’t necessarily ask for but kept saying ‘yes’ to. And then it became evident along the way that coaching was what I was meant to do,” said Genung-Koch, who coaches Grand Canyon University’s powerhouse Dance team.
That juggernaut team just two weeks ago dominated at the Universal Dance Association College Dance Team Nationals, the Super Bowl of dance team competitions, in Orlando, Florida. The team won the national title in the Division 1 Game Day category for the third year in a row.
And Genung-Koch is making her own impression outside of her team’s remarkable three-peat win.
The National Dance Coaches Association named her one of two finalists for College Coach of the Year. The winner will be announced at the organization’s conference May 13-15 in Nashville, Tennessee, where she also will be a speaker. The other nominee: Kaila Evenoff of Washington State University, whom Genung-Koch knows well.
Everyone knows everyone in the competitive dance world, a relatively new sport on the scene, Genung-Koch said. It is only the third year that high school, collegiate, all-star and professional dance coaches have had their own national association.
“I was totally taken aback by that nomination, for sure,” said Genung-Koch, who remembers seeing the nomination form but didn’t think about it much.
In a year overshadowed by a global pandemic, she instead worried about what the pandemic would mean for her 33-member dance team.
Would there be any games? If there were, would the Dance team be there? And if they performed, would there be a crowd to perform for?
“We’ve just had a year where the University has really fought to have us present at games and finding a way. I think a lot of universities straight up told their dance teams ‘no’ because that was the easiest solution at the time and, obviously, the idea is to keep us safe.
“But we were at basketball games. It wasn’t the same way. We weren’t down on the court, but we were present at every single GCU basketball game. And that’s HUGE. I don’t even know if another university was able to do that. Through the no’s, we found yeses.”
What that meant for the Dance team was weekly COVID testing since July (more as nationals approached) and wearing masks at every practice, every workout, nonstop, until the competition squad hit the dance floor in Orlando.
The 2020-2021 academic year has been one for the record books in what has now been a two-decade-plus career for Genung-Koch in teaching and coaching, eight of those years for GCU.
Genung-Koch grew up in basketball gyms and has been dancing since she was 3 years old, continuing on that track as a student at Arizona State University.
When she wasn’t thinking about becoming a geographer or meteorologist, she created a storm of her own on the dance floor as a four-year member of ASU’s dance team. The team would perform at three NCAA bowl games, including the Rose Bowl, Sun Bowl and Oahu Bowl, and in Super Bowl XXX.
Genung-Koch honed her leadership skills while with the team, rising to become a squad leader for two years and, eventually, serving as senior team captain.
After graduating from ASU with her bachelor’s degree in geography and the University of Phoenix with her master’s in secondary education, she taught and coached high school and college dance programs and teams across Phoenix, accepting her position at GCU just two months after her husband, Paul Koch, was hired to lead the University’s band program.
They are GCU’s power duo when it comes to the Spirit teams.
“This is year 21, so I’ve been doing it awhile now,” said Genung-Koch, who’s writing a book about her dance ventures. It’s one part autobiography, one part coaching and one part life book. “It really has forced me to step back and look at the past 21 years of my life and just kind of see that path that God has had me on. It’s just so fun to step back and see that, oh wow, He definitely had a plan for me. He had a plan for Paul. He had a plan for us to be together, doing this together.”
She seems surprised at the direction her life has taken, knowing firsthand that teaching and coaching aren’t easy paths.
“It definitely is challenging … and there’s not a whole lot of gratitude that goes along with it,” she said. “There’s a lot of work, but you do it because you love it and because you love the kids and you love the progress. … You have to really choose it with your heart.”
Despite all those challenges, Genung-Koch chooses to continue on that difficult path: “I love transformation. I love figuring out what the next thing is and how to make it better and how to make it bigger. That’s just really exciting to me. … Not one of the 21 years has looked like another.”
That idea of transformation is a common theme at GCU. University President Brian Mueller often speaks about the University being a force for transformational change in the community.
It is perhaps why Genung-Koch has found her place at GCU and has been such a successful coach.
“It would be easy to sit back and say, ‘This is what we do. This is what we’ve always done,’” Genung-Koch said, but she’s not the kind to embrace complacency.
She brings that push for growth, transformation and excellence to her dancers. In the years those student-athletes are with her, she wants to present them with opportunities and see them grow as dancers. But, ultimately, she wants to see them evolve as people.
“It’s always more important to me who they are than what they can do,” she said.
Genung-Koch spends a lot of time developing student-athletes’ character, more than anything. While dance is what she sees as her “method” and the gift God gave her, she considers developing good human beings and creating strong leaders as her greatest role.
“That’s a big part of who I am as a coach, and I know I see that in a lot of other successful coaches, too.”
Genung-Koch, who co-hosts “The Dance Coach Playbook” podcast and performs recreationally with the professional dance company The Parking Lot Project, isn’t slowing down one bit, though the academic year has wrapped up.
The second half of Dance team auditions is this month. Genung-Koch will speak at the National Dance Coaches Association convention, too – and will learn if she was chosen College Coach of the Year. Then practice for the 2021-22 Dance team begins full force in June.
Genung-Koch is doing what she never thought she wanted to do – follow in her parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps, though she has done it dancing to her own beat.
“I wouldn’t have chosen it any other way,” she said, and spoke of her husband and the amazing dance community that has supported her on her journey. “It’s just such a blessing.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected]