Dance Team: A creative start leads to late-season success for Warriors

The majority of the time it starts with music, but inspiration can come from anywhere when creating dance routines

Ali Geraets (left) and Cindy Clough discuss choreography for the dance team's Beatles themed routine Friday, Dec. 4, at the Just for Kix studio in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

It started with diamonds and transitioned into a kaleidoscope of Beatles songs.

Cindy Clough calls creating choreography the most fun part of her job as the head coach of the Brainerd Warriors dance team. She teaches the subject during the summer. She lays awake at night dreaming up different sequences or working on timing to different music.

Over her award-winning career, Clough created memorable and inspiring dance routines in both high kick and jazz.

The majority of the time the routine the Warriors perform during the Class 3A state tournament is inspired by a song or a beat.

In the case of the 2020-21 kick routine, Clough’s original idea was a diamonds and pearls theme. While searching for music that included diamonds in the lyrics, Clough came upon a rendition of the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”


From that song, Clough went down the rabbit hole of the Beatles’ song catalog -- Brainerd’s routine is now entitled “The Beatles are Back.”

“I just totally switched gears and went a different direction because I found all of these Beatles songs so we’re doing a new theme, but it shows you where the creative process is,” Clough said. “I’m not one of those people who is locked into a certain idea. When I found something better, I decided to pivot and go in that direction. Now we are all on to ‘The Beatles are Back’ and it’s a really cool mixing.”

As with any fan of the Fab Four, narrowing down which songs of the 229 songs they released can be difficult. A dance routine can only be between 2:15-to-3 minutes long. Brainerd’s music mix is currently 30 seconds too long.

“We don’t know what to eliminate, but we’re working hard on that,” Clough said.

Thankfully Cindy’s daughter Ali Geraets can edit the music mixes to fit exactly what the team will need.


Music layers from a Beatles inspired routine are shown in the music editing software Logic Pro X Friday, Dec. 4, at the Just for Kix studio in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Once the inspiration is found and the music is selected, Clough turns into an architect and charts out a dance routine blueprint. She counts out the entire routine in counts of eight.

“I’ll be listening to the music in my car or wherever and I think to myself, ‘What does this sound look like?’” Clough said. “I try to put a movement to the sound so we can maximize what the music provides. Your movement has to fit the music.”

The next step is dance formations and when dancers will move and to where. Once again, the Warriors use technology to help make this process easier. The coaches use software to input each dancer into a routine allowing for a visual, as well as a guide for that individual dancer.

Ali Geraets explains the EnVision drill design software they use when choreographing a routine Friday, Dec. 4, at the Just for Kix studio in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“Once we have it sectioned off that’s where the dancers really come into play,” Clough said. “We have the dance handwritten and our choreography team, which is a volunteer group of students who feel they are capable of working with choreography, they get that sheet and we give them assignments to fill it in.

“Normally we’re working together, but this year has been different.”


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Brainerd’s volunteer choreography team this season is Jada Bentson, Sierra Chisholm, Macin Freed, Quinn Geraets, Semma Hiltner, India Hiltner, Bailey Koop, Aubri Metz, Greta Schloemer, Thea Shogren and Michaela Steichen. Clough called the group one of the better groups of creative, interested and inspired choreographers that she has ever worked with. A godsend to have during social distancing and all other COVID-19 related limitations.

Clough admits her creativity sometimes gets in the way and the team has to go back to implement some of the requirements needed in a routine. For instance, in a kick routine, teams need a minimum of 35-65 kicks and they need to have a variety of kicks from hover, fan, french/hinge, moving, open, switch, hitch, tilt and others. They also have to have kicks that start on the left and jumps and leaps. The athletes must also dance in and out of skills and formations rather than walking in and out of them. There are flexibility moves and the need for constant movement of formations. Even in a kick routine, teams must incorporate jazz skills.

“Sometimes when we don’t have enough kicks, we have to add them in,” Clough said. “That happens to us a lot the way we choreograph, where some people are more structured. I’m more not structured and creative. So we’ll be done, but we’ll need to add in 20 more kicks. With other skills like turns, or jumps or toe-touches, they usually end up just happening because the kids that are creative know the elements we need to have in our routine.”

A routine is never really done. The choreography team will continually ask what can be added to make a routine better. Sometimes a routine is too difficult and the group needs to work to make it easier for the athletes.
“A lot of the times your choreographers are your best dances and they can do things your other dances can’t do so you have to water it down after it’s done,” Clough said. “Sometimes I have to force myself not to change a routine because that’s my creativity.”

Ali Geraets (left) and Cindy Clough discuss choreography for the dance team's Beatles themed routine Friday, Dec. 4, at the Just for Kix studio in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

After each show or invitational, Clough looks at her team's scores and those of the other teams and she said most times Brainerd’s creativity scores are the highest. The downfall to changing a routine too often comes in the execution. Dancers may forget the newest changes and so Clough works to have the final routine implemented as soon as possible.

One thing Clough has noticed over the years is a change can often invigorate a team and instill a new excitement into the group. Having the technological tools has made changing routines easier than in the past.


Going back to inspiration for routines, Clough said sometimes a move can start the creative process and maybe even a costume or look. Brainerd’s costumes or dance uniforms come into play immediately, Clough said and often can guide a routine's direction.

One of Clough’s favorite routines was “Aladdin” and it used the costumes heavily in the routine.

“Aladdin had four colors in the costumes and so everything we did had to be color-coded and patterned,” Clough. “All the oranges would move and all the blues would move. We had that choreographed to a T.”

One popular trend in dance choreography is multiple choreography. Clough said when she first started that concept was rare, but more and more teams use that to highlight better dancers and the skills they have, while still incorporating the rest of the team.

“Sometimes we come up with moves that we really want to put in and we just push for it,” Clough. “If we know early on that this is what we’re going to do, you can start even in the summer and tell the girls they’ll need to be able to do this. Kids know when they try out what skills they need to improve on. A lot of times what separates your varsity from your junior varsity is turn timing for jazz. The turns can be very difficult. Certain skills in kick like the French or hinge kick that usually separates the dancers.”

Clough said it’s difficult to come up with completely original ideas. She admits to borrowing ideas, but then adds a twist to make a move or idea their own. She said she’s seen many things she created copied by other teams and finds it flattering.

“Even after I’ve been doing this for so long, every year you have a different challenge,” Clough said. “It just depends on the year. This year, it’s trimming the music down. Other years, it can be speed. You can’t get the speeds to flow and some years it can be you can’t get the formations to flow. It varies from every year and because it’s a creative process it’s not a cookie-cutter thing where you’re doing the same thing every year.
“Because you start at the very beginning every year, you come up with a new and different problem each year. We really like our routine this year.”

While it’s uncertain if this year’s routine will incorporate cellophane flowers of yellow and green, one sure bet is the Warriors will have a unique, creative and fun routine to show off to all of their fans and alum.


JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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