Team Feature: Rolling Meadows
This year, they put pom before lyrical. But even their pom work has just a hint of that other dance style…
by Norm Ramil / 8ca.creative.director & dance.fan
Ah, the mall. The place where you browse and maybe even try on stuff that you’ll eventually just buy online anyway. Just east of ever-busy Woodfield Mall is Rolling Meadows High School. If you’re not from there it’s totally easy to miss the turn onto the little road that leads to the school. And if you’re a resident of Rolling Meadows, you know where it is because it’s in the middle of your neighborhood, literally.
Back in the day, it was cool to set up high schools in the middle of neighborhoods (Glenbard East, Palatine, and Wheaton North are good examples). Another giveaway of that ’50 – ’60s era is the huge parking lot that’s right in front of the main entrance (Hinsdale South and Waubonsie Valley have similar setups). Perfect for hosting dance competitions.
So while it’s kind of a throwback version of suburbia, Rolling Meadows still has those modern comforts we can’t live without. Here’s some proof. Coaches Kelly Pfeiffer and Allison Hale meet me in the main hallway where their girls gather before practice, and each holds the key tool to a successful weeknight practice: Starbucks.
We all file into the gym and the girls pile their bags and shoes onto the lowest rows of the bleachers, which usually aren’t pulled out. Had it been any other day or time, the Rolling Meadows Dance Team would’ve headed around the corner to either the dance room (which they share with the RMHS Orchesis) or the cafeteria. Tonight, having the basketball court is a treat and they intend to take advantage of the opportunity.
These 10 dancers (2 are absent) turn their practice world around by 180 degrees tonight. Usually the team faces north, but since the south bleachers are out, Coach Pfeiffer runs the whole practice facing south so they can get a feel for what it might be like to look up at judges in those very bleachers. The RM coaches end up spending some critical moments up high and looking down on their dancers’ formations, checking, tweaking, evaluating.
The team heads back to school in the morning, so this evening’s practice marks either the end of winter break or the start of…non-winter break. Just to add to the oddness: they haven’t practiced since the week of December 22nd. The Rolling Meadows Dance Team also gets to host two competitions in the next few days, the big invitational on Saturday and then conference on Monday night. Tonight should be interesting.
After the usual stretching comes a unique way for the dancers to shift into full-on practice mode. They run through their 2nd routine, a contemporary piece that’s just meant to be a fun challenge and also a way to ease into practice. For a dance that they don’t consider to be seriously competitive—something that’s mainly just for their own entertainment—this thing looks pretty good! It’s not a throw-away routine, though. Coach Pfeiffer fixes some spacing problems and then they run the whole thing again. “You guys need to feel the music. Right now you’re about 70% there,” Pfeiffer tells her dancers.
Pom is the Rolling Meadows Dance Team’s main routine this year, not lyrical (but Coach Pfeiffer “hopes one day it’ll flip” around the other way). The dance has some new changes courtesy of a trusted consultant, so the team first marks it to review the updated choreo. A few questions get clarified…how to keep the right spacing leading up to the turning-C, and where to face on the landing? Two groups form and the girls quickly teach (or re-teach) each other the new parts.
This gym has tons of floor lines that the team puts to good use. Still, these lines aren’t going to create automatic perfection especially for the big diagonal formation. Coach Pfeiffer shifts some of her dancers around and so a few girls get to master a swan dive move that takes them out of their comfort zone. But for all the Rolling Meadows dancers, the main challenge is to make sure everyone ends up a the right place and at the right time, something that’s a little tricky with two absent (diagonals and windows usually take the biggest hit with missing dancers).
During the workshopping and even the many times they run through this section, both coaches are high up in the bleachers, coffees in hand, conferring in hushed but urgent voices. Pfeiffer and Hale try different ideas and move around some of the girls, and sometimes the tweaking looks intense from my view at the bottom of the bleachers. It’s all nicely balanced by the goofy personalities on the floor (these dancers make me laugh more than a few times). When there’s some question about where an absent teammate would be in this new, updated formation, one girl throws a silver pom down on the floor, saying, “That’s her” in the kind of tone meant to make people with a certain personality giggle…including me.
One thing about this dance that always hooked me throughout the season was its complex middle part. Besides the tempo drastically slowling down, the counts get kind of abstract. At that point it’s all about the feel of the music rather than any strict, measured beats in time. Watching their lyrical dance tonight at practice helped me to understand why this Rolling Meadows team can pull off that weird middle part of their pom routine–they’ve got a smart sense of musicality with music that ebbs and flows. When cutting this song, I think most editors would just dump this part…and I bet a lot of choreographers wouldn’t mind. For these dancers, they took advantage of the weirdness and it had an interesting visual effect. They aren’t afraid of stepping out of the box!
The RMHS Dance Team is in the hands of experienced coaches who themselves danced on some big-name programs. Coach Kelly Pfeiffer teaches in the district and owns a nearby dance studio. She danced on Fremd’s orchesis. Assistant Coach Allison Hale teaches in South Elgin and danced on Larkin’s teams.
Tryouts involve learning a pom routine and demonstrating skills. Once on the team, the ‘Meadows dancers spend their summer working on both technique and skills. The team also hits the road to learn halftime material at Star Performance Camp. Coach Pfeiffer tells me that running and conditioning at practice is their key tool for building up endurance.
Rolling Meadows has a small JV dance program, and this year, it was a fall-only operation. “The girls decided as a team to focus everything on a single team for competition season,” reveals Coach Pfeiffer.
Before IHSA took over dance, this team didn’t hire an outside choreographer. Coach Pfeiffer sees an interesting upside to using a hired gun: “It’s easier to make changes when it’s someone else’s choreography.” She explains that when it’s your own creation, you’ve got a firm vision of what it’s supposed to be, and so it’s hard to scrap or modify ideas you’re in love with.
Rolling Meadows Poms at State
IDTA 2007 7th place AAA Kick
IDTA 2008 3rd place AAA Pom Dance
IDTA 2009 6th place AAA Pom Dance
IDTA 2010 6th place AAA Pom Dance
IDTA 2010 4th place AAA Lyrical
IDTA 2011 4th place AAA Lyrical
IDTA 2012 3rd place AAA Hip Hop
IDTA 2012 6th place AAA Lyrical
IDTA 2012 Champions AAA Pom Dance
IDTA 2013 4th place AAA Lyrical
IDTA 2013 Champions AAA Pom Dance
IHSA 2013 27th in 2A
IHSA 2015 20th in 2A
The small team gathers at the bottom of the bleachers for the end-of-practice meeting. Coach Pfeiffer’s a little concerned and needs more parents to sign up to volunteer for their home comp in a couple of days, which they alternate as hosts with Palatine every other year. They go through that checklist of little things that a host team needs to somehow accomplish to pull off a successful competition, including the ungodly hour of arrival on Saturday morning. And then they get to repeat it on a smaller scale on Monday night as they host the Mid Suburban League conference championship!
Saturday, January 6th. A few nights ago I told Coach Pfeiffer how excited I was to see the huge, inflatable Mustang, and there it is, guiding dozens of dance teams onto the competition floor today. I claim a spot on a bench in the hallway to shamelessly consume my Subway sandwich during the lunch break. I spot Coach Pfeiffer and I’ve barely got the greeting out of the way before she offers me an extra sandwich. Citing a recent holiday food binge, I politely turn down the offer but soooo appreciate the hospitality. Also pretty cool is how both RMHS dance coaches run the checkout table after awards, right in the main hallway where you can just grab the envelope on the way to your waiting (and warm) bus.
Forty-eight hours later on Monday night, it’s a totally different atmosphere in the Rolling Meadows gym. Some of the best dance teams in the state are here on a subdued weeknight (again, super cold) to battle it out for the Mid-Suburban League championship. The bleachers are full of college alums and JV teams loudly supporting their favorite dancers.
By the end of the night, Barrington celebrates their conference win, and I run into a very focused Rolling Meadows team at center court, checking out their scores and comments. They might be a little worn out from this busy weekend, but no one looks down. They’re ready for what the rest of January wants to throw at them.
The Rolling Meadows Dance Team found themselves amidst a challenging 2A field at their sectional in Huntley. I hear from a friend that they’re pretty happy with how they danced as they come off the floor. The team–full of fun personalities and not afraid to paint a hint of lyrical artistry in the middle of their pom routine–comes up a little short. Just 1 rank position and 87-hundredths of a point keep them from heading downstate.
Several weeks later, I catch up with Coach Pfeiffer and get her thoughts on the season. “We had a newer team this year,” she writes. “It took them a little while to get into the groove. I’m looking forward to seeing them come in next season ready to work as a team. They have already set goals for next season!”
Rolling Meadows has to be one of the more intriguing dance programs out there. A coach with a studio. A foot in pom and the other in contemporary. All in the middle of a wild 2A IHSA division and one of the state’s elite dance conferences. I might not get to see that inflatable horse next year (since Palatine will host that weekend’s competition), but I’m pretty sure I’ll be watching for a big step forward by the RMHS Dance Team.
Interview with the Team Leaders
What are the studios you’ve danced for and what did you study there?
Lisa: I’ve danced for Megleo’s school of dance for five years now, and I’ve done ballet, tap, hip hop, and then jazz/contemporary.
Allie: I’m also dancing at Magleo’s School of Dance and I do jazz, contemporary, tap, and I’ve done pointe and ballet.
Demi: I’ve danced at Dance Express, Expressions, and Magleo’s, and I’ve done ballet, hip hop, tap, jazz, and pointe.
What’s your personal favorite style of dance?
Coach Pfeiffer: I like lyrical.
Coach Hale: I like jazz.
Lisa: I like contemporary.
Allie: I like contemporary and tap.
Demi: Hip hop.
What’s been the highlight of your season so far?
Lisa: I liked doing our homecoming assembly. The school really got into it this year, so it was fun.
Allie: I liked the camp we in the summer because we all bonded a lot, it was really fun (Star Performance at Carthage).
Demi: Well I’m a senior, so everything I do this year is my last…everything’s been pretty good.
Talk about the traditions you have on competition day?
Allie: After competition, we go to Buffalo Wild Wings usually.
Lisa: We usually have team breakfast while we’re getting ready in the morning here.
Coach Pfeiffer: Everybody brings something to the team breakfast and then they all share it.
How do you plan on getting to that goal of qualifying for state?
Lisa: Just really focusing at practice and motivating each other, ‘cause that’ll really help us, I think.
Allie: Yeah, we have to really make sure that we communicate as a team, especially on the floor, ‘cause we’re a team. There’s no “I” in team, so we all work together.
Any other dance teams you guys admire?
Lisa: Oh, I love Fenton.
Me: I assume you mean their hip hop stuff?
Allie and Demi: Geneva.
Lisa: Libertyville’s pretty good, too.
Coach Hale: I love Lake Park.
Coach Pfeiffer: I can’t think of their name, I’m drawing a blank…they’re not coming to our competition, really good hip hop, but Fenton would kill me for saying it.
Me: Lincoln Way West?
Coach Pfeiffer: Lincoln way West!
Demi: Their dance is so cool.
How many hours each week do you put in to this team?
Lisa: 7 and a half I think?
Coach Pfeiffer: 6 to 8, I suppose.
Lisa: If there’s a game, it’s like 10!
For halftime routines, who does the choreo?
[Alli points to Demi]
Demi: Sometimes we’ll use stuff from our camp dances.
Coach Pfeiffer: And they do a holiday dance in December for fun.
What are some things you’d like the rest of the dance community to know about your team?
Lisa: We’re really young this year, we have a bunch of freshmen. They didn’t know what to expect, so they’ve been learning a lot throughout the season.
Allie: Our main focus is pom, and it’s like a different pom than like every other team, so like…
Lisa: Yeah, we don’t do the typical pom dance.
Allie: It’s different.