Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Since my last post, I have added the title of cheer coach to my Chilean resume. About two weeks ago I began coaching the A-7 (my h.s.) cheerleaders. I showed up for my first practice on a Tuesday afternoon, with the intention of observing the team, the level of their tricks and their method of practicing. What I discovered was that, there were no tricks, their level was non-existent and of course, there was no method. Silly, silly me. Random clumps of people stood around and the same girl was lifted again and again by the same two boys. When I arrived back on a Thursday afternoon it was more of the same, but with a twist. The official "coach" waited til the last 10 minutes of practice to make an announcement. The girls (and boys actually) would be performing in the plaza (equivalent to Lincoln Center to this town) the next Thursday night for the big wrap-up event at the end of the liceo´s anniversary week. The entire student body would attend. The "coach" also lamented that she would be out of town, but that Miss Teresa would be here on that day to get everything together. After all, Miss Teresa was also going to help with the choreography. Well, as it turned out, Miss Teresa became responsible for organizing 30 students with zero prior experience in anything even remotely similar to what she considers dancing or cheering (her experience in the latter being quite basic). Really, what Miss Teresa had already surmised from her first practice, was that this "team" was more like a club in it´s first year with no leader and sadly, no talent. So, what did Miss Teresa try to do? She tried to turn water into wine. (And, I have amazingly enough, figured out how to post a video of a practice on my blog. It´s not much to look at, the end got messy after Juan fell -- don´t worry, he´s fine -- but when I tell you it was a struggle, please multiply that by 1,000 and tell me how awesome I am.)
Anyway, after the announcement the girls wasted 10 minutes of my time fighting about what color shoes they should wear until finally I solemly raised my hand.
"Miss Teresa has a question, shut up!"
"Um....can we pick some music first?" I can´t choreograph anything without a song. And with less than a week left, I realized I was expected to have everything prepared by Saturday..
"How many practices do I get?" I asked.
This was followed by more fighting about what days people felt like coming. Sunday was out of the question it seemed. Tuesday I had theater (which at that point was way more important to me). So, all in all we had about 3 and a half practices. Lovely. Great. Simple. Impossible, I thought.

And so it began. After hearing everybody´s opinion on what songs they thought would be best. I took home the one cheer cd of the "coach" and picked the song myself, not at all concerned with the team´s personal taste in music. Then I spent my weekend choreographing tiny little bits of the song, and stalking dance and cheer teams on Youtube in search of the world´s most simple, yet deceiving tricks. I roughly considered the breaks in the music when the team would be doing their lifts, but focused more on choreography, since, after all I had warned them from the principio, I´m a dancer, I don´t do cheer lifts.

Saturday´s practice began much like always. In a big circle, the coach "warmed them up" and basically did shoulder rolls til I could bear it no more. I had arrived this Saturday with the intent of showing them how a dance/cheer practice was supposed to be run. If I was getting all the responsibility dumped on me (kinda like my now AWESOME theater group), we would do it my way ... we would stretch dancer style. Ohhhh yeeeeaaya. I fully intended to push them ... something about laziness just irks me... "Mind if I add some stretches?" I asked her. She looked relieved. I think I was making her nervous with my dance pants. And THAT, is when the cheerleaders of A-7 began to actually do what athletic teams are supposed to -- work. I stretched them properly (but not ridiculously, mind you) and was greeted by the usual sounds of my Chilean students: groaning, whining, grunting, complaining and this horrible nasal sounding "aaannnggggggghhhhhh!!!" the kids make here that I never knew was possible til I myself pìcked it up. "Lazy, lazy, lazy" I kept saying. "I´m sorry, I thought you all wanted to be cheerleaders....am I wrong?" They want to be cheerleaders that have zero flexibility, no jumps, no splits, no tumbles. And they did not take well to my introduction of the "bridge" to stretch their backs.

After stretching I had them get with partners and try some of my "easy tricks" and then began the combination, complete with endless repetitions of "5,6,7,8!" Everything took four times as long as I had planned. And as it turned out, I did wind up responsible for choreographing in the cheer lifts. (Some old dance team girls would be so proud.) We got a decent amount done that first Saturday. Considering every five minutes I was asking wandering people (mostly the boys) why they were sitting down or doing cartwheels on the other side of the gym. It was like babysitting (without the paycheck). I was pretty strict because I wanted to set a tone: if you work hard and follow my lead, you will be...decent. But you will work, you will be organized damnit and you gotta pay attention. Similar to the beginnings of my theater group, I felt confident in my new role and knew that I truly had the means to hide their flaws and help these kids present themselves in a new light. This is a small town. They´ve just had no exposure to the things kids in Santiago have, or that I have, for that matter. Dance practice is all I´ve known since I was, say, four. Like theater, this I know.
I was given four days of practice to do what had been hard for my dance team in college. And we had talent -- lots of it.

By the end of my second practice on Tuesday I collapsed at home in tears from exhaustion, frustration and anger. My schedule was now flooded with theater practice every day at 8 am or 5 pm, cheerleading, normal classes, Winter Camp, random drop-in´s each day for help singing English songs and the two 7th and 8th grade classes I had each week. There was never a "thank you." Before I left cheer Tuesday night I gave a tiny speech. You know, the whole, "I don´t get paid, I´m not gonna be the one performing in front of my school, I have better things to do with my free time," speech. "Don´t tell me it´s too hard, don´t tell me you don´t know how, don´t tell me you don´t understand my Spanish....just try. Please. I´m trying really hard to make you the best you can be." I wasn´t mad, just tired and I felt a bit abused. I closed the practice with a ritual I had in college. "Everybody put your hands in the center of the circle on top of eachother." I yelled "1,2,3" and with one big upwards swoop of arms we all shouted "FOX!" (They picked the name, don´t ask.) They loved my tradition. In any case, the speech worked its magic and the rest of the week was smooth sailing. We pulled it together and for the short amount of time, I thought it went really well. If it´s possible, we grew into a team in four days.

And on Thursday afternoon, Miss Teresa, alone, meticulously applied little gold star stickers (she smartly brought from home) to the faces of every single girl on the team after expertly applying the same bright blue eyeshadow to their eyes. Miss Teresa then did a quick warm-up, two run through´s and joined in a nervous hand circle of "1,2,3, A-7! 1,2,3, FOX!" before walking with her jittery team the five blocks to the plaza. There, she calmed them down, told them which side of the plaza to face, walked them through their formations once, before personally announcing them herself (in Spanish) to all of her students/their classmates/random old people in Vallenar and screaming their counts from the sidelines as they gave their first official performance. No falls, no huge mistakes -- all petrified smiles. And that night, alone, in her bed, Miss Teresa proudly thought to herself, "You didn´t know you could do that, did you?"


kj1224 said...

I don't think you know how awesome you are... but you.are.awesome!

Susan said...

Rah, rah, rah---you go, girl.

Josephine said...

Hip, hip, Hurray!!! for Gervase!!!
You are an amazing GODDESS!!!

You can do anything!!!
Love you