Choreography: To Hire or Not to Hire?
Your teams have the same skills as the competition, but your competitors are always getting higher scores. Is it time to hire a choreographer to work full-time at your gym? Or is it a smarter move financially to bring in an outside choreographer to craft one killer routine for the season? Each option has its pros and cons.
According to Casey Popp of CheerForce San Diego, one of the major benefits of having a choreographer in-house is ongoing availability. “If you have an injury or financial setbacks for certain families, and your roster changes, it’s nice to have that person in there.” Popp also pointed out that for many gyms, bringing in outside choreographers involves costs above and beyond the choreography itself (such as airfare and housing, depending on how far the choreographer has to travel).
Kyle Gadke agrees, maintaining a balanced viewpoint as both senior choreographer of Platinum Athletics and head of his own independent choreography company, Spirit Fx. “I think you really just have to assess your program and see where you’re at, because there are some programs that probably aren’t ready to have that extra expense. It’s already hard enough for a lot of people to pay for cheerleading. With choreography, I feel like the average goes from $2,000 all the way up to $6,000 per team. If you’re in a small area with only a couple of teams in your gym, that might not be an extra expense that you can divide by the number of kids in your gym, [on top of] uniforms and tuition and all the other expenses that parents have to pay for the sport.”
However, bringing in outside choreographers has its benefits, not the least of which is someone who can view a program with fresh eyes. Anthony Best of Cheer Legendz says, “I can tell you from our experience that as the gym has grown, it’s been better to bring in people from the outside, because you get a different perspective and new ideas.”
Like Gadke, Jamie Parrish choreographs for many gyms alongside his staff position with the Georgia All-Stars. He believes contracting a freelance choreographer is ultimately the more affordable option for many gyms. “What they pay [a choreographer] to do a full routine is far, far less than what they’d have to pay to have someone full-time on staff, or even part-time on staff,” says Parrish. However, he says that cost-effectiveness changes for large gyms that need to create routines for more than five teams: “You might want to have someone full-time [in that scenario].”
Diversity also comes into play. Parrish believes that gyms who do choreography in-house run the risk of every routine blending into each other. “With an in-house choreographer, you have that choreographer’s flair, that choreographer’s style, and all of your teams tend to look the same,” he warns.
So when it is worth it for a gym to hire out? Best of Cheer Legendz says, “I think if you really look at your scoresheets from year to year and they start to say the same thing all the time, then maybe it’s time to look outside. Maybe you can get a fresh, creative idea as to some new ways to help increase your scores.” Gadke agrees, saying it’s essentially guaranteed that any gym is likely to achieve certain results when they bring in an outside choreographer. “If you’ve never hired out before, nine out of 10 times, hiring out should increase your scores and help your program grow.”
If your gym does start hiring out, Parrish recommends working with different choreographers throughout the season: “Having multiple choreographers brought in is not only going to help you with each team being kind of different, but also for your coaches to see our process and learn from different people, which I feel is more beneficial. Sometimes the creative process or something [a choreographer] might do or say can rub off a little bit on your staff.”
Another advantage to bringing in people who’ve worked at other gyms? Their experience is a valuable resource. When Best brings choreographers into Cheer Legendz, he and his business partner take them out for a productive dinner meeting, where they can glean “knowledge from them about other gyms they’ve worked with around the country. How are they doing things? What are fundraisers that have worked for them? Most choreographers have worked in a gym or are currently working in a gym, so it’s a great opportunity to get some new ideas.”
No matter how you choose to hire a choreographer, be sure you know what you’re looking for and whom you’re dealing with. Gadke strongly recommends checking everyone’s references, even if you need someone fast. “If there are no references out there, there’s probably a reason for that. If they can’t show you videos of their work, there’s probably a reason for that. Do your research. Ask around. There’s nothing wrong with asking a choreographer, ‘Hey, can I have a couple references of clients you’ve worked with, and do you have any video samples of work that you’ve done?’ I think it’s important, too, just to see the work, because I know my style of choreography is typically very clean and symmetrical. If you’re someone that’s looking for a very sassy, girly style, that’s not something I personally offer.”