Cindy Smith doesn’t fool around when it comes to coaching the Sandpoint High School dance team.
She sets her expectations high and the young women whom she instructs always rise to the occasion. It is because of those expectations and hard work that the dance team from this small North Idaho community consistently places near the top in state competitions.
Earlier this summer Smith, who is starting her seventh year at Sandpoint High School, was voted 2009 Idaho Dance Team Coach of the Year by the Idaho State Dance and Cheer Association. It was an honor that Smith says was totally unexpected, but one that Jennifer Prandato says was highly deserved.
Prandato is one of the co-captains of this year’s dance team and is entering her senior year at Sandpoint. She has danced under Smith’s instruction for six years and praises Smith not only for the lessons in dance but the lessons in life she has taught her.
“She teaches us dance second and teaches us how to live our lives first,” said Prandato.
Smith, whose team practices year round, introduces each new year by holding a team meeting. She provides the team members with a handout outlining her expectations both in and out of the dance team setting. And she tells the kids they have only one chance and this is it. If they are caught drinking, smoking or violating any of her other rules, they are dismissed from the team.
“I tell them if they are choosing to represent their team and their school, they need to make the choice ahead of time (to act appropriately),” said Smith, adding that by letting them know upfront what is expected, the students can and do meet those expectations.
“She tells us to never allow ourselves to be seen in a different light than how we want to be seen,” said Prandato, who said that her fellow students respect the fact that dance team members do not participate in any behavior that would risk their position on the team.
“Peer pressure is tough for any high school student,” said Smith, who adds that she is proud of the life choices her dancers have made over the years.
Smith has extensive experience – she coached high school dance in California from 1982 to 1995; she was a dancer at Disneyland for seven years in the 1980s; she was a dancer for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers; she taught high school and college classes; owned a dance studio in Wisconsin; and was the head instructor and regional dance program director for United Spirit Association.
As coach and mentor to the young women, Smith puts in long hours, meeting with the team every day during the school year from 7 to 7:45 a.m. and sometimes after school and on weekends when working on special routines.
Smith also spends time writing grants to bring in master teachers from around the country that will help further the girls’ ability.
“She will fly in choreographers and instructors,” said Prandato. “We learn a lot.”
Smith credits Panhandle Alliance for Education, a local education foundation, for making those options available.
“They are truly a blessing,” she said. “They have allowed me to bring in amazing talent from around the country to get what they (the girls) cannot here.”
While Prandato said she prefers Smith’s coaching style above all others, it is helpful to have the exposure to other coaches for when she and her teammates go onto college and are exposed to different coaching techniques.
Having other coaches talk to the girls about the options they have if they choose to pursue dance beyond college has been very helpful.
“There are so many ways to use dance,” said Prandato, citing teaching, coaching and commercial dancing. “She helps us see what is available after high school, into college and beyond.”
Smith said she could not be the coach she is today if it weren’t for the girls. While the school requires a minimum grade-point average of 2.0, Smith requires her students to carry a minimum 2.5 GPA. But even that goal is one the girls have far exceeded.
“They have amazing GPAs,” said Smith, citing 3.6 as last year’s team’s cumulative GPA. “They have an incredible future ahead of them.”
She says the dance team is like a family and her goal is to have her students succeed and make the right life choices. So far she said she has not been disappointed.
“These girls are classy and have great integrity,” said Smith “They are hard-working girls who want to make a difference. They really make my job easy.”