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Pat’s School of Dance to lead all Orange Bowl dancers Friday

Meredith Gillespie, closest to the mirror, and colleagues rehearse the Orange Bowl routine in Pat’s School of Dance. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Pat’s School of Dance steps up its college football pageantry, this time dancing in the prestigious Orange Bowl with two of its instructors coordinating the overall choreography.

Dustin Phillips and Sher Shepherd Phillips are WorldStrides OnStage’s lead choreographers for the halftime show. Two groups on the field will split 327 dancers, from about 30 dance studios across the country.

The game is between top ten-ranked squads Michigan and Florida State. Halftime will have unofficial competition between dance studios to sparkle while synchronizing as a unit of 327, Sher said with a grin. “Everyone brings their ‘A game,’ and wants to be the best one out there.”


These Pat’s School of Dance dancers will perform at the Orange Bowl Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

The Phillipses, North Carolina natives who married just over a year ago, have each danced in elite shows across the globe (i.e. Sher for Disney in Japan). They have been Dance Educators of America traveling instructors. PSD is in its 45th year. Utah-based WorldStrides has its half-century anniversary next year.

The Capital One Orange Bowl show includes 35 from Pat Shepherd’s studio in Hendersonville. This is PSD’s first Orange Bowl-affiliated participation since Pat directed Sher and others dancing in its parade in 1998.

Dustin is a bowl head choreographer, for the second year in a row. Sher and Brittany Roland (also a Pat’s studio teacher/coach) assisted at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego last year. Roland helped train again, and will help coordinate PSD youths on the trip along with studio founder Pat Shepherd.

Pat’s dancers practice a rolling gesture. Photo by Pete Zamplas

Sher takes more of a co-lead role, at this much bigger game. Michigan nearly beat Ohio State, to land in the final four gunning for the national title. Before leading two bowl shows, Dustin helped choreograph five of them. Most notable was the title game four years ago in Miami, Fla. as Alabama trounced Notre Dame.

A major bonus is the halftime dancers get to sit and watch the entire Orange Bowl game, in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. They dance in front of about 75,000 fans, and a worldwide television audience. The telecast on ESPN starts 8 p.m. Halftime starts after 9:30 p.m., perhaps closer to 10 p.m. Last year, the Holiday Bowl show was cut off to go to ads. This time, the show will be broadcast live and in its entirety, Dustin Phillips said.

The eight-minute jazz and hip hop-styled dance routine will accompany music performed onfield by DNCE. The multi-platinum selling funk-pop quartet is led by Joe Jonas, 27, formerly of the Jonas Brothers.

Saturday Night Fever will strike this Friday night. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

DNCE will sing these three hits — “Body Moves” and Toothbrush” that charted this year, and rhythmic debut single “Cake by the Ocean” from 2015. Jonas kisses blonde model Charlotte McKinney in an elevator in the “Body Moves” video. The act’s female guitarist is JinJoo Lee, from South Korea.

Dustin said he included in the routine PSD’s signature “parade step” that sequences as “waist down, step, touch back, step, throw out.”

Collegians from Pat’s studio in the show include Nicole Herrington, Madison Iurato and Alli Surrette. Youngest dancers include Isabella Oates and Alisha Richardson, at 10. Grace VerStrate was the youngest last year at 10, and returns. Some have danced at Pat’s since they were toddlers.

This windmill-like star is among moves in the halftime show. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Entering the field in front of a huge Holiday Bowl crowd was breathtaking even for cool-minded Surrette, amidst plenty of “lights and cameras.” She promptly settled in. Initial moves work off nervous energy.

Fireworks exploded, as they danced to the 1812 Overture. At the conclusion of the show, Surrette recalled, they jogged off with “applause coming from all directions.” She studies fashion and costume design.

Other Pat’s dancers who went to San Diego a year ago are (alphabetically): Taylor Corn, Autumn Freeman, Julia Gillespie, Meredith Gillespie, Jasmine Hyatt, Kaitlyn Harrington, Katelyn Ledbetter, Trinity Luce, Blakeley Morgan, Madison Morgan, Elizabeth O’Donnell, Brianna Richardson, Maggie Rollins, Victoria Saltz, Mackenzie Sullivant, Sierra Vaughn, VerStrate, and Taylor Williams.

Other female dancers this time are: Juliana Capps, Emily Brownfield, Sofia Escobar, Selah Hamby, Alayna Morgan, Oates, Claire Parker, Alisha Richardson, Summer Shipman, Ryleigh Spoonholtz, and Meckenzie Thomas.

Aidan Freeman, a collegian, and Jonathan Gironda enjoy being the males in an otherwise all-female Pat’s troupe for this show. But there is extra pressure and spotlight on them, as they visually stand out. “It’s fun,” Gironda said. “But I’ll make sure I know” the routine. The seventh-grader plays soccer and basketball.

The two males in the show last year were Will Field and Charley Jones. Field shined in duets, in Tom Orr’s recent historic play Unwrapping Local History that featured nine of Pat’s dancers.

Spoonholtz and Sullivant root for U-M over FSU, each having at least one parent being from the Wolverine State. Sullivant, 11, likes teamwork and cohesion of dance. She has played soccer since she was two, and is among dancers who gain balance and agility from sports.

Spoonholtz said while it seems “fun” to take in the crowd roar and it is tempting to peek at the many other dancers, it is paramount to “focus” on the routine and stay poised. Black “booty shorts” and black jazz shoes are the standard costume, along with a white tank and glowing wrist bands.

Dustin teaches with “positive reinforcement.” He has danced for Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul and Backstreet Boys. He prepped dancers with a demonstration video. In Miami he leads all dancers in a trio of three-and-a-half-hour rehearsals, starting on day one Tuesday. The last is dress rehearsal the morning of the game, at a local high school. After a box lunch there then rest and prep break, dancers board buses five hours before game time.

By then they are to be in makeup (bronze cheeks, gold/brown eye shadow), with warmup clothes over costumes (which are part of the package deal). Last year, Dustin recalled, San Diego was much colder than usual. Dancers scrambled to buy jackets to keep warm. This time, it could get windy from the oceanside breeze.

PSD will stay in Ft. Lauderdale. The itinerary includes a day of dance master classes, dinner/dance party, and families exploring Miami on Saturday for the last of five days in South Florida.

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