Updated: Mar 29, 2019
WRITTEN BY RACHEL A. ISHEE | PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM
Dance teams do much more than jazz up halftime shows at sporting events. For the dancers, the year-round teams build confidence, encourage fitness and offer a sense fo belonging and accomplishment.
Friday night in north Mississippi means hundreds of high school students and their families pack into stadiums and arenas all over the state to cheer on their hometown heroes as they vie for the ball. But there’s another sport that’s attracting interest in the hospitality state — one that has little off-season and is integral to many of these better-known major sporting events. Dance teams.
With impressive high-energy routines choreographed to Top 40 hits and enthusiastic smiles that will give hope no matter what the scoreboard says, dance teams have become a vital part of many sporting events. The dancers go full-out during the halftime shows at football and basketball games, but being on a dance team involves so much more than waving pompoms and wearing bedazzling uniforms. In addition to performing throughout the school year, many teams also compete in regional and national competitions as well as train throughout the summer.
TISHOMINGO COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL BRAVETTES
The Tishomingo County High School Bravette Dancers have been cheering on their school for a decade now. Since 2009 the all-girl team has been practicing every day after school to be able to perform during the football, basketball and competition seasons. Being able to put on high-energy performances year-round requires a team of experienced coaches to get all 17 girls to that level.
“Luckily we as coaches have years of experience in cheer and dance and know the process of preparing for the upcoming year,” TCH coach Sandy Rogers said.
It takes more than one person to coach a winning team. Rogers is one of three coaches behind the Bravettes. With decades of dance experience between them, they know what it takes to get their dancers to the top. When competition season rolls around the school also hires additional choreographers.
The coaching process begins with purchasing music, brainstorming dance routine ideas and relaying those ideas back to the choreographers who then teach the new routine to the squad. Once the girls have been taught the routine, they practice it hundreds — maybe even 1,000 times — in order to perfect all the steps and hit their mark every single time.
Besides juggling school and the rigorous practice schedule, girls who make the team become role models for others. It’s demanding, but students and coaches believe that it is worth all of the hard work.
“As a Bravette dance member they instantly become role models to the student body at Tishomingo County High School,” Rogers said. “And as coaches we work hard to instill a good work ethic and prepare them with skills to further their dance career after high school.”
GUNTOWN MIDDLE SCHOOL DANCE TEAM
Guntown Middle School is in its first year offering the budding sport. Anna Pugh, one of the dance team coaches at GMS, saw bringing a dance team to the school as a huge, untapped opportunity.
“Middle schools often have football, basketball, cheer and a few clubs,” Pugh said.
“But I teach several students, girls specifically, who don’t really fall into any of those categories. [Dance teams offer] the opportunity to bond with other girls and work together toward a common goal. That is so valuable no matter the club.”
Because the GMS dance team is in its inaugural year, they are not eligible to compete at the national level but the girls do perform at halftime for basketball games and are planning on attending the Universal Dance Association camp this summer. There they will develop technique, bond as a team and learn routines to perform throughout the year. This year the camp takes place in June in Memphis and offers skills workshops as well as choreography sessions.
“It’s great for the girls because tons of teams from throughout the region attend each year,” Pugh said. “We get to see what other teams do, learn new routines and bond as a new team before the season starts in August.”
The students that make up the GMS dance team also know a thing or two about having busy schedules. Because they are a new team, the coaches have been focusing a lot on conditioning and strength training. With workouts four times a week that consist of cardio, core, arms and legs, and strength training, the team is sure to be in good shape before competition season begins.
“I am working to build their physical fitness so that they have the stamina and strength to withstand longer, more strenuous dances with more difficult skills,” Pugh said.
While coaching a dance team is fun and extremely rewarding, the women give up a lot in order to coach the team.
“I have a co-coach, Katie Nelson, and she has been such a blessing,” Pugh said. “We gave up our planning periods to coach in addition to teaching English full time.”
Having two coaches means that the GMS team gets exposed to two different styles of dance. This helps to keep routines fresh and entertaining and also challenges the girls to learn different techniques.
“We each bring different things to the table,” Pugh said. “Katie’s background is primarily in pom and kick line, while mine is hip-hop and dance fitness. This makes for a diverse team with a variety of dance styles.”
While it’s fun to stay active and learn new routines, Pugh admits that her girls walk away with much more than cute uniforms and some pom poms.
“The skills my girls have learned go so far beyond just double pirouettes and kip-ups,” Pugh said. “I have seen shy, insecure girls blossom into confident, outgoing young ladies. Body image is such a struggle at this age. Dance is giving my girls an outlet to exercise and develop healthy habits, which in turn makes them walk a little taller and feel so much better about themselves.”
The girls on the team couldn’t agree more. Bella Jones, 13, began with an interest in cheer but also wanted to work more on her fitness and make new friends.
“My favorite part of being on the team is making memories and having fun when we get on the basketball court,” Jones said. “The most challenging part is the workouts, but the good part is that the other dancers will encourage you to keep going.”
Caydee Fleming, 14, also started out her athletic career in a different direction.
“I’ve done studio ballet for a long time, but what made me want to be on the dance team was seeing how dance can influence someone’s life or make their life better,” Fleming said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
SALTILLO HIGH SCHOOL DANCE TEAM
Jenny Fleming, the Saltillo High School dance team coach, has witnessed similar results from her students.
“Practice becomes a safe space where problems involving school can be pushed aside to have fun while exercising,” Fleming said. “Children with different social backgrounds can come together to form a hardworking team.”
Fleming said that being a part of a dance team teaches girls to have positive attitudes and how to constantly work to better themselves and others. Dance also teaches them how to be team players. When they’re out on stage or on the court performing if doesn’t matter whose kicks are higher or whose smile is brighter. What matters is that everyone knows the dance and is in sync with each other and the music.
“Dance teaches young girls that with endurance, preparation and passion all goals are possible,” Fleming said.