Practice Makes Perfect
The Dazzlers at a Floyd Central pep rally—just a few days before heading to Florida for 2013 Nationals (Andrew Kung)
When I first joined my college dance team, I’d never picked up a pair of poms. In fact, the high-energy, hard-hitting, trick-packed style that is “pom dance” was completely foreign to the majority of my studio-trained team. So in an effort to show us how much we had to learn, our coach called us into her office to watch a video of one of the country’s top pom teams. Our jaws dropped the moment she pressed play. The team’s precision was uncanny. Every move was performed in total unison. The angle of each arm motion and battement was measured and executed to an exact degree. Every jump was sky-high. The entire routine was performed at hyper-speed. And the power that each dancer drove into every move—I’d never seen anything like it.
Who was this team? The Floyd Central High School Dazzlers. That’s right: My National championship-winning college dance team had just been shown a thing or two (or five!) by the best high school team in the nation.
Floyd Central High School, located in the small rural community of Floyds Knobs, IN, is home to one of the most successful dance teams in the country—and it has the trophies to prove it. Led by their coach of 18 years, Todd Sharp (who is also co-coach of the successful University of Louisville Ladybirds Dance Team and spirit squad and owner of the all-star training studio Planet Dance), the Dazzlers have brought home more than 100 wins and 21 national pom championships, including 10 straight Universal Dance Association National Dance Team Championship titles. In 2012, they added a new title to their impressive streak when they swept both the pom and hip-hop divisions with first-place finishes. This year, Floyd Central took home second place in the pom division at UDA and sixth in hip hop.
Making the Cut
So what does it take to score a pair of FC poms? Around 40 girls audition for the team each year—including veterans—with a routine choreographed by the graduating seniors. After being split into pairs, hopefuls perform the routine and demonstrate technical skills, such as pirouettes, fouettés, splits and jumps, for the panel of judges, which includes Sharp and former team members. And the dancers had better be prepared to perform for a crowd: 250 spectators usually show up to watch the open audition. “I have nothing to hide,” Sharp says. “Mom and Dad need to know if their daughter is a tragic mess, and everyone will see why a girl did or didn’t make the team. Besides, I’ve never cut anyone who showed true potential.” Sharp doesn’t have a set number of girls he takes each year. The most he’s ever had on a team is 36, but team size is based solely on the talent level he sees at tryouts. This year, there are 18 dancers on the team—the fewest in Dazzler history.
After watching one of the group’s routines, you’d think every Dazzler has been dancing since she could walk, but that’s not necessarily the case. “The majority of the girls had no formal training before trying out for the Dazzlers,” Sharp says. “Many make the team because they’re athletic and have major hops.” (Watch the team’s explosive toe touches and “hops” makes perfect sense.) But a lack of technique presents challenges: “There hasn’t been a year when I haven’t had to teach girls things as basic as fixing broken wrists or pointing their feet,” Sharp says. “But if a dancer has that look in her eyes—that passion for dance and desire to succeed—I’ll choose her over a technically talented girl with no drive.”
At the 2012 UDA National Dance Team Championships, the Dazzlers won their first-ever hip-hop title. (Varsity.com)
Getting to Work
While the auditions are tough, take one look at the team’s practice schedule and you’ll see that making the team is actually the easy part. The Dazzlers rehearse almost year-round. They learn their competition pom routine in April or May—before a new school year has even begun—and their hip-hop routine in September. Aside from Sharp, guest teachers from around the country, including University of Memphis Dance Team coach Carol Lloyd, are brought in to choreograph their routines.
During the summer, the team attends a UDA camp and practices three to five times a week, with only two weeks of vacation. And their rehearsals aren’t just dance-centric; the Dazzlers do CrossFit, work with a personal trainer and weight-train each week. This continues into the school year, when both the frequency—the team eventually rehearses seven days a week—and intensity of practices pick up. But nothing can compare to the dedication the dancers demonstrate when prepping for competition. “Once we get close to Nationals, we start two-a-day practices, including a few at 6 am,” says sophomore Katie Tarr.
With the 14-plus regional competitions they attend on the weekends each season, you’d think these girls wouldn’t have time for anything else—but they’re also there to support the Floyd Central football and basketball teams at every home game. “We do pre-game sideline dances with the band and perform a halftime routine at the football games,” says junior Meagan Moutoux. “For basketball, we cheer the first quarter on the sidelines with the cheerleaders, perform a routine at halftime and cheer the last two quarters.”
The Leader of the Pack
Unlike most dance teams, the Dazzlers don’t have an official captain. “The leadership is organic,” Sharp says. “I allow the leaders to rise to the top and identify themselves. I want a freshman to be able to open her mouth and give a correction.” But when it comes down to it, Sharp has the final word in all things Dazzlers. He doesn’t tolerate mediocrity and expects every dancer to always bring her best. “Todd can be really funny, but he’s not afraid to get in your face and push you to the extreme,” says senior Brooke Lentz. “He gives us corrections and tells us what we need to hear so we can be prepared for Nationals.” One competition season, a mom told Sharp she was worried because her daughter hadn’t been to church in a month. “I just said, ‘Tough, it’s Nationals,’ ” Sharp recalls.
Sharp admits to running the Dazzlers more like a football team than a dance team. “I see it as a sport and an art,” he says. “I like to be artistic, but I love that pom allows you to display athleticism, precision and technique while wearing your school colors and name—just like a sports team.” He’s chosen to have his team perform the two styles he feels pump up the crowd the most: pom and hip hop. “They have high entertainment value, and that’s what appeals to the masses.”
(L to R) Dazzler teammates Maddie Baird and Katie Tarr (courtesy Todd Sharp)
When College Calls
For most of the Dazzlers, graduation doesn’t mark the end of their dance careers. “I encourage the girls who are passionate about dance to try out for a college team,” Sharp says. “They’ve paid the price in rehearsals and done the legwork; competing on a college dance team is like the icing on the cake.” And with Sharp at the helm of the championship-winning Ladybirds, it’s no surprise that usually at least a quarter of the nearby University of Louisville team is made up of former Dazzlers. All four of this year’s seniors hope to join collegiate teams: two at the University of Louisville, one at Indiana University and one at Bellarmine University.
The Dazzlers are champions not just on the dance floor but in the classroom as well. The school requires that each member have no failing grades to be on the team, and while every Dazzler’s GPA is above a 3.0, many have above a 4.0. Several of the girls even find time in their insane schedules to take multiple AP classes. “Last year the administration collected the average GPA for every sports team in the school,” says senior Kimberly Humphries. “We had the highest—an average of 3.7.”
Being a Dazzler also forces the girls to mature faster than most high school students. “It’s prepared me for college and future jobs,” says senior Regan Wimsatt. “I’ve had to learn time management and how to handle stressful situations.” Adds Kimberly: “Being on the team has transformed me physically and mentally—it’s made me a stronger dancer and person. You don’t just show up at Nationals and do well. Our program pushes us to work for and earn success.”
We Are Family
Like many other successful dance teams, the Dazzlers don’t always get the recognition they deserve. “We take a lot of grief at school,” Katie says. “People watch us and make fun of our moves.” But a supportive fan base of family and friends more than makes up for the haters: “All of our parents work together to support us,” Regan says. “They’ll even wake up at 4 am to be the first in line to get seats at Nationals.”
And with the winning legacy they’ve created, Dazzler alumnae often come back to help with practices and auditions. Says Kimberly, “It’s like a giant Dazzler family. Once a Dazzler, always a Dazzler.”
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Beloved by ballet fans for her lucid technique and onstage effervescence, by her Instagram followers for the deftly curated photos and videos she shares of her glamorous life, and by fangirl Jennifer Garner for all of the above, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston is one of the rare ballet stars who's achieved mainstream fame. A native of Sun Valley, ID, Boylston trained at the Academy of Colorado Ballet and the Harid Conservatory before joining the ABT Studio Company in 2005. She entered the main company as an apprentice in 2006, and attained principal status in 2014. In addition to her successes with ABT, where she dances nearly every major ballerina role, Boylston has served as artistic director of the annual Ballet Sun Valley Festival, which brings high-level performances and classes to her hometown. And speaking of famous Jennifers: Boylston recently appeared as Jennifer Lawrence's dance double in the film Red Sparrow. Catch her onstage with ABT as Manon, Odette/Odile, and Princess Aurora during the company's Metropolitan Opera House season this summer in NYC. —Margaret Fuhrer