Dance, anyone? - The Explorer: Import

Dance, anyone?

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Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2003 12:00 am | Updated: 7:47 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

When the dance team folded at Ironwood Ridge High School in 2001, most of the school's varsity-squad hopefuls expressed disappointment and moved on.

One student, though, decided her senior year wasn't going to work like that.

That's why, on Oct. 24, the school's homecoming pep assembly included music and choreographed kicks. The dance team is back, thanks to senior Kristy Barrett, her neighbor, and her old show choir's choreographer.

The team is pinching pennies, struggling to cover costumes and a coach's salary solely with member fees, but spirits are high.

"I think we've got such a great start," dance coordinator Cheryl Thurman said. "We want to make sure it continues."

As a sophomore, Barrett practiced with Ironwood Ridge High School's fledgling junior varsity team in the new school's dance studio, equipped with mirrors and hardwood floors.

During basketball season, the team won a contest award. First place felt like reason to celebrate, even though the team was the only one in its division to compete.

When basketball season ended, Barrett noticed that no one was mentioning dance tryouts for football season. Christmas came and went with still no mention.

"Once the holidays were over, we were like, 'I guess we're not having a dance team this season,'" Barrett said.

The team's dance coach moved to California, and the school didn't find a replacement.

"We just weren't getting any applicants who fit our needs," said Mike Brown, the assistant principal.

A dancer from early childhood, Barrett was disappointed. She also was busy baby-sitting, singing in choir, and giving piano lessons.

She didn't stop to think about dance much that school year, or the next. She wasn't thinking about dance the summer before her senior year, as she posted baby-sitting flyers in her neighborhood.

She did, though, when her neighbor, Thurman, interviewed her for a nanny job.

During the interview, they discovered a common love - dance teams.

"She said, 'Oh my gosh, I was on the pom line - you're hired,'" Barrett said. "She was kidding, but later she hired me."

Thurman had danced in the 1980s with Canyon del Oro High School's pom pom squad. She treasured the experience.

"I have girlfriends who are still my best friends who were on the squad with me," she said.

Barrett and Thurman didn't know what to expect when they decided to organize a grassroots dance team, but the pieces easily fell into place.

One day, Barrett serendipitously stumbled upon a potential dance coach.

She was driving a neighborhood child to a dance lesson when she discovered that the girl's instructor was Robyn Wallwork, the choreographer for her old show choir. Wallwork also used to coach Canyon del Oro High School's dance team.

Before long, Wallwork was in assistant principal Brown's office with Thurman and Barrett talking about putting a team together.

"It just seemed like it was going to happen - like we had no choice but to get it done, or at least try everything in our ability," Barrett said.

Brown said the dance team idea could go forward if parents are willing to pay for a coach.

Amphitheater Public Schools does not give schools money specifically for dance teams, said Michael Bejarano, the district's athletic director. The district funds sports programs designated by Arizona Interscholastic Athletics - one of which is "spirit line." Schools can choose to include dance in their spirit line programs.

"They decide whether they want to be more dance-oriented or stunt oriented," Bejarano said.

Ironwood Ridge High School's spirit line is not dance-oriented, Brown said.

Ironwood Ridge High School's previous dance team coach also was paid through member fees, Brown said. He added that he doubts the school will offer the dance team financial support in the foreseeable future.

"We're not established enough," he said. "We're barely making it."

The marching band has no plans for integrating the dance team into its programming, said band director Mark Hodge, adding that a dance team doesn't really fit its style.

"There are no contests we attend that we would get scored lower if we didn't have a dance line," he said.

Still, students wanted a dance team.

More than 80 students showed up for the dance team's first informational meeting. At a later parents' meeting, some participants who couldn't get a seat in the room stood outside the door.

"I said, 'If anyone here has a problem with paying coaching dues, raise your hand,' and not one raised a hand," Thurman said.

The dance team decided to pinch pennies. For their uniforms, they bought shirts at Target for $10, and are sewing on sequins.

But even pinched pennies only go so far.

To pay the dance coach for football season, alone, each dance team member had to come up with $165.

Add the expense of hats, shoes and pants - not to mention traveling expenses when the group gets ready to go to competitions - and it's a bundle.

"Robyn is doing this for about half the money she should be doing it for," Thurman said.

The team hopes to attend a dance competition in Phoenix in the spring.

"If these kids want to go to state competitions, at that level they need good costumes," Thurman said.

Thurman said she hopes the team will find a better way to cover its costs.

"I don't want to see anyone left behind because their parents couldn't afford it," Thurman said. "That just doesn't seem right. If we could get companies to come forward and donate $100 here and $100 there, it wouldn't all be on parents' shoulders."

As for the 18 dance team members, they're a dedicated bunch, Barrett said. They rise every morning for 6 a.m. practices, and schedule small group rehearsals at their homes.

They don't want to be just any dance team, she said, they want to be a competitive one.

"When people ask how our dance team is, we say we're good, but we want to be great."

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