With a mother-and-daughter team at the helm, the oldest of the three Harford County high school dance teams is 5 years old and kicking.
The C. Milton Wright High dance team's season begins next month at a local dance camp and ends after the last competition, usually in April. "We cover all the sport seasons," says dance team coach Alice Fidler.
There are some similarities between the dance team and a cheerleading squad. Both perform at sports events. Both use a variety of musical styles and sometimes pompoms, but that's where the similarities end.
"We are strictly dance," Fidler said. "No gymnastics, [just] technical dance."
The dance team performs at C. Milton Wright football and basketball games as well as community events and parades. With all types of music from "hip-hop to the classics ... from The Doors to disco," says choreographer Andrea Fidler, Alice Fidler's daughter.
For these appearances, the girls have one rule: No vulgarity. Other than that, Andrea Fidler says, "we can pretty much do whatever we want."
Andrea Fidler returns to the team this year after coaching last season. With a background in dance from the University of Delaware, she aims to bring the team up to college level.
Two things make the C. Milton Wright Dance Team distinct, she notes: skills and structure. The team's moves are at the college level, she says.
The structure of the dance team is to surround the girls with professionals. "At the high school level, you don't have coaches who are dancers ... and captains run the team," said Andrea Fidler.
Dance team coach Alice Fidler believes that her team's success comes from discipline and unity. "We have a disciplined program. The girls have a manual that they live by," she said.
The manual details how strikes can prevent a dancer from performing on game day - or worse, bar a dancer from the team. "Three strikes and you're off the team," said Alice Fidler. She has given out five strikes all year to various girls.
As far as unity goes, "on game day, the girls will dress the same for school spirit," Alice Fidler explained. "[They're] a good bunch of girls. ... They all really push each other."
Unity is a key factor in maintaining the success of the dance team. During tryouts, the judges look for girls who blend in, not those who stick out. "They need to really work as a team member. There are no individual styles," said Alice Fidler.
Andrea Fidler added, "Judges look for style difference. The goal is unity and sharpness."
Each year, Wright's coaches tap local middle schools for talent. "There are no junior varsity levels. Eighth-graders have to be in sync by September. By basketball season, they must have the skill level and a fast learning curve," says Andrea Fidler.
The only real requirements for tryouts are that the girls have teacher recommendations and be passing all their classes. This component also figures into their score. Then the top 19 performers are chosen by judges.
Unlike other Harford County dance teams, C. Milton Wright's dancers are treated like athletes. After a year, the girls get a varsity letter. They're invited to athlete forums. "Anything athletes are entitled to, the dance team is entitled to," said Alice Fidler.
This year, the girls and their immediate families were given the star treatment. At an awards dinner on a Harbor cruise, girls were given varsity letters, Most Valuable Player and Most Improved pins as well as T-shirts naming their accomplishments and a highlights reel.
Being on the dance team is pricey, especially for competitions. "It is a costly program, but I tell the girls not to let it deter them," said Alice Fidler. "We never had anyone not join because of the cost."
To raise money, team members can sell pizza kits or candles, and the group has bake sales and carwashes.
The dance clinics are the pride of the dance team. This year, 174 girls ranging in ages from 5 to 17 participated in the daylong event. The girls pay a fee to learn a routine, get T- shirts and parent-made pompoms. In the afternoon, they perform for their parents. "Those little girls truly, truly are talented dancers," said Alice Fidler.
The C. Milton Wright dance team closed out a busy season by taking multiple honors at the Myrtle Beach National Dance Alliance. The girls took home first place for jazz and pompom routines. They were also given Grand Champion and Innovative Choreography awards.
Alice Fidler said she has no formal dance training but her love of the dance team pushed her to lead.
"My goal was to keep the program running, to take it a step further and to be a good coach. I've gotten all three accomplished, so I'm satisfied."