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Digging the Dancing Queen

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Pro dancer and coach Dionn Schaffner has a workout that will cheer you up.

By Gretchen M. Sanders

Dionn Schaffner has great moves. The professional dancer and cheerleader started shaking her stuff long before she made Stanford University’s elite dance team as an undergrad.

“They only picked five girls each year,” recalls the 46-year-old Schaffner, “and we cheered for every sport.”

Schaffner, who also coached cheerleading at Stanford while working on a master’s degree, went on to dance three years for the Golden State Warriors NBA team and later for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I finally stopped when I had my first child,” says the mother of two.

After taking a break to raise her family, run a few marathons and compete in some triathlons, Schaffner realized she still had the music in her.

“My son started playing Pop Warner Football and they needed a cheer-and-dance program,” she says. So, in 2009, she started one. “It’s funny. I have an engineering degree and an MBA from Stanford, but I really love coaching cheerleading.”

She’s good at it too. In 2015, Schaffner choreographed the routine that led her squad to win the Pop Warner Junior Pee Wee National Championship in cheerleading in Orlando, Fla.

HERE’S HOW THIS DANCER KEEPS UP HER HIGH-KICKING ROUTINE:

The A.M.:
“My best days happen when I get up to my alarm at 4:30 a.m. and start working out by 5 or 5:30 a.m. It just feels good to have my workout finished before I wake up my kids. If I don’t bike or run in the morning, then I don’t get to do it at all. Plus, I have those endorphins pumping when I say good morning to my children. Even if they’re groggy, I’m not!”

The Workout: 
“For cheerleading, the girls I coach practice two to three times a week at two hours a pop. Cheer involves dance, tumbling and stunting, making it a tough sport on the body. A two-and-a-half-minute competition routine combines yelling very loud with nonstop jumping and throwing people into the air. It will definitely elevate your heart rate. I have a lead-by-example coaching style, so I show my girls what I want them to do. I’m too old for some of the advanced tumbling, but I can still do jumps. The girls often make me bust out toe touches or do splits with them in warm-up. They really get a kick out of seeing me do the moves. It also lends a level of respect. I will say to them, ‘If I can do it, then you can do it.’ If there were a professional cheer team in Austin, then I would try out. It’s just a great cardio workout that combines running, dancing, muscle building and stretching with balance and coordination skills. Then there’s the thrill of performing!”

The Diet:
“Honestly, my nutrition stinks. I love Dr Pepper. I also don’t have a very wide food palate and I don’t like to try new things. We eat the same foods each week at my house and everyone is happy. I don’t eat broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower—no, none of those! If veggies come on a pizza, then I might eat them. Actually, I’d probably be a much better athlete if I ate better. I do like fruit, the sugary fruits, like grapes, pineapples and honeycrisp apples. Please put bacon and cheese on my grilled chicken, and can I have that with fries? I have made a commitment to work on my nutrition this year. At least I take hydration seriously. I basically keep a large Yeti tumbler full of ice water or Nuun with me at all times. Once athletes get behind on hydration, it’s all over. Hydration! Hydration!”

The Gear:
“You want to wear something very non-restricting for cheerleading. We practice in black compression shorts, a jog bra and a tech T, and the girls must have their midriffs covered. Of course, we sport those cute little ankle socks with our Nfinity Cheer Shoes designed specifically for stunting and dance. The technology behind cheerleading shoes has come a long way. The more competitive you get, the more your shoes change. And yes, we have pom-poms!”

The Motivation:
“I have a special opportunity to grow with these young girls. I’ve worked with some of them for years, when they couldn’t do a single toe touch. Today, many can nail a roundoff back handspring back flip. I get to see these girls grow into young women, to teach them work ethic and to help foster in them a sense of self-confidence. Plus, I still have a performance bug, and coaching lets me continue doing the sport I love. As I age, it’s nice to feel strong and capable.”

The Mindset:
“I say dance like everyone’s watching. It’s a great feeling when your body, mind and spirit become engaged. Also, dare to fail. When you go out and do something, just go for it. Try. Life is short. You’re not guaranteed anything, so find the things that speak to your soul. We all should also remember to lift as we climb, to reach back and help the next person.”

The P.M.:
“Before going to bed around 10:30, I tuck in my boys and shut down the house. Then I think about tomorrow. I like to have a plan, so I write down how I want the day to go and what I’m looking forward to. At night, I need time for reflection and reset. I like to think about what’s coming next so I can hit the ground running in the morning.”

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