Tim Flattery didn't know he was making Kansas University history when he tried out for the traditionally all-female Rock Chalk Dance Team.
He simply wanted to dance.
"I just came to try out," said Flattery, the first male member of the team, according to those close to the program. "It's really cool to be (the first) - to open the doors for everybody else."
Flattery, a freshman, is among 22 dancers on the team that performs at KU sporting events and special festivities. Though his entrance marks a break from tradition, his teammates have embraced him.
"It's something that we're going to see more and more," coach Tasha Ruble said. "I think it was just a matter of time."
On Thursday the dancers were in the studio, sweating their way through a heart-pumping practice.
In straight lines, they danced to KU fight songs, swinging their hips and kicking their legs into the air. Flattery danced at the end of one line, holding his head high.
Being the first male on an all-female squad is nothing new for Flattery. He grew up in Onaga, a Pottawatomie County town of about 700.
He started dancing a decade ago after a friend coaxed him into participating in a dance class. Flattery fell in love with dance.
Life can be chaotic, but dance is a release, he said.
"It's like a world of your own," he said. "It's like an escape."
Flattery joined the dance squad in high school. Some questioned him at first.
"You're on the dance team?" Flattery recalls skeptics asking. "We've never heard of a boy on a dance team."
But Flattery never hesitated, never feared standing out.
"I had to keep true to myself and keep doing what I love to do," he said. "I never felt restrictions because I'm a very strong-willed person."
Flattery was the captain of the high school squad for his sophomore, junior and senior years.
He said he and others used their dance studio training and passion for dance to transform the team. They went to competitions in Texas and Missouri, and gathered accolades.
"We started turning heads," he said.
But Flattery didn't want to steal the show. If someone gave him praise, he responded by asking about the entire team's performance.
"Just because I am a different gender doesn't mean all the focus has to be on me," he said. "I'm a team player."
A new level
Now a dance major at KU, Flattery is confident in his abilities.
"I know how to perform," he said. "I know how to get the crowd going."
Finding a spot on the KU dance team isn't easy, Ruble said. The team has placed among the top five in national competitions in the last three years.
More than 75 students registered for tryouts.
Senior Deena Schaumburg, a Lawrence native, tried out two other times before making the cut this year.
"To me, being on the team is a dream come true," she said. "I can't wait until the first game."
The dancers seek a place in the spotlight viewed by thousands in Memorial Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse.
"I get goose bumps," co-captain Clara Simmons said of performance. "It's probably the biggest energy rush."
The dancers' schedule will be booked most of the year with football games, basketball games, pep rallies and public appearances at anything from bar mitzvahs to fairs.
"We put in just as much time as athletes do," said co-captain Krystal Nabity.
During the busy season, it's not unusual for the dancers to be performing for six hours straight.
Like the rest of the dancers, Flattery can't wait for performance.
"I have never done any kind of performance in a huge arena like the KU football field or Allen Fieldhouse," he said. "I can't wait to get out there."
And in the process, he hopes his participation opens doors for other male dancers who have the desire and the skills to dance at the collegiate level.
He hopes no one - male or female - is held back because of gender.
"Don't ever be afraid to go for what you want," he said. "Never hold back because you think there are restrictions."
The team will perform Monday during Traditions Night at Memorial Stadium.
"We're ready," Flattery said. "We're ready to show our stuff and get out there."