Some artists use clay, paint or the written word to create stunning masterpieces. Award-winning choreographer Katey Giovannoni Choate uses athletes, a performance mat, a running clock — and behind the scenes, a clipboard and a flurry of flying paperwork corralling her vision — to wow a crowd.
This weekend Giovannoni Choate nabbed the coveted JAMZ Cheer and Dance award for Most Innovative Choreography for the routine she created for the OHS Competition Cheer Squad. The standout routine earned the squad, first a state, followed by a national championship.
The incredible and unexpected win left Giovannoni Choate unable to speak as she openly sobbed at the honor of earning such a distinctive award.
“I had no idea they even gave a choreography award at Nationals,” Giovannoni Choate admitted. “When they began to announce it, some of the parents around me were saying it was going to go to me, but I simply laughed. There are so many beautifully choreographed routines at the national level. When they announced the winner as the JV Level 2 Team - Oakdale, I was breathless. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around it that I just won the most innovative choreography out of all the teams at the School Nationals. It was an emotional moment for me. I cried. Tears from being shocked, but tears of happiness as well.”
For context, Giovannoni Choate explained that at the JAMZ School Nationals event, 250 teams qualified to compete. All teams must place at a local or state championship with a qualifying score to get to Nationals.
Over the Feb. 22-23 weekend, more than 3,000 cheerleaders filled the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas to battle for a national title.
“These are the best cheerleaders in the nation. There were even teams that came from Canada and Mexico,” Giovannoni Choate said.
After two days of performances, the judges pick one team to win the choreography award. Not only does this team win the highest score in the competition for choreography but the judges must all also agree that this performance was the best and most innovative choreography from Nationals.
Even though Giovannoni Choate has more than 20 choreography awards from hip-hop, pom and cheer as well as 300 regional and national first-place titles from coaching, choreography or as a participant on a dance or cheer team, to receive the biggest choreography award in her career with athletes from her alma mater was a special kind of joy.
“It is still so unbelievable to me,” Giovannoni Choate shared. “The amount of talent that was displayed on the floor at Nationals was unreal, and to think I created the best routine on the floor is mind-blowing. I still can’t believe it. This one will go down in history for me.”
Armed with plucky determination and a disarming small-town girl smile, Giovannoni Choate chased big dreams from the start. After graduation from Oakdale High, Giovannoni Choate’s parents made the trek to Los Angeles so she could make her mark with her first job within the cheer and dance industry.
There were ups and downs — highlights and disappointments — but Giovannoni Choate spent three years establishing herself in a difficult industry where talent isn’t always enough.
“For the first three years, I worked three jobs, was broke, and grabbed any choreography jobs I could,” she said. “Trying to establish my name was hard, but people soon saw my loyalty, results, and passion. Establishing my name in the cheer and dance industry was the biggest challenge.”
However, now thanks to a stellar reputation for creating winning choreography, Giovannoni Choate has a different challenge — turning away potential clients.
“I’m booked 12 months out for choreography and have a waiting list now,” she said. “I want to help everyone, I want every child to be a champion, and I know I have the power to help them achieve it but, I can’t say yes to everyone and that’s so hard for me.”
When asked what made this particular routine stand out among the crowd, Giovannoni Choate answered with confidence, “I broke away from the traditional high school routine. I used the floor, stepped away from the center, created levels that complemented each other, and used the cheerleaders’ talent to lead my creativity.”
But Giovannoni Choate was quick to share the glory, saying, “Oakdale’s Cheerleaders are like no other. They are memorable; they put on a show. I knew that whatever choreography I gave them, they would master it like professionals. With that, I knew I could push my creativity to a new height for a school routine. To truly get my best choreography, you must be an out-of-this-world performer, and Oakdale grasped it.”
There’s another reason aside from her talent, wit, and creativity that keeps Giovannoni Choate booked with back-to-back clients — her warmth and encouraging spirit buoys the athletes and coaches she works with, leaving an indelible mark that’s hard to replicate.
OHS Cheer Coach, Sherry Padilla Kupper, who has known Giovannoni Choate for close to 20 years, had nothing but glowing praise for the star choreographer whom she considers not only a colleague but a friend.
“Katey is so humble, kind, selfless, truly an inspiration,” Padilla Kupper shared. “She is beyond talented and freely gives of her talents, never asking for anything in return. She truly wants everyone to do and be their very best and it is just her nature to pitch in wherever needed and make that happen. She is the best of the best and we are so lucky to have her. Her talents go beyond choreography if you’ve ever had the chance to see her perform. She’s just amazing! The way she choreographs to each girl’s strength is incredible. Her vision and innovativeness never cease to amaze me.”
Ashley Dillon, co-owner of Infinite Athletics Cheer and Tumbling was equally quick to share how much Giovannoni Choate is one-of-a-kind.
Years ago, Giovannoni Choate served as a mentor for Dillon and the Oakdale gym owner never forgot the positive impact Giovannoni Choate had on her life.
“Katey has been my mentor since the day I met her. I always tell her I would not be the person I am today without her guidance and her constant reassurance that I can do something,” Dillon said. “I could never tell Katey enough times thank you for believing in me and thank you for being amazing.”
Giovannoni Choate, meanwhile, is happiest giving all the praise to her “village” before accepting her own but she’s always ready to share bits of wisdom for aspiring choreographers.
Her advice is simple, saying, “Study different forms of performance, be open to change, and always be loyal. But most of all, stay humble. I have never once thought I was the best, but I always think the kids that I work with are the best. Stand by your work and always create happiness.”
For Giovannoni Choate, that happiness starts at home.
“My cheer roots come from Oakdale,” she said. “There is nowhere else I would rather share my passion and love with. I’ve had so much fun working with the coaches at Oakdale High School, they truly are some of the best in the industry.”