The Fire and Finesse Dance Team (above) at Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Arts and Humanities performs for the crowd. Members of the Crispus Attucks Tigerettes (below) strike a pose. Both teams have been in existence since 2007 or 2008.
The first time Katara B. saw the Fire and Finesse Dance Team perform at Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Arts and Humanities, she was a seventh-grader who, admittedly, was more than a little star struck.
“I watched their dance moves, I saw how the crowd reacted to them, and I thought that they were so classy. … I thought, ‘Wow, I have to be on that team,’” said Katara, now a 19-year-old Broad Ripple senior who serves as the team’s current captain. She’s been a member of Fire and Finesse for four years, and captain for two.
LaDeana D. had a similar experience, but with a different team across town.
As an eighth-grader at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School, LaDeana was waiting outside the gymnasium door before a school basketball game when she caught a glimpse of something shiny. It turned out to be part of the Tigerettes’ uniform.
“They were a shimmery glitter gold and I was like, ‘Who is that?’” said LaDeana. “I saw them dancing and the band playing,” and thought, ‘That’s going to be me.’” The Crispus Attucks senior has been a member of the team for three years, and captain for the last two.
High school dance teams — in some form — have been around since the early 1900s. While Attucks and Broad Ripple have had teams throughout their storied histories, the Tigerettes and Fire and Finesse have only been around since 2007 or 2008.
Fashioned after the popular dance (majorette) teams at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), like the Southern University Dancing Dolls, the Alabama State Stingettes and Kentucky State University’s K’Rette, these teams know how to move a crowd through synchronized choreography, colorful, eye-catching costumes, and lots of showmanship (or swag).
In fact, the dance sponsors of both the Tigerettes (Pamela Blackburn) and Fire and Finesse (Nicole Hargro) admit to watching lots of online footage of HBCU dance teams to stay true to the history of the dance teams — and for inspiration.
“The dance movements, the actual style of the hair, the makeup, the costuming, the boots … are all styled after the HBCU style of majorette dancers,” said Hargro, who became the coach of Fire and Finesse in 2010. She’s the second coach in the team’s history.
The dance teams, which are part of the schools’ marching bands perform throughout the year at school sporting events (basketball and football games), local parades (including St. Patrick’s Day, Circle City Classic and Indianapolis 500) and at special events. They also participate in the annual Bands of America competition at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It’s the dancing, however, that makes the crowd go wild. But it’s also the dancing — which can include a combination of eight counts using everything from hip-hop to current dance styles — that makes some people cringe because of the “suggestiveness” of the moves.
Blackburn stands by her team’s choreography.
“We don’t pop, drop and lock it, and we don’t twerk. But we do buck (a popular move in which dancers are in a squatting position while quickly moving their pelvises back and forth),” said Blackburn, who has been an IPS educator for 45 years. She also is the choral director at Attucks. “I wanted to make sure to create an image for the girls that is respectable for everybody’s eye.” Hargro said the dances that teams do have to keep up with the changing times to remain relevant.
Just like a football player and his playbook, members of dance teams have to memorize anywhere from 20 to 25 dances (also called stands or sparks) throughout the season, because they never know what the team’s captain will “throw” during a competition or performance.
Hargro, who also is a dance magnet professional at Broad Ripple, serves as the choreographer for Fire and Finesse, with help from her captain and team members. The Tigerettes often use former team members to serve as a choreographer, but Blackburn said the team’s captain (LaDeana) and co-captain (McKenzie Turner) are also excellent choreographers. Each season, the Tigerettes carry between 12 and 14 girls. Fire & Finesse has 14 to 18. Tryouts are held yearly and there’s never any shortage of girls vying to be on these teams. Teams practice at least 10 or more hours per week, and more before competitions.
Although dance is the focus, ultimately these teams are about so much more — including team building, developing a sense of sisterhood, and family. Teams also serve as confidence boosters for the girls.“The team is a character builder for my girls because a lot of them had not done anything like this before,” said Blackburn. “Some of them were shy and a lot of them weren’t used to being in front of crowds, so I think it’s a good character builder for these girls’ self-confidence and self-esteem. It also promotes camaraderie. We try to promote the team as being a family.”
LaDeana, the Tigerettes’ captain, said being on the team has helped her develop leadership skills and encouraged her to take on leadership roles.
z“I’ve also learned how to communicate better and build my confidence in my dancing,” she said. “We’re all learning how to show who we really are and to be comfortable with ourselves and with each other.”
These teams have also served as a stepping stone to college, especially HBCUs, for the girls involved. “I’ve aready had a couple of my dancers audition for the dance team at Kentucky State. It gets them interested beyond high school,” said Blackburn.
Katara and LaDeana will attend HBCUs in the fall. Katara will attend Alabama State University, where she will study law and minor in theater. Becoming a member of the university’s Stingettes dance team would be a dream come true for her.
“Because I am so interested in majorette dancing, I’m always online watching the college teams and they just inspire me because they’re so good,” said Katara. “I first wanted to go to Southern University to be a part of the Dancing Dolls because they were the first majorette team that I saw. But then I started looking at the Stingettes and I was like, “Wow!” I’ve studied them so much; I know all the names. I mean I don’t know them, but I know of them.”
LaDeana is attending Kentucky State University. She wants to become an occupational therapist. Both students said they have enjoyed their time with their respective dance teams and credit the teams with helping them grow into strong young ladies. They also hope they have served as inspiration for the younger generation who want to follow in their footsteps.
It’s a tradition that, they believe, should never end.