College Dance Team Central

Friday, August 04, 2006

Jolie Roberts Takes Sacramento State Hornet Girlz To New Heights

College Dance Team Central Exclusive Feature

Sometimes life takes you in new directions, places that you may not see yourself going, and the story has not been any different for Jolie Roberts, head coach of the Sacramento State Hornet Girlz dance team. Just four months after giving birth to a baby girl in 2003, Roberts found herself in charge of a collegiate dance team for the first time, and has developed the squad into one of Sacramento State’s top ambassadors in just a few short years.

Roberts took charge of the team after a close friend and fellow dance colleague was hired to coach the squad, but was forced to remain on bed rest during her pregnancy. She asked Roberts to become an interim director for the season, and was asked by the school to stay on as coach after her friend decided not to return. Although Roberts brought an impressive amount of dance experience to her new job, transition to coaching a collegiate team was a challenge. “To put it mildly,” says Roberts. “I endured my first season of what I call a major learning experience.”

Success was just around the corner, though, as the Hornet Girlz entered the USA Collegiate Nationals in her second season at Sacramento State and promptly won a national championship in the hip-hop division. Drawing on the experience that members of her squad already possessed, she had one of her team members choreograph a hip-hop routine that the squad learned in six weeks prior to nationals. Wearing costumes designed by two of the team members, the squad claimed first place and gained increased media attention in the Sacramento area, appearing on several local news stations. “It was funny because there was still a lot of evolving I was doing as a coach and the team had to go along for the ride,” says Roberts. “It was a nice way to end the season, especially since the Sac State Dance Team hadn’t brought home a title since 1997.”

Although Roberts had no previous dance team experience prior to taking over the Hornet Girlz, she is hardly a stranger to competitive dance and fitness. The Sacramento native started dancing at the age of 11, and competed heavily in the dance scene, even placing third with her partner at the “I Love Dance” nationals in Las Vegas. She began teaching at 15, and rapidly progressed to advance level classes by the time she was 18. She attended Sacramento State at the age of 25 and was a dance major for a year, dancing in the Jazee dance company as well as the Leaps of Faith dance ensemble before graduating with a degree in Humanities and Religious Studies in 2002. Roberts remains active in dance and fitness, teaching step aerobics, body sculpting, and abs attack, while continuing to take dance classes. She also travels to local high schools and offers master classes in jazz. “Dancing is like breathing to me,” says Roberts. “It is a huge part of what defines me as a person.”

For those unfamiliar with the world of collegiate dance teams, it might seem that it’s as easy as showing up and performing with a smile on your face. But that could not be further from the truth. In fact, the training regime that Roberts uses to prepare her squad could rival any football training camp across the country. The Hornet Girlz begin team practices in June, just to make sure that the team is ready for the demands of the upcoming season. While most students are enjoying a break from the rigors of college life, the Hornet Girlz are enduring two weeks of 2-a-day practices that consist of running, body sculpting with weights, and a pilates/yoga cool down…and that’s just the morning session. The afternoon brings more cardio workouts, step aerobics, and 40 minutes of dance exercises that includes barre work and “across the floor” drills to strengthen dance technique. Once the season starts, the Hornet Girlz have two three-hour practices to clean up routines and perform at 1-2 games per week. “Since we have such a demanding schedule, I only take the most committed individuals,” says Roberts. “I let them know exactly what will be asked of them before they audition.”

The commitment that it takes to be a Hornet Girlz member extends beyond the dance floor and the gym, though, as the squad is active in both fundraising and community service events throughout the year. Although the university provides the team with a stipend, the squad holds two car washes in the summer and provides dance clinics for the community during football and basketball seasons to help pay for national competition fees and other team needs. The squad also performs at campus events, cancer benefit walks, local dance recitals, and danced at local malls last year to help raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims. “I try to get the team out in the community as often as possible,” says Roberts.

Roberts realizes that the Hornet Girlz could not operate without the support of the Sacramento State athletic department, and she is quick to give credit and thanks to those in the school administration. “The athletic department runs on a strict budget, but our Athletics Director, Dr. Terry Wanless, has always made it a priority that the dance team receives a yearly stipend. My immediate boss, Adam Primus (marketing director), always has us selling programs or athletic bracelets to help offset costs,” says Roberts. “The director has always stood behind our program even when there was high turnover of coaches, and I just can’t say enough about the Sac State athletic staff.”

As the summer of 2006 comes to an end, Roberts has the Hornet Girlz primed for another outstanding school year. Each year the team travels to the USA Collegiate Camp in Anaheim, CA where the squad spends four days learning dance material for the entire season. Roberts also choreographs a number of 30-second end zone and time-out routines for the season, and hires a former dance team member to choreograph a jazz routine for nationals. And while one of her goals as coach is to continue developing the Hornet Girlz into an excellent program, Roberts strives to reach her team on a much deeper level. “As a mother of a three year old daughter, I understand how important it is to guide and direct in such a manner that will allow these women to see their self worth in a positive way,” says Roberts. “I want to assist somehow in their growth and maturity in order for them to offer their best in this world.”


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