From the teachers to their twirlers, Southside High School Majorettes shine
As the enormous Southside High School Marching Rebel Band takes the field, 260 strong, their lines precise, flags flying and their big, rich sound riveting the audience, there's an extra sparkle that catches the eye. The majorette line twinkles at the forefront like a scattering of brilliant diamonds against the green football field.
At the command of the drum majors' sharp whistles, the award-winning band begins playing and marching an intricate drill, sweeping across the full 100 yards of the field as they form and reform in striking patterns. Amongst the disciplined formations, 13 majorettes dance gracefully among the musicians while twirling and tossing silver batons high in the air, smiling brilliantly all the while.
That fluid performance that seems effortless certainly isn't. Majorettes must master gymastic and dance movements and maintain impeccable rhythm and unity - not to mention learning to twirl at an advanced level. Their sharp, exciting performances are earned through of hours of practice, as individuals and as a troupe.
Majorettes have been performing with the band each year for almost 20 years. An outstanding majorette line has been a tradition at Southside since 1995, when Nancy Sikes volunteered to become its teacher and sponsor. Before she began working with them, the girls worked out routines themselves, said Steve Kesner, who is enjoying his first year of retirement after serving as Southside's band director for many years.
"It's amazing they did so well when they were on their own," said Kesner, who knew he could not teach them. He was delighted when his wife Brenda discovered that her fellow teacher Sikes had been a majorette with the University of Arkansas Razorback Band and was willing to help Southside's twirlers.
"I was so excited to do it!" Sikes recalls. "If you say the word 'majorettes,' some band directors just cover their ears!"
Sikes grew up in Ashdown, Ark., in Little River County which has a long-standing reputation for talented, competitive twirlers. She twirled at Ashdown High School, then at Ouachita Baptist University and transferred to the U of A to earn both bachelor's and master's degrees in music. She also twirled with the Razorback Band in an remarkable line that included male twirler Jim Fisher, who earned a world championship while in college.
Sikes is a warm and encouraging teacher, but her standard is to ask for excellence. She began working with Ramsay Junior High twirlers in 1997 and established clinics for elementary-aged children to create a recruiting program.
In a few years Sikes was joined by Melissa Udouj, who also had twirled with the Razorback Band and was captain of an award-winning majorette line in her high school at Paris, Ark. The two had an instant rapport and shared high standards.
"We've upped the ballgame," Sikes said of their more than 10 years of coaching twirlers together. "Getting on the line is now competitive. We have clinics to teach a try-out routine and have a panel of judges for try-outs," for Southside, she explained. Together they were able to offer more help to the other junior high bands who had majorettes.
"We think this is the best band program in the state," Udouj explained, "not only for excellent musicianship, but because it is also a family and a place to belong." Both she and Sikes appreciate the long-time support of the band parent organization, which raises funds to offer them the courtesy of payment for their work with the twirlers. The majorettes and their families pay for their uniforms themselves.
Head band director Sean Carrier likes what a majorette line adds to the band. Along with a strong flag corps who also learn to perform skillful routines, a dramatic percussion section and two drum majors, the majorettes add another layer of showmanship to the powerful Rebel Band. The 13 twirlers are band members. They play their instruments throughout the game as the band plays from the sidelines. Two of them were All-State players last year, when the band broke its own record and the state record for the highest number of musicians who won All-State competition.
The 2012-2013 majorettes are Anna Adams-King, Kylie Chamberlain, Alex Easley, Haley Edgemon, Bailey Carter, Rachel Ranells, Kathryn Rhomberg, Reyna Rodriguez, Karla Sintigo, Diana Gonzales, Hannah Barr, Lindsey Jones and Brittyn McAllister. They attended a clinic this summer with Sikes and Udouj to learn the routine designed to go with the band’s show music of Disney films “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.”
The Sept. 21 halftime show was the first time the sponsors had seen the majorettes perform the routines they have been rehearsing twice a week. Udouj and Sikes sit up high in the bleachers so they can see everyone. They were both especially excited to see how the line’s new uniforms look – the first change in 19 years. The girls have also gone from white boots to jazz shoes. This is not a small thing after two decades!
The girls looked up to wave to their coaches before going on to the field and Sikes suddenly noticed they all wore pink ribbons in support of her ongoing recovery from breast cancer – and waved harder through quickly brushed-away tears. When the music started, she was all business again.
Sikes and Udouj are intense observers, hardly breathing through the entire performance. Sikes gasps or yelps in relief as every high baton toss is caught. Udouj emotes silently, but they do grip each other's knees. They must be black and blue by the time the girls get to the final flourish.
To be fair, there's lot of suspense! The majorettes are in constant motion, twirling batons and in one novelty number, Samoan knives, which are unsharpened but heavier than batons. Their coaches anticipate every trick and pray hard for the showy partner tosses between majorettes (all caught) and two-baton sequences. It's a great show and when they can exhale, they practically radiate pride. They quickly hustle down the bleachers to congratulate the girls and recieve compliments along the way from lots of band fans and parents of former twirlers.
Under the bleachers both women are absorbed into group hugs and everyone talks at the same time. Sikes and Udouj fit right in with the high school girls - once a twirler, always a twirler. They both have that beautiful majorette posture and the 1000-megawatt smiles.
Sikes has now seen her daughter Carol excel at twirling through high school and college at the University of Central Arkansas. Udouj's daughter Isabella has already won numerous competitions and is only in 7th grade. She's adjusting to junior high this year and plans twirl at Ramsay next year.
Neither sponsor seems to tire of encouraging and teaching majorettes. As any proud coaches would do, they can remember all "their" majorettes' accomplishments and keep up with many of them still. They've helped to build a tradition within a band whose motto is "With Tradition Unsurpassed." It wouldn't be the Rebel Band without majorettes.
But just in case, Sikes and Udouj are taking no chances. When Abby Carrier, the band director's daughter, was born earlier this year, Sikes said, "We got her a baton!"