“. . . Five, six, seven, eight . . .”
The music kicks in and the hands go up, then down, then to the side. Bodies twist and twirl as they move from one spot to another, making up two lines before morphing into the shape of a rocket ship.
And then, a misstep turns into a few laughs, a suggestion for a change here or there, and then it’s back to the beginning, where another miscue leads to more laughs.
It’s often been said that you should start every day with a smile, so it’s hard to imagine the 10 girls who make up the Wayne She Devils dance team at Wayne High School getting up for a 6 a.m. workout four days a week and not coming out of the morning practice session with a smile on their face.
The team’s coach, Taryn Winter, said the young ladies bring that energy and enthusiasm with them every day to practice, which makes the early mornings a lot easier to handle.
“This team has always got new ideas,” she said. “Their motivation is really high and they somehow maintain that energy, even if we have to get up at six in the morning.”
Winter is a senior at Wayne State College majoring in speech communication, organizational leadership and public relations. She is in her second year with the team, serving last year as Jesse Henderson’s assistant before taking over the head coaching duties this season.
She said that being a member of the She Devils dance team is not an easy gig.
“It takes a lot of commitment,” she said. “Getting up at 6 a.m. four days a week is a big commitment for these girls, especially since they’re involved in other activities like sports, speech team or being the manager of the basketball team. They all have a lot going on and you really have to be motivated, be open-minded and willing to learn and have a lot of discipline.”
All of the dancers got their start in the On Our Toes dance company here in Wayne and some of the girls are also teachers at the school, including one of the three seniors, Ashten Gibson.
“I saw my sister as a She Devil when she was in high school and it looked like fun,” she said on her reasons for trying out for the team. “I enjoy being with people and gaining the confidence to go out and show people what you have.”
Shanda Lambert, another of the senior trio, wasn’t a big fan of dancing at first, but learned to love it.
“It was one of those things where mom made me do it and I ended up liking it a lot,” she said. “Ashten mentioned trying out for the dance team and we tried out together and made it.”
The third senior, Emily Matthes, has been dancing since she was a first-grader, but didn’t try out for the She Devils until before her junior year.
“When I got to high school, I didn’t do it the first two years but I saw how much fun it was and decided to try out, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I love it,” she said.
The seniors are joined by Alyssa Chinn, Maddie Beair, Kayla Fleming, Meghan Battles, Josie Thompson, Emma Walling, and Hallie Chinn, and they spend a lot of their time perfecting their state competition routines and incorporating different bits into other routines that they showcase at football and basketball games during the school year.
And, in between, there’s a lot of creative ideas and a lot of laughs.
“Taryn will choreograph the routines, and sometimes we’ll come up with some ideas form things we see in other places like on social media and try to incorporate it into our style,” Gibson said.
Winter and her assistant, Meg Osnes – a former She Devil in her own right – work on a variety of drills and skill development to put together the routines they will perform at halftime shows and at next month’s state competition in Grand Island.
“We learn a lot of routines,” Winter said. “We did three during football season, learned our state kick routine before the holidays, and we did two more for basketball including the Silly Sack, and Meg Osnes is putting together our pom routine that we’re working on now. It’s something she’s done the last couple of years and they end up amazing every single time, and I don’t know how she does it. It’s like magic.”
The Silly Sack routine has become a viral sensation, getting more than 100,000 hits on Facebook after it was posted Friday night during halftime of the boys basketball game against Guardian Angels Central Catholic.
Gibson said the team had seen the performance at a competition in Iowa and decided to try it out here. The sacks were a challenge to work with, but the end result was a lot of fun, not only for the crowd, but for the dancers themselves.
“It was like putting on a Snuggie backwards, and you can’t see anything,” Gibson said. “Some of the girls were sore afterwards because their arms hurt from holding them up, but it was hilarious. We started in a mannequin position and I couldn’t hold it because the audience was laughing so hard and it was hard for me to keep still.”
“We didn’t know if they’d come with zippers or velcro or how see-through they’d be, so it was a little scary, but we wanted to do something fun and this was a fun break from our state routines,” Matthes added.
The She Devils are currently working on two routines for the state competition that will be held at the State Fairgrounds in Grand Island Feb. 17-18. There are six competitions that teams can compete in, and the She Devils will compete in the kick and pom competitions.
“It’s very competitive and we’ve been doing a lot of work with our kick drills and flexibility and a variety of things to get ready,” Winter said.
Lambert said it’s great for the team to have two coaches who are both well-versed in the competitions they will participate in.
“Taryn’s forte is in kicks and Meg’s forte is in pom, so we have coaches who are really good at the categories we’re competing in,” Lambert said. “They’ve made the routines difficult, but they know we can do it and we’ve been working hard to clean it up and make them look sharp.”
There may be a lot of laughs among the girls who make up the team, but they get a lot accomplished in the four early-morning practice sessions. Sometimes, those practices carry over into the classroom.
“We do the routines over and over in practice, and sometimes I’ll be going through it in my head and thinking about where I’m supposed to be and I’m not paying attention in class,” Gibson admitted, laughing.
The hard work is all worth it, though, and it comes through in the smiles on the She Devils’ face as they entertain the crowds at the home games.
“When I was a freshman, it was the biggest adrenaline rush ever, but even now I still get that rush when I go out to perform and love to get the peoples’ reactions,” Lambert said.
“Knowing you have to get up at 6 a.m., you have to plan accordingly, but when you perform the routine that night and hear the crowd, it’s so worth it,” Matthes added.