Sports

Pat’s Dancers are Sugar Bowl Marquee Performers

By Pete Zamplas

The world will watch 77 dancers of Pat’s School of Dance as lead act in the Sugar Bowl halftime show, in New Orleans’ Superdome on New Year’s Day.
Choreographing the show are Pat’s Dynamic Duo of Dustin Phillips and Sheraton “Sher” Shepherd Phillips. They are among WorldStrides OnStage’s choreographers. OnStage is a performance outlet for students from across the country.

Younger dancers are among the most enthusiastic, in the dress rehearsal. These two boys are among the few males in the Sugar Bowl routine. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Younger dancers are among the most enthusiastic, in the dress rehearsal. These two boys are among the few males in the Sugar Bowl routine. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Pat’s dancers are the sole dance troupe in the show. That is unusual. Dustin Phillips said this is the first time he knows of that a WorldStrides show has only one dance company, in the decade he and Sher have worked for the company. WorldStrides has contracts for at least a half-dozen bowls such as the Alamo and Liberty bowls, and many parades.

Dustin and Sher choreographed the Orange Bowl show three seasons ago. Two groups on the field had 327 total dancers from about 30 dance studios across the country, including Pat’s based in Hendersonville.

This time, Pat’s dancers have center stage.

The 77 dancers are 27 percent of the local dance studio’s 282 students. Dancers will spread across the field’s middle 40 yards, between the 30 yard lines, Dustin noted. They enter the stadium on their own, using the front entrance. They are backed by a dozen high school marching bands behind them including from Franklin, N.C., and those schools’ flag corps to the sides.

Pat’s School of Dance instructors shown after the dress rehearsal are, L-R: Carol Ann Baber Surrette, Dustin Phillips, April Freeman, Sher Shepherd Phillips, and Pat Shepherd. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Pat’s School of Dance instructors shown after the dress rehearsal are, L-R: Carol Ann Baber Surrette, Dustin Phillips, April Freeman, Sher Shepherd Phillips, and Pat Shepherd. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Dancers and their family members get to march in the Sugar Bowl parade, on New Year’s Eve. WorldStrides travel packages supply them each an upper level seat, to watch fifth-ranked Georgia likely defeat seventh-ranked Baylor. About 210 in the local group will be in New Orleans Dec. 30-Jan. 2.
ESPN will air the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and at least part of the halftime show. How much of a halftime show is aired varies much, year to year. The kickoff is slated for 8:45 p.m.

Locals Loved It

The dancers rehearsed for a month. Locals got an exclusive free preview of the entire Sugar Bowl two-song dance routine. It was a dress rehearsal Dec. 15, on Hendersonville High School’s Dietz Field. Dancers did two run-throughs. The temperature was warm, in the fifties.

Tom Orr, 80, retired HHS instructor, danced in his seat to the act’s first song. This is Aretha Franklin’s soulful, punchy 1967 Motown classic, “Respect” with her famed spelling of the word “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

The 77 Pat’s School of Dance dancers in the Sugar Bowl span over a decade of age difference. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
The 77 Pat’s School of Dance dancers in the Sugar Bowl span over a decade of age difference. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

The second song is Taylor Swift’s bouncy “Shake it Off,” from 2014, which is ideal for younger dancers. WorldStrides chooses music for its various shows. Choreographers set moves to the sound, and also fit costumes to the theme. The multi-colored costumes include the Mardi Gras shades of green, gold and purple.

Revved Up Dancers

Dancers are mostly ages nine to 19. That is a wide age gap for a performance group. Yet it provides greater visual diversity, Sher noted, and is more inclusive for students. A handful of younger boys are among the 77 dancers.

The Mercedes-Benz Superdome holds 72,000 people. Bowl games typically sell out.

“It’ll be an adventure. Hearing the big crowd should feel surreal,” Vaughn said. “Our adrenalin will be going.” She is studying health systems management, at UNC-Charlotte. Vaughn helps teach in the studio.
The West Henderson 2017 grad is among four Pat’s dance alumni now in college who are in this show. The others are Brianna Richardson, Summer Shipman and McKenzie Thomas.

Thomas is studying aesthetics in BRCC. She said she has looked forward to dancing in a bowl game since “I was a little kid. It’ll be great.”
Five of the youngest dancers told The Tribune what dance moves they like best in the routine. They are Shelley Hensley who is in fourth grade, third-graders Amelia Johnston and Avery Ruiz, and second-graders River Ruiz and Ashton Corn.

Avery Ruiz, Johnston and Corn felt thrilled to each be the top person in a pyramid. The sole girl on top is lifted by a handful of bigger girls in a “pinwheel.” This tricky formation has three rotating lines of dancers per pinwheel, and two pinwheels moving at once.

It is very difficult to stay in line and spaced apart from the other two lines, while circling around. While they do so, dancers at center have to keep supporting the top dancer.

River Ruiz likes the “arm ripple” during “Respect.” It flows like a “wave” of fans, with lines of dancers taking turns raising then lowering hands and shaking pom poms.

There are simpler joys, too. Hensley likes triumphantly thrusting hands up, ending “Shake it Off” and helping close the routine.

Two Bowls in a Week

Earlier next week, Sher and Dustin lead halftime on-field dancing for the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fla. That game is between Notre Dame and Iowa State this Sunday, Dec. 28 starting at noon. ABC telecasts it. Pat’s dancers are not also in that one, focusing solely on the Sugar Bowl.

Bowling Again

Dustin was lead choreographer with Sher assisting greatly for the Holiday Bowl four seasons ago, then the Orange Bowl the next year, then the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade in Hawaii a year after that. Earlier, Dustin helped choreograph five bowls, including Alabama’s 2013 BCS title game win over Notre Dame.

“Dustin has a dynamic personality, and is known for his hip-hop choreography,” WorldStrides stated online. He danced for Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, and the Backstreet Boys while based in L.A. He has taught master classes abroad, and choreographed for NBA and college dance teams. Sher has danced in Japan.

They get tremendous help in training and on trips from Pat’s instructors Carol Ann Baber Surrette and April Freeman, among others.

Studio owner Pat Shepherd, Sher’s mother, said she is immensely proud of Dustin and Sher for bringing joy to local youth dancers and their families. “They have the opportunity to showcase their talent,” Pat said. “We’re so proud.”

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