By: Elizabeth Barbier
Not many people are asked to be the head coach of a competitive collegiate team while they are a senior in college. But Denise Galjour gladly accepted the challenge of coaching the LSU Tiger Girls during her last semester at LSU.
Galjour had been a member of the nationally ranked competition team since 2002 but would not be able to be on the dance squad for her last semester.
“My last year, I was graduating in December, so I couldn’t be on the team,” Galjour said. “We had an outgoing coach that year, so they offered me the position.”
Galjour immediately switched from being a dancer and teammate to being a choreographer and coach. Though she struggled at times to balance the separation of being a friend and a coach, Galjour said she got plenty of support and help from the captain at the time, who was also her best friend.
“You live and you learn with coaching,” Galjour said. “But I was blessed to have a director and captain who stood behind me.”
Before Galjour took the position of head coach and choreographer, the Tiger Girls did not have a consistent coach, which affected the team’s performance at its annual competition, the Universal Dance Association College Nationals competition.
“We would go to Nationals every year and get beaten,” Galjour said. “We needed consistency with the coach. I kept seeing other teams that had the same coach each year, and they kept beating us. It was like we weren’t a family yet.”
Though the dancers were not a family when Galjour started as coach, the team has grown into a close-knit, supportive unit, sophomore Bryce Tramonte said.
“We feed off each other and help each other and make each other the best we can be,” Tramonte, a second-year member, said. “There’s no competition among us, just support.”
Sophomore Cristen Quick attributes the lack of competition on the team to Galjour’s training techniques.
“The atmosphere in the room is so different because of her coaching style,” second-year teammate Quick said. “She’s so focused that everyone is. If one person doesn’t care, you can tell.”
While Galjour makes sure the girls are focused during practice, she also ensures they are pushed to their fullest potential.
“I’ve seen a lot of dancers who are the best they’ll ever be when they are in high school,” Galjour said. “Tiger Girls is the opposite. They are pushed and developed until their last day on the team.”
Tramonte agrees that the girls are always encouraged to excel.
“Coach doesn’t believe in excuses,” Tramonte said. “She knows what we’re capable of and pushes us until she sees what she wants.”
Galjour said the most rewarding part of her job is watching the girls grow.
“I love seeing the potential when the girls come in and seeing them fulfill that potential by the time they leave.”
Quick said Galjour gives the team plenty of chances to grow and develop its talents.
“She gives us the opportunity to choreograph and stage dances,” Quick said. “She doesn’t baby us. She gives us the power to explore ourselves.”
Another way Galjour encourages the girls to discover their talent is through different styles of dance. Even though the team competes in jazz and hip-hop at Nationals, the team also learns tumbling, ballet and contemporary during practice.
“It’s easy to get stagnant doing the same thing and same styles every day,” Galjour said. “I try to develop them and get them exposed to different styles of dance.
Tramonte said that this approach sets Galjour apart from other coaches.
“She makes you try everything and makes you a more versatile dancer,” Tramonte said.
Though Galjour always tries to encourage team members to practice versatility and doing their best, she said that it sometimes gets tough because of the tremendous amount of work the Tiger Girls do.
The team practices six hours a week at the start of the year, and then nine hours a week during the regular season, which is during basketball season. In the time leading up to Nationals, the team practices every day, two times a day, Galjour said.
“The hardest part is always having to motivate the girls,” Galjour said. “I enjoy it, but it’s difficult when they have basketball games and promotions and midterms at the same time. It’s like a full-time job.”
Because Tiger Girls is a big time commitment, Galjour makes sure all the girls stay focused during practices.
“She takes everything we do seriously,” Tramonte said. “What we do in practices goes to Nationals. You can’t slack off.”
Despite all the hard work and time coaching requires, Galjour said what is most important to her is being part of a team that laughs together and sweats together.
“People think we just put on a pretty costume and dance tight,” she said, “but real athletes work at it.”
Galjour said she is proud of what the team has grown to be and what is has accomplished, including the 2010 Nationals win—Galjour’s first championship as coach.
“It’s an awesome feeling, seeing all our dreams come true,” Galjour said. “It’s become an honor to coach the team and represent LSU. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ll ever do.”