Athletics: Kickin' it with Brainerd's Cindy Clough
Cindy Clough transformed her passion for dance into a business empire and one of the most respected athletic programs in Minnesota.
For 43 seasons Clough has coached the Brainerd Warriors dance team, also known as the Kixters.
Through Just for Kix, Clough spread her knowledge and love of dance to countless area youths.
But that all started with her position as head coach of the dance team.
The business owner, teacher, wife, mother and grandmother of four took a breather from her busy competition season to talk about coaching, dance moves and the growth of the sport.
Question: How much does a routine change during the course of a season and what are some reasons for changes?
Cindy Clough: Well, there are so many variables. This year, we have had minimal changes. One reason is we were more prepared with choreography and formations and also things just worked out.
Some years we have the best-laid plans that we visualized and it doesn't work out and we have to go back to the drawing board. Some routines are too hard to start out with both physically and technically and we have to modify it to make it harder as we go. Sometimes it is the skill level of kids. Maybe it is too easy or too hard.
We watch scores closely and if we are scoring low in an area we will ramp it up. Sometimes the style isn't right for the team. Our athletes are very customed to changes and respond well to the challenge. It is in our culture to do whatever it takes to be successful.
I have heard from many coaches how their kids dig their heels in and won't change. I feel they won't go as far with that mentality. This has been a good year in regards to changes. We aren't changing much before sections, but if we make it to state we plan to do some enhancing in between.
Q: What are the main differences between a jazz routine and a kick routine?
CC: Kicks. A kick routine is required to have between 40-65 kicks in the routine. A jazz routine cannot have more than five if you are linked-up in a line.
Kick routines are typically more precision, but not always. Jazz routines generally are more stylized and contain, turns, leaps, jumps, etc. The lines blur a bit as strong jazz teams usually stack their kick routines with jazz skills for difficulty. Some states draw more of a line in the sand between the two styles.
Q: Do you have a favorite routine? One that still kind of blows your mind?
CC: Oh, that is a tough question. There are so many. The ones we are doing now are my all-time favorites. Looking back, I loved so many. I loved Yankee Doodle back in 1985 because my dad loved the patriotism in it. Hooked On Space in 1989, our style was fresh and new and people were amazed with our controlled slow kicks. We danced to Paul Todd a local pianist and organ player. Jump Everybody Jump was 1991 or '92.
One of my favorite memories was Chuck Morgan, former girls basketball coach, always finding me in the stands at competitions. This went on for a few years. His daughter Connie had danced for me and then moved to Burnsville and was on their dance team. They were our big rival at the time. On that day, he came up to me after we danced and said, "We're going home." I said, you haven't even danced yet. He said, "you're unbeatable. It's over." We won the state tournament by 50 points that day.
Most recently, I loved our Nicki Minaj hip-hop style routine in 2013. I loved our boots routine in 2015. That was our highest place in recent years.
In jazz, I would have to say Jump Shout Boogie or Torn. I have so many others.
Q: Dance fought for many years to be part of the Minnesota State High School League sports lineup. Looking back was it the right move for the sport?
CC: Actually we fought against for a few years as a coaches association. The league wanted us because they are a business and we were generating a great deal of revenue at our state tournament. I was actually part of the movement to make the decision to go into the league "peacefully" rather than have a hostile takeover.
I remember Ron Stolski giving me advice at the time. His rationale was they have the power to do it, so it would be in our best interest to form a committee and band together to try to get some concessions as to what we wanted for our sport.
We did just that and dance went under the league umbrella in 1995. I put 3,000 miles on in those two years going to MSHSL meetings and MADT. I feel it was the right move for our sport and dance team has gained recognition because of it. We now have a conference, all-conference, sections qualifiers, etc. Our state tournament, I believe is the second largest revenue generated for the league.
Q: You've coached for 43 years, what's kept you in it? Where do you get your motivation from?
CC: There have been so many times I was going to quit. When I was counting the years for this article it seems almost unbelievable. There is always a parent that says wait until my kid graduates or a student who says that. I would have to say the kids are what are the biggest motivation.
To inspire them and make them realize what they are capable of. I feel they love me and want me there. That is a great feeling. I feel giving back and service is important. This is a way I can serve others.
I also enjoy the creative process and competitiveness. I like to figure out a way to do it better than we did the year before. I enjoy the camaraderie with our great team of dance coaches in Brainerd. I love coaching with my daughter—so fun.
Brainerd's administration is very supportive. Our community is always behind us and that makes it fun. My husband and family have also been so supportive. I could have never had this long of a run without a husband like Steve. He is so supportive. He doesn't go to the competitions anymore. He gets too upset with the judging and can't take it. My kids have been supportive, too. Now my granddaughter is saying you can't quit until I am old enough.
Q: If you were in a dance competition, what's your go-to move?
CC: Jump splits would be my first choice, but I would perhaps throw in some 'flossing" and a little "teach me how to Dougie."
Q: What's one or two misconceptions about dance team that you want to clear up?
CC: That it isn't athletic and it isn't competitive.
Q: When you first started coaching, how many teams were there and are you still surprised, happy that more schools are adding dance teams to their activities department?
CC: I am not exactly sure, but I think around 40-45 dance teams. I remember one year the Winter Carnival competition had 41 teams competing and we won. That was our first big win. I think it was in 1980. Most teams participated in that event back then so I believe around 40.
I think there are 174 varsity teams now. Many schools have JV, B, and middle school teams so it has really grown.
Q: Music, how long does it take you to get sick of hearing the same song over and over again at practice? And is there one song that you just can't listen to anymore?
CC: I can listen over and over to the same song I am working on, but I cannot finish a song on the radio. I click through to find songs I want to work on. It's hard for my husband to ride with me in the car. Thank God for headsets. The only time I tire of a song during the season is if it is not working out and you feel stuck with it. That has not happened very often.
Q: With so many teams in both college and high school, how hard is it to have a completely original routine nowadays?
CC: There is never a completely original routine. There never had been. I feel that we see so much nowadays compared to years ago. So much inspiration. It makes me be more creative as it gets my wheels turning.
I feel it is perfectly fine to take a move out of someone's dance and modify it. The rule is no more than four consecutive measures. No one owns a move or a step. The goal for ethical choreographers is to put a new twist, direction or change on what has inspired them. Also to credit someone when you take a move of theirs.
Q: What's your favorite style of dance?
CC: I love them all. I am best at coaching kick, but I love jazz, too. I really enjoy hip-hop and watch it on the internet all the time. At the studio, I love tap and lyrical. I love ballet. I feel it gives us so much strength and adding ballet to our program has enhanced it a lot.
I actually am obsessed with all things precision, even Japanese walking competitions (they are a real thing) and marching band. I haven't met a dance style I didn't like.