Girls line the stage, black dance shoes highlighting each outfit. They kick, spin and jump as kid-safe "Hannah Montana" and "High School Musical" tunes blare as they get good feel for the large stage in Free State High School's auditorium.
Parents line the auditorium to support the 150 or so girls, who range in age from 3 to 18 as they practice for the Dazzlers Christian Dance spring finale. The show, called "It's All Because of Jesus," is at 7 p.m. today. It is free and open to the public, and it doubles as a celebration of the troupe's 10th year.
"It's a retrospective, kind of what's been going on for the past 10 years," says Cindy Herington, the Dazzlers' creative director. "It's just going to be a really fun night."
What's been happening the past 10 years at Dazzlers is a decade of team spirit, no tryouts and the creation of a long line of girls who have gone through the no-pressure, Christian-based program.
"The message of Dazzlers is inclusiveness and just finding a place for everyone," Herington says. "Every girl has a place here, and we believe that every girl has a gift. Some are gifted in dance, some are gifted in loving other children. We all get together and we make a cohesive team, and we form friendships and relationships that last forever. And that's what Dazzlers is about, it's about being family and about being something that you are, it's not something that we do."
To be a Dazzler
What the Dazzlers do is meld the fun of dance with a wholesome atmosphere where little girls can be comfortable being little girls, not dancing queens. There are no high-stakes auditions, no skimpy outfits and Herington likens the music to be anything parents wouldn't mind their children singing along to in the car.
Liesel Reussner, 15, has been with the Dazzlers for five years. She, for one, is pleased that the troupe doesn't run its program based on competition.
"I like how we include everyone and everyone has a goal," says Reussner, who will be a sophomore at Free State in the fall. "I think it's cool to have some teams that try out, but just for something fun to do, a hobby, this is a great thing to do."
The dance philosophy behind the troupe is the idea of drill team. Girls are arranged in eight teams based on age group, not skill. They don't learn individual techniques as much as they learn a routine based around different types of dance styles, things like jazz, hip-hop, ballet and everything in between. The girls are encouraged to work together, and the instructors and director make sure all of their routines are age-appropriate and conservative.
"We dance a little bit more conservatively, like our children will never show their midriff. They don't do, like, hip thrusting," Herington says. "I'm not saying what the other studios do is wrong. We just are going to err on the side of conservative, just a little bit more conservative."
To be clear, the Dazzlers are perfectly fine with anything other troupes do - they see teams that run the gamut when they go to competitions. It's just not what they do.
The troupe gives out scholarships, includes foster children and those with learning disabilities, and it is a non-profit organization. Classes are one hour each week, and anyone can sign up.
"Basically, it's just nice people - just a nice group of people - who kind of all are concerned about girls looking a little bit too old and just a little bit too revealing in certain dances," says Julee Travis, a volunteer with the team whose 10-year-old daughter, Samantha, is a dancer.
Dancing and the Lord
What makes it a "Christian" dance troupe is in the atmosphere, Herington says. The girls pray after every weekly practice session and often dance to Christian music, but Herington stresses the team's message of inclusion extends into the religious aspect of the group.
"We're not preaching any certain religion, like a Catholic girl or a Methodist girl or a Baptist girl or a Mormon girl. We can all come together and agree on the basic principles of how God wants us to live," Herington says. "Even parents that don't have a church family in town - you know, they'll tell you it's not their thing - what they like about it is that they feel like it's a wholesome, moral environment for their child."
Travis and her daughter are among one of the unchurched families associated with Dazzlers.
"We were unchurched just because we haven't found the right church and we're just always gone every weekend, but the Christian aspect is probably not as important to us as it is just the way it makes her feel about herself," Travis says. "It's really built her self-esteem and her leadership skills. It's really just given her the opportunity to develop."
And a chance to just enjoy dancing.
Kate Demuth, 10, sums up what a lot of the kids like about Dazzlers and dancing in general: "What I like most about dancing is probably feeling the wind as I do twirls and everything and I like doing the finish, and everybody is just glued."