Elizabeth O’Donnell and Lindsay Cloer and colleagues keep the pace going, in rehearsal. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
This is the first such honor in 18 years. Pat’s performed in the Orange Bowl in 1998, Peach Bowl long before, and the 2003 Macy’s Parade in NYC. Many going to S.D. danced at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. two years ago, but said this is bigger.
Dustin Phillips of Pat’s in Hendersonville is the head choreographer, assisted by his newlywed Sheraton Shepherd Phillips and Brittany Roland. “Sher” and her mother Pat Shepherd run the prestigious studio, and along with Phillips and Roland are instructors, choreographers and coaches. Pat and also April Freeman are dance directors for the bowl. Phillips said some organizers will be dressed up and onfield during the halftime bowl show.
Pat Shepherd, Sher Shepherd Phillips, Dustin Phillips, and Brittany Roland are preparing their dancers for a bowl game show. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
“I’m thrilled our children will have this special dance experience in San Diego,” Pat Shepherd said. “I’m also extremely proud of Dustin getting chosen as head choreographer, and of Sher and Brittany for getting to help.”
Phillips said “everyone’s really excited, to perform in front of tens of thousands of people.” He was hired by Heritage WorldStrides OnStage, which selected the medley of songs to dance to. The Utah-based group puts on halftime shows for 10 bowl games. Phillips helped choreograph five prior bowl shows, including for the title game three years ago in which Alabama thrashed Notre Dame. That show, in Miami, Fla., had a Latin conga theme. His specialties include hop-hop.
Dustin and Sher were married Nov. 21. They are traveling instructors for Dance Educators of America. Sher has performed professionally in Japan (for Disney) and Germany, and taught in China, Costa Rica and elsewhere. She calls this a “great experience for the kids to travel, meet other dancers and participate in master classes. Classes will be taught by the S.D. Chargers Dance Team, Phillips, and L.A.-based hip hop choreographer Matt Steffanina.
Grace VerStrate, 10, at left, is part of a chorus line for the Sinatra song in the medley. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
The game starts 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, that Wednesday night. The USA network will televise it. The game is in large NFL Qualcomm Stadium. Bolstering likely ratings is a pairing of elite college football programs — Southern Cal (8-5) versus Wisconsin (9-3).
The local troupe will be in the Big Bay Balloon Parade, which USA airs at 10 a.m. on Dec. 30. Dancers will open the parade in front of the grandstand, dancing to Elton John’s 1973 chart-topping rocker “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting),” which is part of a seven-song medley of mostly rock classics.
The dancers were promptly in synch with moves and gestures and most energetic for that song, on Thursday in the first of two rehearsals in Pat’s studio. First, dancers studied at home instructors’ demo video. They will rehearse for about 15 hours with the full group in San Diego.
Pat’s provides 36 of the 325 dancers from 25 troupes across the country. Pat’s is among merely three from East of the Mississippi River. About 60 of the local dancer’s families are planning to make the half-week trip. It costs them nearly $900 per dancer.
The female Pat’s dancers slated to participate are, in alphabetical order: LeAnn Bittle, Kendall Burgess, Monica Cantrell, Lindsay Cloer, Taylor Corn, Autumn Freeman, Julia Gillespie, Meredith Gillespie, Tori Gunning, Kaitlyn Harrington, Briana Haston, Jasmine Hyatt, Caroline Jones, Keelie Jones, Madeline Jones, Katelyn Ledbetter, Trinity Luce, Lura McCraw, Kaitlynn McKinney, Blakely Morgan, Madison Morgan, Shelby Morgan, Elizabeth O’Donnell, Briana Richardson, Abigail Rollins, Maggie Rollins, Victoria Saltz, Mackenzie Sullivant, Alli Surrette, Hannah Tolles, Sierra Vaughn, Grace VerStrate, Taylor Williams and Taylor Wright. The two males are Will Field and Charley Jones. Several are school cheerleaders.
VerStrate at 10 is among the youngest, yet she shows tremendous poise in rehearsal. Several are school cheerleaders. Some tasted a bright spotlight. Ledbetter is in an Eighties-styled video made in L.A. in August, of J. Grace’s Latin pop song rapped by Frankie J.
Ledbetter is in eight grade of Hendersonville Middle, as is Autumn Freeman. Meredith Gillespie is an East Henderson sophomore. She and Freeman have danced at Pat’s since age two, Trinity Luce since age three. Luce is a Rugby Middle seven-grader, with stage experience. These four spoke with The Tribune Thursday.
They imagine themselves more excited than nervous about performing before a huge crowd and on TV. Gillespie calls it a “once in a life-time” chance. Freeman sees it as a major extension of smaller local football games, and “hearing fans cheer” which spurs her cheerleading.
They like dancing to rock hits their parents and grandparents loved. Most are up-tempo. Luce said that makes her “happy” and energetic. Ledbetter said “I feel more into it. That gets me moving.” Freeman said, “I want to bounce around.”
The medley of half-minute excerpts kicks off with the Moody Blues’ frenetic jazzy rocker “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band).” Next are The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” and Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.” Next is Elton’s shaker.
Dancer arms sway as tempo downshifts for Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” The group does a kick line. The emotional finale is Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s classical masterpiece “1812 Overture” with cannon blast sounds. A “pyro explosion” will fill the field, Phillips noted. Dancers will “peel off” in various directions.
“Don’t worry about anyone around you. Just do what you know in choreography and spacing,” Phillips suggests. With over 300 dancing, it lessens the spotlight on each dancer.
The four dancers describe their instructors as energetic supporters. “They do a good job of encouraging us,” Ledbetter said. Luce calls them happily “intense, and very excited.” Freeman notices their “smiling, and bouncing with us” in rehearsals.
She welcomes their pointing out mistakes early before they become habits. This is mostly done as the group reviews video.
Phillips said emphasis is on “positive reinforcement. We take a light approach. We don’t yell or curse. No one’s perfect. We’ve all messed up before. There’ll be a mistake here and there” in preparation.
He said, “we’ll work extra hard” to streamline the routine. “Everything works itself out.”
Phillips suggests dancers “enjoy the moments. Take a deep breath. Savor it all in. Simply do what you’re told, and you’ll be fine. Have great time, with a big smile on your face.”