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Brandon High dance squad's future is uncertain

The Brandon High dance squad strutted, twirled and rocked out to a tune from the dance movie Step Up 2 at a pep rally last month.

It might have been more appropriate to go with Donna Summer's Last Dance.

The popular squad, once guided by the late and beloved Pat Fussell — the football field is named after her — may not re-emerge next season. Known as "The Dancerettes," the squad opted not to compete midway through the fall due to a series of complications, the biggest being the need for a sponsor to coach the squad.

The pep rally show was a token performance, and may have been the squad's last chance to extend a school tradition that some say dates to the 1930s.

On a grand scale, it may not seem like that big of a deal compared to larger education issues like budget cuts, teacher evaluations and school vouchers.

Yet when you tap into the passion of present and former dance squad members, you gain an appreciation for why the squad means so much to them — and why they fear it may not be back.

That fear prompted parent Ronni Wilkerson to create a Facebook page to garner support: Help to get our dance team back @BHS. In less than two weeks, more than 100 people signed up.

Deborah Solomon wrote on the page that the Dancerettes have been a tradition at the school since 1934. Margaret Hamilton Ayers, who was on the squad from 1969 to 1971, says they should save the team in memory of Fussell, who died just before the 2001 football season after being associated with the school for 56 years.

And Sarah Croy offered this tribute on the Facebook page.

"This makes me sad beyond words," Croy wrote. "I can't believe there isn't a dance team anymore! Being on the team for my 4 years in (high school) shaped me to be the responsible, respectable young lady that I am today … I hope they come to their senses and restore the squad to the way it needs to be, the way it has always been."

Wilkerson wants to save the dance squad because her daughter L.A. (Lauren Ashley) grew up dreaming about performing with the group.

The dance squad typically performs as part of the marching band's color guard during halftime at football games in the fall, and then competes as a separate unit in the spring at various competitions.

The usual plan went awry this year when the sponsor, who also taught at the school, left the team midway through the fall to take a job outside of education.

Wilkerson says to "salvage" the season, band director Melanie Driscoll asked the girls to convert into a winter guard team. Unlike the squad, which focuses almost exclusively on dance routines, winter guard mirrors the marching band's color guard and performs routines involving flags, rifles and other props.

Of the 41 girls on the dance squad, 13 chose to compete in winter guard, including Wilkerson's daughter. Although winter guard was new to the school, the girls performed well.

Yet that hasn't quelled the desire to bring back the dance squad for next season. Wilkerson thinks dance squad and winter guard could coexist, but she thinks Driscoll and school administrators may want to make the conversion to winter guard a permanent one.

Philosophically, winter guard may be viewed as a better complement to band, but it's not clear where the administration stands when comparing dance to winter guard.

Why? Well, neither Driscoll nor assistant principal Dina Langston, who oversees band, have responded to two e-mails Wilkerson sent to the school about the future of the dance squad. Of course, there's a possibility that Driscoll and Langston never received Wilkerson's e-mails. But I don't know because they didn't respond to me, either.

Wilkerson did have a conversation with another assistant principal, Tibor Kovacs, who said the team's existence would hinge on finding a trained dance instructor who also could teach classes at the school, and that determination couldn't be made until the summer.

Principal Carl Green, speaking on behalf of Driscoll and Langston, mirrored Kovacs' comments in a brief interview last week.

In the end, school administrators may believe it best to move on without a dance squad, but Green, Langston and Driscoll shouldn't be cavalier about the passion of the current and former dancerettes.

At this point, it would be best to convene a meeting with all interested parties to clear the air and create some common ground. A storied tradition merits more than an abrupt ending.

Silence serves no one.

That's all I'm saying.

Times staff writer John Martin contributed to this column.

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See a 2010 performance by the Brandon High Dance Squad on youtube:

Brandon High dance squad's future is uncertain 03/31/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 4:30am]
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