The 65-year-old Tyler Junior College Apache Belles dance team works as hard as any athletic team to prepare for football season. But it’s hard work that pays great dividends in the form of useful life skills, friendships and time management, the group’s director Jasilyn Schaefer said.
“It’s very much a team atmosphere and we form a tight bond of sisterhood,” she said. She should know — she was a Belle from 1996 to 1998.
Two weeks before the fall semester and football season begins, the team comes to the campus to begin practices three times a day for three and a half hour intervals. Team members practice in the morning from 8 to 11:30 a.m., then from 1 to 4:30 p.m., and again from 6 to 9:30 p.m.
“The girls come from dance teams across Texas, and each team has its own style,” Ms. Schaefer said.
She said it is important for all the dance team members to move alike and look alike while performing their routines and that it takes time for the incoming freshmen to look just like the sophomores. By the end of the second week, everyone looks the same in the way they move, Ms. Schaefer said.
There is about a week after school starts before the first football game when the Belles get out on the field and polish their dance routine. “On Mondays, we watch the films, just like the football team does so that we can fix what we need to for the next week. We can see it as a group, and it all clicks together,” the director said.
Once classes and football season starts, the Belles rehearse five times a week — two days as a team and three as an individual. They can use the weight room and get a cardiovascular workout there as well, Ms. Schaefer said. There also are scheduled study halls so that grades can be kept up.
Prospective members go through two different tryouts in April and in June, and go through a series of technical dance routines. After a preliminary routine, there are some cuts made, and those who make it through the first round of cuts learn a kick series and a jazz combination, Ms. Schaefer said.
“We are looking for girls who are fit and toned, and who can, of course, do those beautiful high kicks,” she said. Most of the young women who audition for the Belles have performed on their high school drill teams or have experience in studio dance, Ms. Schaefer said.
The Belles, who are celebrating their 65th year, have traveled all over the world, and will make a trip to Japan this spring to work with the USO, Ms. Schaefer said. They also plan to visit Tyler’s sister city, Yachiyo, Japan, and will perform for U.S. military men and women while they are there.
Shelby Carter, 19, a sophomore Apache Belle who serves as dance captain, agrees that being a part of the team is “a lot of hard work.” Ms. Carter was on her drill team at Weatherford High School, and shares in the legacy of the Belles with her mother, Nika Orm Carter. Mrs. Carter was a part of the team from 1979 to 1980.
She didn’t tell her mother at first that she tried out for the Belles.
“I did it as a surprise — I had planned on going to another school but decided I didn’t like it, so I applied behind her back. But she’s happy I’m a Belle,” Ms. Carter said.
Ms. Carter said her mother told her the team would mold her into the type of person and dancer they wanted her to be.
“What I love so much is the tradition,” she said. “I’m part of a sisterhood and everything has a meaning. I love working hard and the girls on the team love to work hard — I’m really going to miss it next year.”