DTM EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: University of Minnesota Choreographer Karl Mundt

Karl Mundt is arguably today’s most successful and sought-after dance team choreographer. His incredible work with 8-time National Champions the University of Minnesota has made him a household name in the competitive dance world. But his impressive list of National and World Championship winning clients also includes the University of St. Thomas, University of Cincinnati, Eastern Washington Elite All Stars, Los Alamitos High School and Eden Prairie High School – and that’s not even the whole list.

Karl took some time to chat to me about his inspirations, his method, his favorite routines and his thoughts on current trends.

The age old question – what comes first, the music or the choreography? 
The music comes first. I generally listen to it over and over again before I start thinking of choreography.

Which is your favorite style to choreograph?
I grew up in the studio world and lyrical and theatrical jazz were my favorite styles. This has definitely carried over into my professional life.

Who or what inspires you? 
I am often inspired by the dancers I am working with on a given piece. The music also plays a huge role in how a routine develops. My assistants are a big part of the process as well. I am especially grateful to Leslie Attwood and Rachel Doran.

How would you describe your creative process?
I tend to work best in the moment. I generally need the dancers to create the best work. There are times when an idea or concept will come to me out of the blue, say while doing the dishes or folding laundry, and then I try to be sure to take notes or video.

What creates a winning piece of choreography?
A routine that feels organic and where the dancers connect to the music and to each other. Ultimately, they need to take the audience on a journey. This is necessary for all styles. The best choreography keeps everyone engaged and leaves you wanting more. I know I love a routine when I forget to blink!

What were your favorite or least favorite trends this competition season? 
To be honest, I tend to focus more on the dancers I am directly working with and not on the other routines. I find I get less nervous or anxious this way. I will say I am a bit over acoustic covers of popular songs.

Did you have a favorite routine or notice a standout team?
Hands down my favourite routine was Coral Reef High School’s jazz routine at the National Dance Team Championship. It was breathtakingly good. It told a story and the dancers were so committed to the movement. On a personal level, I liked the routine I choreographed for Eden Prairie High School (with Hannah Fredrick), as it challenged me and expanded my dance vocabulary.

What does dance mean to you?
Dance means everything to me. It makes me feel alive and invigorated. It gives me purpose. It truly is the best therapy, too. I love working with dancers and helping them grow as artists and human beings.

Karl Mundt with University of Minnesota senior captains and coaches, Amber Jackson (R) and Amanda Gaines (L)

You can find more about Karl and his talented team of choreographers at INNOVATE Dance.

Tempo Trouble: How Fast Should Your Pom Routine Be?

This is a common question – especially among first-time coaches and choreographers. After choosing songs to go into your pom routine, deciding on the tempo of your mix is the next step.

George Mason University from Fairfax, VA

George Mason University from Fairfax, VA

As a general rule of thumb, the current trend is to have your routine be somewhere between 140-150BPM (beats per minute). When deciding which is best for you, first and foremost think about your team’s level of ability. Your dancers need to be able to keep up with the music. If they can’t hit clean, sharp movements at your chosen tempo, it’s too fast.

Secondly, take into consideration your style of choreography. Are you going to be hitting every beat? Do you like to incorporate and-counts? Try something around 140BPM for beginner/lower level teams and 144BPM for intermediate to advanced teams. Or do you tend to hold counts in your choreography and take slower transitions? In that case, faster music can keep the energy of your routine up and make your movements appear faster. Try closer to 150BPM for routines like this.

I also did some research for you! After having a closer look at some of the highest scoring routines from the 2013 competition season, here’s what I found:


  • University of Minnesota (Div 1A) – 150BPM
  • University of Cincinnati (Div 1A) – 144BPM
  • University of Memphis (Div 1A) – 157BPM


  • Lake Forest High School (Large Varsity) – 150BPM
  • Floyd Central High School (Large Varsity) – 150BPM
  • Rosary High School (Small Varsity) – 150BPM
  • Eden Prairie High School (Small Varsity) – 140BPM
  • St Thomas More Catholic School (Small Varsity) – 142BPM


  • PACE Elite (Open Pom) – 150BPM
  • JF Oberlin University (Open Pom) – 136BPM

At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s really a style choice and trends change over time. But what doesn’t change is common sense. Speed can add energy and difficulty to a routine – but be careful not to sacrifice quality and execution for difficulty.

Have you found a routine whose tempo you want to emulate? Can do! Use this online tool. Play the routine video or music track in a separate window or tab and use any key on your keyboard to tap/count for beats per minute.

The Dos and Don’ts of Choosing Routine Music: Pom Edition

University of Minnesota from Minneapolis, MN

University of Minnesota from Minneapolis, MN

I get asked for music advice a lot by friends and colleagues. As a choreographer and avid music fan, I’ve always believed that choosing routine music should be given your utmost attention and best effort.

Music can make or break your routine. It will enhance your choreography or leave you floundering, make you stand out or have you disappear into the masses, engage your audience and the judges or have them falling asleep. Here’s my list of dos and don’ts for choosing songs to go into your pom routine mix:

DO use different genres. This is my number one tip for keeping a routine fresh and engaging! Mix up your genres. The songs should still blend well (your DJ will take care of that) but add variety – avoid using all pop songs, all hip hop songs or all anything songs.

DON’T Google “good music for dancing”, “what’s the best music for a pom routine” or anything similar – you won’t find anything useful or original, we’ve all tried. Unless of course it’s led you to this post!

DO let your iTunes play on shuffle for a while. This is one of my favorite ways to rediscover great songs that’ve slipped my mind over time. Another fun thing to do is identify which of your friends have great or unique taste in music and commandeer their iTunes.

DON’T use anything that’s currently on the radio or might be on the radio later in the season. The radio is for singing along in your car or in the shower, not the competition floor. We all know what it’s like to hear the same song 10+ times at a competition and it’s never pleasant. Don’t be one of those teams.

DO look for inspiration abroad. What are people at other corners of the globe listening to right now? This is where the internet will be useful. My favorite music-savvy hot spots are the UK, France, Australia and South Korea (K-Pop is pom gold).

Academy of Holy Angels from Demarest, NJ

Academy of Holy Angels from Demarest, NJ

DON’T use a theme. It’s lazy and limits your music options. If your theme is just ‘winning’ or ‘being the best’ in general and you have the skills to back up such a claim, go for it. But if your theme is colors of the rainbow, heartbreak, various weather conditions or Michael Jackson – don’t do it.

DO use rock music. Rock music speeds up really well but nobody uses it enough. I don’t know why – I’m a big fan. Everything from pop rock to hair metal, classic rock to country – it’s all fun and sounds great!

DON’T use anything you’ve danced to in a club on a night out. Just don’t. Club bangers are not pom music. This includes dubstep.

DO use a song or two that people will know and say “Oh, I love this song!” Being fresh and original is the overall goal but you don’t want to be too obscure. This is a great opportunity to pull out those newly rediscovered tunes from a few years ago or a well-known-but-not-overplayed classic.

DON’T use anything with overtly violent, abusive, derogatory, sexist, sexual (or inappropriate in any way) lyrics or connotations. This is a family event – you have little girls watching you and looking up to you not only in the crowd but also, thanks to YouTube and social media, thousands of miles away on their computers. Be a good role model – we’re collectively shaping the future of our sport and the type of athletes and young women it produces.

Do you have any other tips for choosing songs to go into a pom routine mix? Let me know!