Spirit and Synergy

A photo of Syracuse (New York) University.
When bands collaborate with cheerleaders, dance teams, and mascots, together they create even more rousing routines and shows.

A photo of The Ohio State Marching Band.With formations of giant stick figures doing the “floss,” The Ohio State University Marching Band’s “Dance, Dance, Dance,” halftime show on Oct. 13, 2018, stood out from the rest of its viral shows, not only due to its rendition of the trendy dance move and the resulting memes or media coverage. The performance also featured Ohio State’s cheerleaders, dance team and mascot—Brutus the Buckeye—for the biggest halftime collaboration of the season.

The program came together as a result of innovative concepts pitched by the multiple groups, according to Dr. Christopher Hoch, director of marching and athletic bands at Ohio State. “That dance show last year [wouldn’t work] if we didn’t have creative ideas from the band and the cheer squad and the dance team and Brutus,” he says.

Ohio State certainly isn’t alone in finding ways to partner with other school spirit groups. Colleges and high school bands alike team up with their cheerleaders, mascots, and dance squads to excite the crowd.

“Your goal is to entertain at a football game,” says Cameron Kubos, director of athletic bands at the University of Houston in Texas. “We all share the same goal.”

From Communication to Community

Collaboration is not difficult for the band and cheerleaders at the University of Houston in Texas. Together along with the dance team and cougar mascot, Shasta, they comprise a comprehensive group called the Spirit of Houston. “Some people can’t imagine having all those groups together; we can’t imagine separating them,” Kubos says.

At Houston, the band department oversees the entire spirit umbrella organization, which is led by David Bertman, whose official title is director of bands, cheer, and dance. “Because we don’t have separation, everyone knows everyone,” Kubos says. “When it comes to the games, there’s a higher level of us being able to work with each other.”

This level of cohesion requires planning and strong communication between the band staff and the cheer and dance coaches, Kubos adds. “We’re already looking ahead and thinking about things for next marching season,” he says. “We have meetings periodically with the band staff or the full spirit staff.”

For a school like Syracuse (New York) University, where the band is a separate entity from the cheerleaders and mascot (Otto the Orange), community building among both students and staff happens a lot during travel. “A lot of it starts during NCAA basketball season,” says Dr. Timothy Diem, director of athletic bands. “We’re together a lot on these NCAA trips.”

These trips provide a great opportunity for the staff to plan routines in the stands and on the sidelines. “We can start talking about different tunes, asking the cheerleaders which [they] think will work in the student section,” Diem says.

A photo of Livingston (New Jersey) High School.While collaboration between bands and cheerleaders may seem natural in college sports, high schools are also finding ways for the groups to interact. Since 2016, Livingston (New Jersey) High School has put on a yearly mixer for the band, cheerleaders, and football team at the beginning of each season. “[There are] 70 kids on the football team, 25 to 30 in cheer, and 80 in the marching band,” says Jim Hegedus, band director for Livingston. “That’s a lot of student body involved in that event.”

The Lancers Mixer takes place on the football field during the overlapping week of band, cheer, and football camp. For two hours, members of the three groups get together to learn what the others do. Students are split into three groups, each containing members from all three organizations. They then rotate among three stations. Football station activities include learning to block, kick field goals, and pass while the cheer station teaches students some of the squad’s routines. “We have a band station in the middle of the field where we teach the kids how to make a basic block,” Hegedus says.

According to Hegedus, this mixer has resulted in greater admiration, respect, and camaraderie among the three groups of students. “It’s been a nice relationship,” Hegedus says. “Whenever we do our performance, [the cheerleaders] watch and cheer us on. We do the same for them. It’s helped create a great culture.”

Rehearsal Logistics

Whether preparing for a halftime show or cheers in the stands, the various spirit groups have something big in common: the need to practice and rehearse.

For Ohio State’s 2018 dance show, rehearsals occurred separately and together for the groups involved. “We had some meetings with myself, coaches on staff, [and] with Dr. Hoch,” says Ben Schreiber, head cheerleading coach at Ohio State. “We set everything up on our own, and then we had one [combined] practice the Thursday before the game.”

Cleaning the routine as individual groups made the final collaboration easier. “It was a situation where we knew our stuff really well, and the cheerleaders, dance team, and Brutus had been working on their routines, so it was a matter of putting it all together simultaneously,” Hoch says. “For the dance show, Brutus came [to rehearsals] a couple days at the end of the week.”

At the high school level, some students may want to join the band and the cheerleading squad simultaneously. At Livingston, one 11th-grade flute player is also a varsity cheerleader. She cheers on the sidelines during the game and performs with the band during halftime. Her situation creates a different type of rehearsal collaboration. “Our band camp goes all day, [and] cheer camp is half the day, so we split the difference,” Hegedus says. “When it comes to learning drill, she has no problem.”

For a school like Houston, where the spirit groups are already combined, rehearsing together is natural. The University of Houston even has a combined rehearsal facility for the groups. The Bert F. Winston Band and Performance Complex is connected to the TDECU (Texas Dow Employees Credit Union) Stadium, where football games take place.

The complex includes rehearsal spaces, instrument storage rooms, and storage for cheerleading, dance, and mascot costumes. “We’re grateful to have several rehearsal spaces, … utilizing all of that space instead of having it spread out all over campus,” Kubos says.

All components of the Spirit of Houston are important to the fans at basketball games as well. “Our basketball group, they are very hands-on working with us,” Kubos says.

As a result, the groups often get chances to practice together in the basketball stadium. “They want us to be at each part of game day,” Kubos says. “They make sure we have time in the facility.”

Stand and Deliver

For many student sections, a major part of school spirit is seeing the band and cheerleaders perform in the stands and on the sidelines during football games.

Often cheerleaders will perform routines to songs that the band plays in the stands during a game. Early planning simplifies the process. “We’ll do recordings of [stand tunes] and give those recordings to the cheerleading coach, so they can make routines to them,” Hegedus says.

On game day, sometimes instructors synchronize these performances in real time. At Syracuse, band staff members and cheer coaches use headsets to communicate which songs they’re planning to play or which routines they’re planning to do.

Diem likes to assess the crowd at each game to help determine which songs the groups should perform together. Cheerleaders have routines to go with the bands’ performances of songs from groups like Earth Wind & Fire for an older crowd or tunes like “Everytime We Touch” and “Uptown Funk,” which are popular with the student section. “We’re trying to play for an audience 5 to 85 years old,” Diem says.

At Livingston, having a student who participates in both band and cheerleading has made the communication process seamless. “She goes to cheer practice and tells the coaches the songs we’re performing,” Hegedus says.

Even outside of football season, bands and cheerleaders can continue collaborating in the stands. At Houston basketball games, timeouts are a golden opportunity for a joint performance. In these “spirit timeouts,” the cheerleaders and dance team perform to songs that the band plays. “We get to be creative and work together and highlight all our groups at one time,” Kubos says. “Everyone’s together; everyone’s trying to get the spirit going.”

It’s Showtime!

Spirit groups also make a habit of collaborating for pregame and halftime shows. Ohio State tries to feature Brutus in a halftime show about once a year. In addition to its famous 2018 dance show, Ohio State featured Brutus in a 2017 boxing-themed program, titled “The Man in the Ring.”

During the performance, Brutus took center stage in a boxing ring, where he fought a person dressed as a Michigan fan, paying homage to Ohio State’s long-standing rivalry with the University of Michigan.

“Brutus was the featured star of that show,” Hoch says. “Brutus was really involved in that from the beginning of the production.”

For Ohio State’s cheerleaders, the 2018 dance show was a great vessel for creativity and collaboration. According to Schreiber, the cheer and dance teams received the music from the band and worked on choreography. “We wanted to do cheer elements that would be appealing to the eye, that would stay out of the way as the band was transitioning, so that we could move and spread out,” Schreiber says.

During the show, the cheer squad spread out across the north-to-south sidelines while the dance team took the east-to-west sidelines, and the band had center field. “Wherever someone was sitting in the stadium, they could have eyes on something that was going on,” Schreiber says.

At Syracuse, all spirit groups consistently perform together for pregame. According to Diem, cheerleaders perform routines synchronized with the band’s performance of Syracuse’s fight song, the opposing school’s fight song, as well as the alma mater and National Anthem.

The Spirit of Houston combines the groups for field shows particularly during special events like Homecoming, parents’ weekend, and post-season bowl games. “In 2015 we went to the Peach Bowl,” Kubos says. “Our halftime [show] featured one number with just the band, then we did a song with all three of the groups [band, cheer, and dance] plus the mascot.”

Whether performing during pregame, halftime, or in the stands, teamwork and a shared goal allow various spirit groups to create eye-catching shows that excite a crowd. “It’s all about communication,” Hoch says. “Make sure you’re communicating early and often. Don’t be afraid to [let] others who have creative ideas help you with … the show.”

Pep bands also collaborate with others. Read an article about that here.

Photo courtesy of Natalie Wiesnet.
Getting Together: Students in the marching band, cheer squad, and football team at Livingston (New Jersey) High School get together for a yearly mixer. Photo courtesy of  Jim Hegedus.
Photo courtesy of The Ohio State University Marching Band.

About author

Savy Leiser

Savy Leiser is a Chicago-based author, journalist, and freelance editor. In addition to writing for Halftime Magazine, she is the author of the “Furever Home Friends” children’s book series. Savy graduated in 2015 from Northwestern University, where she was a member of the Wildcat Marching Band. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Writing and Publishing at DePaul University.

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