8 Count Audio | Team Feature Story: Lake Zurich
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Team Feature Story: Lake Zurich

One hour with the Lake Zurich Varsity Poms


by Norm Ramil / 8ca.music.person and dance.fan

Who’s here

A few LZ dancers (6) are out of town (it’s winter break), but 14 of them are at practice this morning under the direction of head coach Teri Johlie and assistant coach Mel Candelaria. The girls’ shirts show the variety of names they go by: LZ dance team, LZ varsity dance, and LZ varsity poms.

Dance space

Behind the gym is the Lake Zurich dance room (referee whistles from the basketball tourney next door easily leak through). The team seems to have lots of space for proper formations on this glossy floor. Up front is the mirror, while a bulletin board in the back has the headline “LZVP: dedication, passion over perfection.”

Working on…

…their two competition routines. The team’s in the middle of reviewing updates to their UDA-style pom routine when I walk in.


After that is a meticulous cleaning of their hip hop, a fan favorite often mentioned and admired when I talk to other dance teams.

How they do it

One change in their fast, high-energy pom involves their turns in seconde, and the coaches have the dancers call out the odd counts as they turn (1-3-5-7).


Vocalizations are a deliberate part of their performance, so even when “soft-marking” a section, Coach Teri has the girls do their vocals. And like most other elite teams, changes at this time of the season are meant to make matching easier (the choreo’s already difficult enough without having to make it snazzier).


Coach Teri uses her iPad to spot problem areas from their pom performance at the Warren comp. During a water break and while the girls change shoes, both coaches take a careful look at the video of their hip hop from the last competition (1st place at Warren).


Before launching into run-throughs, a team captain reviews the changes. Coach Teri demos how to do one part right, met with applause from the team. They maximize feedback by going in groups. There’s a big emphasis on tweaking the traveling during transitions and not rushing the ponying, so it all looks as clean as possible. Another piece of feedback is meant to get the girls to make their moves more distinct–a must for any hip hop routine.

Side note

Personally, it’s amazing to be in this room with such a high-profile team. But it’s also sweet because way, way back in the day, I worked on the music for the Lake Zurich poms when they rocked it at IDTA state and UDA nationals in the pom and kick categories. The shift toward hip hop was in the works back then but it was Coach Johlie who definitively asked her new team what style they wanted to do. That’s how one of the state’s dominant hip hop programs emerged, close to a decade ago.


“It looks blasé” — captain Chloe to a pair of dancers doing partner work


“I know it’s slippery in here but it’s gonna be like that anywhere you perform. Squeeze. Finish your movements.” — Coach Mel giving last second reminders before the next hip hop full run


“The girls don’t get the ‘H to the Izzo’ reference” — Coach Mel to me after she mentions Jay-Z’s 1999 hit


“It’s a tough life. You guys can wear kneepads” — Coach Mel to a couple dancers who ask if they can mark one section

Lake Zurich Poms at state:

IDTA 1985: Novelty (Superior Rating)

IDTA 1986: Pom (Superior Rating); Prop (Superior Rating)

IDTA 1989: Open Pom (Superior Rating)

IDTA 1990: Open Pom (11th)

IDTA 1995: AA Kick (3rd)

IDTA 1996: Champions in AA Kick; AA Aerobic/Funk [hip hop] (5th)

IDTA 1997: Champions in AA Kick; AA Pom Dance (3rd)

IDTA 1998: Champions in AA Kick; Champions in AA Dance

IDTA 1999: Champions in AA Kick; Champions in AA Dance

IDTA 2000: Champions in AA Kick; AA Dance (3rd)

IDTA 2001: AAA Kick (3rd)

IDTA 2003: AAA Kick (3rd)

IDTA 2004: Champions in AAA Kick

IDTA 2006: AAA Hip Hop (4th)

TDI 2008: AAA Open Pom (4th); Hip Hop (12th)

TDI 2009: AAA Open Pom (8th)

TDI 2010: AAA Open Pom (8th); AAA Hip Hop (4th)

TDI 2011: AAA Open Pom (3rd); AAA Hip Hop (3rd)

TDI 2012: Champions in 3A Open Pom; Champions in 3A Hip Hop

IHSA 2015: 3A Day 2 (3rd)

IHSA 2016: 2A Day 2 (2nd)

IHSA 2017: 2A Day 2 (11th)

Captain & coaches convo

Staying after to chat are Coaches Teri Johlie and Mel Candelaria along with Chloe, one of the team’s captains.

So you danced at Trilogy?

Chloe: Yes I’ve danced on their competition team from the time I was in 4th grade until 8th grade. And then I made the team here my freshman year. I did a little bit of ballet but that wasn’t my strong suit. I did a couple years in jazz, contempotary, lyrical.

Favorite style to perform?

Chloe: Hip hop, by far!

Norm: And to watch?

Chloe: Hip hop.

What makes a good hip hop routine?

Chloe: Energy. I think it’s all about being able to perform and entice the crowd and get them to enjoy the performance.

Are there other teams that you’re a fan of?

Chloe: We love Lake Forest. I think Lincoln Way West is phenomenal too. Fenton’s amazing. Lake Forest, I’m very impressed with. Their lyrical is so synchronized and so clean.

What’s January going to be like for this team?

Coach Mel: Stamina and drilling. Keep going over moves and sections that need more work, adding any difficulty. I think we’re good with where the routine is at now, choreography wise. But it’s drilling, making sure we all look exactly the same. That’s what we’re really big on.

Chloe: Especially as time goes on we can start off with a section being super super clean, but as the season progresses, other things, like when we increase the difficulty, some aspects kind of start to fall. So we make sure that we have everything at the same level, every part of the dance, and the end is the strongest thing.

Coach Mel: Keeping the energy level all the way to the end.

Do you have to make any adjustments for nationals?

Coach Mel: Yes. There’s moves in here that are illegal for state that we had to take out, and then it’s vice versa. Like the back handspring that the two girls do, it’s illegal at nationals. So there are aspects that we’re going to add in and then take out. There’s a move in the beginning, instead she does a leapfrog and they do a standing head kip, the other girl comes and kind of does a corkscrew and wraps her legs around her neck and then she swings, and it was illegal for state. So we’re starting to practice those moves because we only have a week…hopefully from state, if we make it to state, before we go to nationals.

What’s one thing you’d like the rest of the dance community to know about LZ Poms?

Coach Mel: More than anything besides the dance aspect, we want a good group of girls that represent the community and the high school. So it’s not so much about winning, it’s not about anything like that. We want to teach [them] to be good people inside and outside because we represent Lake Zurich, and to make smart and good choices.

Coach Teri: But I also think there’s long established traditions that we have as a team. Part of that is that work ethic and coming together as a team. We’re on the same page with the same kind of goals in mind and what we want and how we work for that. You have to always have to work on that, too, because sometimes as the season progresses it gets harder to do that.

Chloe: I think going along with what Mel was just saying about being good people outside of the room. We do a lot of community service together as a team, and they [coaches] hold us to academic standards, so we try to be really well rounded aside from winning, be good people and support each other

Coach Teri: It’s a performance, not just a routine.

Chloe: That’s what makes this one fun to perform because we’re not playing a character.

Coach Teri: They’re being themselves.

Coach Mel: Two things you control are energy and formations. Don’t let the audience bring it to you. Bring it to them.

Chloe: That goes with what I said earlier–energy makes a good hip hop routine.