Every day during the last school week of the year, 20 girls met after class in a dance room at Dutch Fork High School outfitted with wooden floors, wall-to-wall mirrors, twinkling Christmas lights and a sound system most DJs would envy.
The girls – from Dutch Fork middle and high schools – spent hours practicing an intricate routine by renowned choreographer Cris Judd.
It’s all part of the preparation for the dance team – dubbed the Dutch Fork Dazzlers – as they head for a performance at the halftime show of Friday’s Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
While Oklahoma State’s and Ole Miss’ football teams battle it out on the field, the Dazzlers also will have to fight their way to the top by standing out among 700 other performers all doing the same choreography.
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Dance team coach Ginny Haynes said the Dazzlers performed at the Sugar Bowl four years ago, where her team was between the 40-yard lines in the first and second rows.
“My team knows that we had that before, and they want that again,” Haynes aid. “They’re all taking it very seriously.”
The Dazzlers first performed in 1992, appearing as Dutch Fork High’s color guard in the fall and then as a dance team in the spring. The team split about eight years ago when Haynes was hired as the school’s dance teacher and the team’s coach.
Haynes said in the past three years alone, the Dazzlers have performed at Universal Studios in Hollywood, New York City and Florida, when the University of South Carolina played in the Capital One Bowl. The team also had its pick of football bowls this year, as they were invited to perform in four. “Each year we go to something,” she said. “It’s good to see them branching out and taking all the experiences in.”
Haynes, who danced in the 1993 Citrus Bowl, said she still uses that experience to motivate her team to achieve. “I just felt like it was my job and responsibility to do that for (the Dazzlers),” she said.
Most of the Dazzlers do not take dance classes outside of school, so the responsibility of making sure the girls’ technical abilities are where they need to be falls on Haynes. The team practices whenever and wherever they can, sometimes including in airport terminals while waiting for flights.
“The last time we were on our way to the Sugar Bowl, one guy said, ‘Can y’all just do (the dance) for us?’” Haynes said. “They said, ‘Yeah!’ They had seen them practicing in the corner, and they all just did it. We had this huge video of them dancing in the airport as a group.”
The trip to Louisiana will include more than just dancing, as the team will go on a swamp boat tour, stop at Cafe du Monde, ride trolleys and explore the French Quarter, though there will be “absolutely no Bourbon Street” as part of the cultural experience, Haynes said.
Team member Mary Kirley Geliske said she is excited about the swamp tour, though she is looking forward most to being at the game itself. “I was actually really excited because I like football and I’m a big football fan,” she said. “I thought it was going to be cool to see the Superdome and be able to dance on the field at halftime.”
Team member Karrington Harris said she is looking forward to being on the biggest stage of her life so far. “I was excited that we get to actually perform in something that is going to be on national TV that everybody’s going to see, but I was also kind of nervous to perform on like live TV,” Karrington said. “But I thought it was really exciting.”
The team goes beyond the dance floor, as they have performed at nursing homes and volunteered at Harvest Hope Food Bank. The team also held several fundraisers, including a summer dance camp, to raise money to pay for the trip to New Orleans.
Junior Rachel Crockett has been on the dance team for two years and said she appreciates the positive, family atmosphere the team has. “(Haynes) has definitely helped me build my character as a dancer and outside of dance,” Crockett said. “She’s definitely positive and encouraging.”
Haynes said she is proud of seeing members of the Dazzler grow into role models. “It’s about becoming a better person,” she said. “I think that’s what makes my team stands out. They might not be the best technical dancers out there, although we can give a ton of people a good run for their money. But they’re also really well-rounded, classy, strong women.”