Kickin' It Up A Notch
I always thought my true loves were jazz and tap. As a member of my studio’s competition team, I spent years perfecting my shuffles, pullbacks, switch leaps and fouettés. But when I went to Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, I encountered an entirely new form of dance and quickly fell in love with it. I saw the university’s kickline team in action during my freshman orientation and loved the way the dancers stood in a perfectly straight line, moving their legs in unison. I knew this was a style of dance I needed to learn. I auditioned, made the team and in my senior year became the captain, leading 23 girls to a championship title. I don’t know whether it was the rush I got each time I kicked my leg up to my head or the undeniable bond my team formed, but something got me addicted to kickline. Think the style is something you could have a go at? Then start stretching, and read on.
What is Kickline?
The lowdown: Kickline is comparable to what you’ve seen performed by the Radio City Rockettes—but now picture those Rockettes in dance sneakers, lined up on a basketball court or football field. While a typical kickline routine includes a whole lotta straight kicking, there are other essential elements that make for a successful performance. “A routine should include one point where there is a single kickline,” says Gretchen Stafslien, the head varsity dance coach at West Fargo High School in North Dakota. “This shows the judges and the audience how uniform your team’s kicks are and that you haven’t been hiding anyone in the back row.” All team members are expected to execute the same choreography for the duration of the routine. No standouts here—everything is performed in unison. In addition to the straight kickline, judges expect to see teams showing off with jump splits, heel stretches (kicking your leg and holding it up for several seconds) and at least five formation changes. The judges also want to see a variety of kicks, so be ready to work your muscles with fan kicks, hitch kicks and the affectionately named “killer kick,” where dancers kick one leg to the side, bring the kicking foot into passé and kick it straight up again.
Putting It All Together
Today, this style of dance extends far beyond halftime entertainment at sporting events. Competitions across the nation including National Dance Alliance, Universal Dance Association and the National Dance Team Championships all feature a High Kick division and many high schools and colleges have separate dance and kickline teams. As with any category, there are specific elements judges will be looking for in a typical routine.
Kathy Ralph, who has been a judge at the Long Island Kickline Association competition for seven years, explains that a two-minute routine must include at least 50 waist-high-or-higher kicks. Judges evaluate teams based on their precision, technique, body lines, pointed toes, variety of kicks and choreography. “A good kick team knows how to demonstrate a visually pleasing routine that features high kicks with proper form,” Ralph says. “They should look like one girl on the floor.” In a kick with correct form, the working leg leaves the floor with a straight knee and pointed toe, and the kicker keeps her back and supporting leg straight and her chin and eyes focused upward.
Get Ready to Sweat
You may be able to leap and turn your way through a three-minute jazz routine, but you’ll be working a whole new set of muscles in order to jump and kick your legs for that same amount of time. “Kickline is all about leg strength, stamina and flexibility,” says Lindsay Mayer, one of the captains for the nine-time NDA national champion Commack High School Varsity Cougarettes in New York. “Good stamina for soccer might be running laps around the track, but good stamina for kickline is doing 200 kicks in a row.”
Getting in shape for such a workout is no easy task. “We stand in our straight kickline and do 200 straight kicks higher than waist level,” explains Taylor Olsen, a Cougarette captain. “Even though it’s exhausting and our legs feel like Jell-O when we’re done, it works to our advantage.” A typical practice for the Cougarettes includes at least an hour of various leg stretches, partner stretching (think sitting in a split with a partner helping you stretch) and up to four sets of 100 kicks before they begin perfecting their current routine. For the West Fargo Packatahnas, practices include basic technique exercises like footwork drills and perfecting their passés, weight training and “hundreds of kicks,” according to Stafslien. “The dancers need to be flexible and strong,” she says. “I have come across many dancers who are flexible enough to push their leg behind their head, but they don’t have enough muscle to kick it up. You can’t just flop your leg up there and hope for the best.”
Me in Kickline
If you love the spotlight, save it for karaoke night, because kickline is all about cooperation and blending as a team. “Teams need to take all of the girls on the floor and make them look like one dancer,” Ralph says. “Individual dancers need to change their work ethic from ‘This routine is all about me’ to ‘This routine is about us, as a team.’ All the girls get to win or lose together.”
So what’s the secret to a super-successful team? “A strong team bond,” says Jenna DeAngelis, a Cougarette captain. “Before we perform, we sit in a circle, hold hands and remind ourselves that we are a team and that everything we do, we must do together.”