Dickson County High School recently added a dance team to its list of extracurriculars — a team that’s been years in the making and hopes to continue for years to come.
“I have tried for, I want to say at least 12 years,” first-time dance team coach Tracy Rampaul said. “When I started it, I wanted to start it big: college prep. They still have TSSAA requirements with keeping their grades up, keeping themselves in shape, being on time. More than just showing up and performing and going home.”
The team, which is comprised of 14 girls and one boy, has talent at every skill level. Some team members have been dancing since they could barely walk, while others are just getting started. But for this team, it’s never too late to start.
“I decided to join the dance team because I wanted to show that there’s more layers to me than just what’s visible to the normal eye,” said Ashtin Trimble, a junior and the lone male dancer on the team. “I also wanted to prove to everyone that you don’t have to fit a certain mold or be a trained dancer to go out there and have fun and show people what you have.”
Rampaul added, “I could not have asked for a more talented team the very first year that we tried out. We had about 32 that came. They’re very talented. Their parents are all-in. They’re just very supportive. I think that’s a huge blessing.”
The team already has been busy in its first season, participating in school pep rallies as well as volleyball and football games. They’ll also perform at basketball games, getting the crowd involved while supporting the Cougars and Lady Cougars.
But they’ve also been active in the community, performing at events like the Burns BBQ Bash and handing out backpacks with school supplies for those in need.
“I wanted to be on the dance team because not only do you get to be involved with the school activities, but you also get to be involved with the community,” junior Katie Hale said. “And then you meet all of these amazing women, and gentleman, and you get to make lifelong friends in the process.”
First things first
Rampaul is no stranger to the dance community. She’s been a dancer and choreographer for over 30 years. She went to Austin Peay on a cheerleading scholarship before becoming a dance teacher at Miss Amy’s School of the Arts in Dickson, where she has led multiple teams and individuals to national competitions.
So why did she want to branch out and add “dance team coach” to her list of dance experience?
“I feel like there just needs to be more opportunities for scholarships.” Rampaul said. “A lot of the dancers that have all gone through competitive dance have gotten scholarships, but they had the privilege of being studio kids. Not everybody has that opportunity to be a studio dancer. … A lot of these kids don’t get a chance to do another sport or cheerleading. And they don’t get to know what ‘Cougar Spirit’ is.”
Many other schools in the area, from junior high to college, offer dance team programs.
“When I did the research, I quit counting after, like, 45 schools in our surrounding area that all have dance teams,” Rampaul said. “There was only three or four in this whole, entire area and our conference that didn’t have dance teams.”
‘A new tradition’
Each school has its own traditions — customs and culture that are passed down from each generation.
So what happens when a new tradition is created? Since it’s something the school hasn’t seen before, there has been an adjustment period at pep rallies and games.
“The hardest part as a coach so far, I think, is tradition,” Rampaul said. “Dickson County has a lot of traditions with cheerleaders’ placement and Tailgate Crew and where the band sits. And we’re trying to find our place.”
The dance team currently stands in the bleachers with the band during football games, instead of a more common placement on the track in between the fans and the field.
“I would like to eventually get down on the track,” Rampaul said. “I would like to eventually maybe do more things together (with the cheerleaders).”
But building a new team from scratch has been a welcome challenge, according to several team members.
“It’s very hard to find our spot here at the school because a lot of people don’t know what we’re capable of,” junior Krislyn Hinson said. “So when we perform, they’re like, ‘Oh, maybe we just won’t pay attention to that, or maybe we’ll push them to the side.’ But no, we are meant to be out there for everybody to see, to hype the crowd up, to get the kids involved. So, definitely, that we’re the underdog is our hardest part.”
Rampaul added, “Building a new tradition in a small town is difficult, but we’re up for the challenge, and I think this year is just going to be a stepping stone to what is to come. And I’m ready for that journey.”
Where to go from here
One priority of the team, according to Rampaul, is to give talented kids a new avenue for receiving college scholarships.
“I would love to go as far as that they’re varsity, college-prep ready. The definition of dance team is leading the crowd through dance.
“And everything that’s expected of a college dancer would be something that they’re totally prepped for in high school, which would be the chants, the dances, being sharp, being on point with the band, being able to handle the field, being able to space themselves and maintaining their reputation and their social media and their grades.”
Many state colleges have dance teams that compete at the national level, but it can be more difficult to make a college team solely with experience from a dance studio. Having a high school group that teaches athletes the fundamentals of a college-level team bridges that gap.
Austin Peay, East Tennessee State, Memphis, MTSU, Tennessee Tech, UT-Chattanooga and UT-Knoxville all have dance teams that compete at the Universal Dance Association’s yearly national competition held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
“I’ve already taken them to a Memphis clinic,” Rampaul said. “We’re going to go to an Austin Peay clinic. My goal is that they get scholarships, so I’ve made contacts with college coaches and all the coaches of the teams that we’re playing to build the program up.”
UDA also holds a national competition for high schools. While Rampaul would like her team to compete in the future, that isn’t the focus for her inaugural squad.
“We’re really just trying to better ourselves, and our biggest goal is to get the crowd involvement and the community support.”
And although the Dickson County football team hasn’t won yet this season, the dance team is hopeful.
“Maybe we’ll be their good luck charms,” Hale said.