By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
In sync with every leap and spin, executing each step with precise timing, the Grand Canyon University dance team meets the highest standards. When the 2018-19 edition makes its debut next month at Welcome Week’s Lope-A-Palooza, expectations will skyrocket again. The Lopes community expects to see flawless, dynamic movements.
Preparation for 32 young ladies to form a dazzling team began in mid-April when Dance coach Jacque Genung-Koch soaked up refined techniques at the Varsity Dance Coach national conference. It gathered steam from May to July as dancers maintained their strength, conditioning, agility and skills in private workouts in their hometowns. It will escalate Friday when the returning dancers move back to campus for training and Monday when the rookie dancers arrive.
A shift into overdrive begins when a subset of the team participates in a camp in Las Vegas, followed by full squad participation in a national camp at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The intense training period will serve the squad throughout the school year, from campus and community outreach, to timeout routines at men’s and women’s basketball games, unique performances at baseball games and national competition.
While many of the talented women move on to Cardinals Cheer Squad, Laker Girls and Suns Dancers, among post-graduate opportunities, and others enter careers in business, nursing and education, etc., the mainstay is Genung-Koch. She is the keeper of a flame that symbolizes excellence. In six years under her direction, the dance team has built a stellar reputation.
Last spring, in the team's first year of Division I eligibility, it claimed a fourth-place finish in the jazz category at Universal Dance Association (UDA ) nationals, behind the University of Delaware, Cal State Fullerton and Hofstra University. Moreover, in a regional event, the United Spirit Association (USA), it placed third behind the University of Oregon and San Diego State.
In recognition of her rising status in the college dance pantheon, Genung-Koch was selected as the keynote speaker at the inaugural national conference April 13-14 in Dallas. Her topic was collaboration within a spirit program -- the dance coach’s role in the integration of cheer, dance, band, student section and mascot.
“It is something we excel at, at GCU, working all together: cheer, band, dance, Havoc leaders and Thunder,’’ she said.
With help from Barry Buetel, Executive Director of Broadcasting/Sponsorships, who prepared a video of performances integrating all entities, Genung-Koch showed visual examples amid her 45-minute speech to an audience of more than 200 college and high school dance coaches. She explained how all the spirit entities work well together, communicating and playing to their strengths. In her case, it is a collaborative effort with Cheer coach Emily Stephens, Havocs and Thunder liaison Helen Bleach, Vice President of Campus Events and Arena Operations, and band director Paul Koch, who just happens to be her husband.
Genung-Koch, a former Arizona State dancer, also spoke at a breakout session about the importance of dance coaches building positive relationships with their administration.
“We’ve got such a crazy supportive administration here,’’ Genung-Koch said. “We are so blessed, so I was able to present on what works.’’
Leading and learning
After sharing her expertise, Genung-Koch went to work learning from her peers in preparation for the 2018-19 season. She took a technique class on aerials (no hands cartwheel) from Texas Tech coach Erin Alvarado, who shared videos of her dancers’ crisp execution.
”We compete against each other at nationals, so the fact that coaches are opening up their tips and their tricks and sharing with one another is such a positive environment,’’ Genung-Koch said.
It will be a different atmosphere next spring.
“At the competition you’re cordial to one another and of course you’re kind, but you want your team to win,’’ she said firmly.
Genung-Koch also took a turns class from Ohio State coach Melissa McGhee, featuring pirouettes and a la seconde -- turning while holding one leg out to the side. Since most college dancers have been taking lessons since preschool or intensely drilling with club or high school teams, the challenge is not teaching the technique, it is fine-tuning it in a singular style.
“It is going to look different because they are from all over the nation, so it is taught different ways,’’ Genung-Koch said. “I am not teaching technique, I am trying to get my dancers to do the same type of technique. So it is really fine-tuning and cleaning, and she gave us some great tips.’’
Genung-Koch also enjoyed a class on supporting dancers in all aspects of their lives, including academically and emotionally. It was presented by University of Michigan coach Valerie Stead Potsos.
“She is one of the most phenomenal coaches I’ve ever had the pleasure to get to know, and she has the biggest heart on supporting other coaches,’’ Genung-Koch said.
Potsos, the 18th-year coach of a perennial power, is impressed by Genung-Koch’s expertise and the rise of the Lopes program.
"Jacque is an innovative coach and is transforming the program at GCU,’’ Potsos said. “She believes in developing students, not only as dancers but as professional young women. She is creative and inspiring to her athletes. I am proud of the progress she has made so far, and I am excited to see what else she can accomplish with her team.”
Strength in numbers
Genung-Koch is eagerly awaiting the dancers' return to campus.
“There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation going into this year,’’ she said. “We move our student-athletes onto campus early to start to develop our team style and our team presentation.’’
For starters, she is coaching more student-athletes, 32 as opposed to 26 the past three years and 14 dancers in her first three seasons, beginning in 2012-13. As the campus grew, so did the demands on the dancers, who perform at a myriad of events.
“It really helps to have more dancers, so we divide and conquer with more events on campus and in the community, and we have a squad performing here at games while the rest of the squad is competing at nationals,’’ Genung-Koch said.
Not all the rookies are freshmen -- one is a sophomore who did not make the team last year, and a few are transfer students. Half of the team is from out of state, particularly California, Colorado and Nevada.
“We’ll hit the ground running,’’ said Genung-Koch, explaining that GCU’s unique dance routine for every home basketball game requires the squad to devise a plethora of moves.
Although Bleach and Stephens have told Genung-Koch that she does not need to prepare new choreography for every home game and she even has suggested to her lead dancers that they drop the unusual tradition, the dance team has chosen to continue it because it is a point of pride and part of their reputation.
“We need a lot of material, so we go to two camps to bring back material for the year, ‘’ Genung-Koch said. “And we love when the Havocs come up with themed games, so we can create routines or adjust them to our routine. It gives us inspiration. It is hard to come up with the next cool move. It is hard to come up with 15 of the best dances ever.’’
Game Day the priority
While the team competed in jazz at UDA nationals last spring, next spring it will also enter Game Day, a division added in 2018 that requires teams to perform a short timeout routine, a sideline dance, a chant and their fight song. It reflects the core priorities of the GCU program.
“We are first and foremost a Game Day team, meaning our effort and energy and time is predominantly spent on preparing and polishing material for GCU athletic events and appearances,’’ Genung-Koch said. “That material spans from technical dance expertise when executing collegiate level dance skills for routines, to the little details necessary to look polished (how to pick up pom poms after a free throw, following subtle cues from captains for the next sideline dance, knowing how to rally and engage the crowd).
"Each of the 32 dancers are equally responsible to excel in all Game Day aspects – from our rookies to our fifth-year members. We work hard to look like ONE team rather than 32 dancing individuals. We’re excited to jump into this new category and demonstrate the spirit and game day atmosphere we have for GCU. ‘’
Picture a game night in November: As the cheer team, Thunder and her dancers entertain, her husband leads the band in a GCU Arena packed with fans and Havocs. Surveying the scene, Jacque Genung-Koch will marvel at her dancers lock step moves born of countless hours of repeated practice routines, and she will re-state her bottom line: “It is worth it. It is fun. I have the best job in the world.’’
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].
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