April 25, 2014
By Michael Kasiborski, MGoBlue.com
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- They come toting resumes, freshly polished and printed. They enter wearing business suits -- in some cases, the first business attire they have ever owned.
They come from Colorado, Florida, California, and Minnesota, just to name a few. And they find themselves in Revelli Hall on a Saturday morning. They sit down, one after another, for the first most important interview they have ever had.
The panel before them pokes and prods, getting to know their backgrounds and picking up on character cues hidden in those resumes and within the meaning of their answers.
This is an interview that will shape lives for years to come, and will -- at least in the short-term -- determine the makeup of the 2014-15 Michigan dance team.
That is right -- the interview, the resume review, the business-like presentation -- it all happens while these aspiring dancers are sitting completely still.
"The interview process really shows that it is more than just dancing," says rising sophomore Rachel Hofsess, who is just about a year removed from her own interview. "You could be a really great dancer, but if you don't have a positive attitude, and it doesn't appear that you are here for the right reasons, that can be seen in a five-minute interview."
The University of Michigan dance team recently held auditions for the 2014-15 team, the third iteration of the team under the Michigan Athletics umbrella. The auditions culminate with the Saturday morning interview, a mental test that falls squarely in the middle for four challenging days of dancing.
"It's a little nerve-racking," says Hofsess. "First of all, I never really walk around in heels so that was challenge number one. But second of all, the real challenge is that you sit on one side of the table, and five or six people are on the other side of the table, all eyes are on you and all eyes are on your resume."
For some dancers like Hofsess, who danced her entire life and grew up close to Ann Arbor, the team is natural combination of their love for dance and for Michigan. For others, it is a creative outlet. But no matter the motivation, the focus must be on "we," not on "me."
"We're not necessarily looking for the best dancers, we're looking for the right dancers," says head coach Valerie Stead Potsos. "That means are they willing to work together as a team, are they going to act professionally, are they going to communicate professionally?"
The dance team, along with the cheer team, often finds itself in the role of ambassador at both the sporting events it supports and the extra events it participates in, like alumni tailgates, pep rallies and parades.
"We interact with people probably more than we dance," says rising senior Kendal Zemmin. "I think that is a huge aspect of dance team. Fans get to know us, and learn that we are nice, intelligent women. On this team, you need to present yourself well away from the stage."
"Public relations is extremely important for our team," says co-captain and rising senior Cassidy Lawlor. "We look at how well (candidates) communicate and present themselves. I want somebody who is ready to jump in and be part of the family from day one."
For Lawlor, the family ideal is not a cliché. Her older sister, Megan, was on the team before her. She says at first, she was not sure if she wanted to follow in Megan's footsteps. But now, she cannot imagine life without the team.
And in her three years with the team, Lawlor has seen the team embrace a heightened sense of responsibility that has coincided with the commitment the athletic department made to the team.
"We have a new mindset," she says. "We're scoring higher at Nationals -- new teammates have to be ready to make sacrifices. I'm looking for fire and the willingness to be absolutely committed 110 percent, it's so important."
For Stead Potsos and her staff, the challenge is finding the dancers who come to Ann Arbor with different backgrounds, different areas of expertise and from a world that is not necessarily team-oriented.
"I think that for the dance team, there is a certain character you have to have," says Zemmin. "You can't just mix a bunch of people together. You have to have the same goals and have the same mindset. I love the interview aspect, I am very thankful that we do that."
The formula is paying off. The team continues to improve its standing at its annual competition, the Universal Dance Association College Dance Team Nationals, claiming two top-10 finishes in January (ninth in jazz, 10th in hip hop).
"For me, the number one thing is the excitement," says Stead Potsos. "We are moving forward and creating high expectations every year. We probably tripled the expectations this year because we want more."
The team added one day of auditions this year, pushing its candidates to work through mental and physical obstacles for four days. Zemmin recounts icing down after the third day of auditions -- all spots are up for grabs each year, so even current team members must re-audition -- and fighting through aches and pain in day four.
"We went from noon to five, and we were hardcore dancing the entire time," says Zemmin. "But I think the mental pressure is the hardest part. Dance is extremely physical and mental -- you learn so much choreography, and some of it is similar, and you have to differentiate."
"I think the quality and talent has increased because of the commitment by the athletic department to our program," says Stead Potsos. "We have more opportunities to be able to train our athletes, we have more opportunities (to showcase the team), which gives us the responsibility to raise our expectations."
Those expectations are part of the team's culture, a culture that continues to be cultivated and strengthened. And it is a culture that is built in increments of 10-minute interviews.
The 2014-15 Michigan dance team will be announced on MGoBlue.com prior to the 2014-15 academic year. Photos courtesy of the Michigan Marching Band.
Contact: Michael Kasiborski