By Kurt Johnson
A year ago, character was the theme of one of the dances performed during state drill team competitions. This year, it is not one of the three performances teams present, but the Lehi High Pionettes are still getting in “character.”
This year’s Lehi military routine has taken on a particularly patriotic theme enhanced by its coaches encouraging each girl on the team to personalize her performance. Head coach Cadie Brockbank feels their performances are a good way to learn important lessons.
“This year our military routine is a patriotic military piece dedicated to all those who have served our country, past and present, Brockbank said. “We are trying to raise awareness in our team of what our service men and women do for our country. Each one of our drill team members wrote a report about a military person who had served for our country. They are dancing their routine in their name.”
For team member Jamie Tucker, the assignment particularly hit home, as she has a father who still serves in the Army Reserves.
“My dad was deployed a lot when I was younger so we didn’t see him a lot,” Tucker said. “When I was a kid we used to call my older brother dad. Even after, when he got back from his deployments, he was away for work. That’s what I wrote about, what it was like having him away from home and how different it is when he is with us.”
Tucker draws inspiration from her father as she performs. She considers it an opportunity to honor him and those, who like him, have given so much in service of their country.
“At the beginning, I get super emotional and after I get super emotional,” Tucker said. “He went out there and fought for my family so that’s kind of what I think of. I’m going out there to fight for him and I’m going to do the best I can for him. I think it’s really cool, not just for my dad, but for everyone. They go out there and fight for people they don’t even know. They put their lives at risk so I think it’s cool that we’re giving back to them and showing that we support them.”
That reaction was the goal for Brockbank and one of her other coaches, Kylie Ash, when they came up with this plan.
“For military, usually there’s not a theme,” Brockbank said. “It’s more just about the technique and style. It’s really driven by the rigidness of it. They’ve never really done a dance that’s based on the U.S. military, so that’s what we’ve done. I think it’s been very well received, especially because we have a lot of military people in our community.
“I think it’s definitely part of our curriculum to be teaching something. We’re not just implementing dance moves for the sake of it, but it also teaches the girls something bigger than just dance.”
If the coaches were seeking to help their team find a way to connect better to the moves in their dance routine, they seem to have found something that really works.
Connecting Through Dance
“I think the girls who were most connected, like we have a few girls whose parents or dad in the military, they were impacted because it’s so closely related,” Ash said. “Once they wrote that paper, I think they found someone they were closely impacted with and they were able to connect better. Maybe it’s not their father or their mother, but somebody close, like a grandpa or still someone closely related. Dance is supposed to be emotional and there’s emotion in connecting to this dance.”
“He was at Pearl Harbor and he was in the first ship that shot at Pearl Harbor and he got an award from shooting down one of the first planes,” Alexis said. “He’s really important in our family. We’ve got books on him. Whenever we have a report on this type of stuff, I would always do this and I’d put the awards in. I’m proud.
“I’ve always known the story, but I’m becoming more aware of what it must have took to go out there and see like 180 planes and know ‘I’ve got to shoot now.’ He was one of the first people that was shooting. He was really brave and tough and it inspires me.”
At least one member of the team would have a difficult time finding a U.S. military story in her own family, but Danish exchange student Olivia Jernert has found her own sort of inspiration in performing with the Lehi drill team.
“When you go to war, Denmark and the United States help each other and support each other as an alliance, so that’s how I see it,” Jernert said. “It’s funny when we say ‘USA fight’ and I’m not from the United States, that’s kind of weird. We have a lot of different songs in the dance, and when it’s the military ones, I think about it a lot because I feel like this is my second home. I have my other family here. I feel like I’m part of the team and part of a family. I feel like I’m part of this country too, even though I’m here only one year.”
The routine is filled with moves that drive home the message of honoring the military. The team opens with a salute and then dances to music that fits the theme.
“We start with a patriotic song and end with a patriotic song, and by the time we get to the end, some people get emotional,” Andrus said. “It brings back memories of their own, and I think having that patriotic song at the beginning and then at the end brings it all around. I think it impacts them more emotionally that way.”
Not Your Average Military Routine
The thematic approach to the military dance helps different team members in different ways. For Tucker, it adds a different dimension than she is used to in the typical military routine.
“You’re dancing and you’re having fun, but it helps to get into a little bit of a character,” Tucker said. “It gives you something more to play with and connect to it. Last year’s military was all about being intense and trying to grab the audience. This one’s more trying to grab them emotionally, but still do it strong and intense.”
Alexis Brockbank draws a special strength from representing her great-grandfather on the floor.
“In every performance there’s a point when you’re tired and you just don’t want to do this anymore, but then I think of this and I want to push harder,” Alexis said. “I feel like I am him. It brings that part of me out. It helps me think this is such a small thing compared to (what he did). I should just push harder. Last year’s military, it was more hit it sharp and make it exact. This year, it’s more put feeling into it because you really want other people to know this is serious, this is important.”
For Jernert, there is a joy in being part of the team, connecting with the military stories her teammates share, and feeling connected to her adopted family as an exchange student in Utah.
“I have two sisters and two brothers (in her U.S. family) and I really love them a lot,” Jernert said. “It’s going to be really hard to leave. Along with my mother and father, they’re supporting me a lot. When we perform at the basketball game and have drill competitions, they come. I think it’s great that they come and support me in my things too. I feel like I’m part of the team. When you’re an exchange student, it can be hard because you don’t have your real mom and real dad and your best friends you left in Denmark, so when I have my best friends here on the team, it helps a lot when you’re having a hard time.”
Taking It With Them
Coach Brockbank is hoping this routine is one thing the girls on her team will take with them when they leave Lehi High School.
“We’re talking about, when you graduate from high school, there’s not a lot you remember in detail,” Brockbank said. “It’s the feelings that you remember and I think this dance is something that they can remember with the feeling attached to the moves. They remember those who’ve done so much for them.”
Tucker’s father has seen the routine performed, and though they haven’t discussed it in detail, she believes his feelings are very similar to those she feels as she honors him.
“Girls on the team and the coaches always say practice and give it your all,” Tucker said. “I always say ‘do it for the person that you wrote about.’ I think it means more to dance for someone than just for yourself. The first time (my dad) saw it, he said that was the best we’d ever performed. He thought the costumes fit really well and he loved it. He didn’t share (his feelings) with me, but I get the chills when I do it, so I imagine the audience likes it that way. It probably affects him more than he wants to tell me.”