In the quiet lull before spring semester classes began at Texas State University, one spot on campus buzzed with excitement on a recent afternoon.
Inside the Jowers Center gym, the Strutters dance team rehearsed high kicks, formations and splits for their performance Friday in the Inauguration Day parade in Washington — undoubtedly the group’s highest-profile show of the year.
“Watch your posture,” Strutters Director Tammy Fife reminded the young women as she walked down the rows of dancers. With every move, the Strutters’ white cowboy boots thudded on the university gym floor in unison.
While news of the Strutters’ parade participation has been met with mixed reactions on social media and the launch of an online petition asking university officials not to support the performance, the dance team — which began planning the Washington trip 10 months before the election — sees a unique chance to shine a light on the largest precision dance team in the country.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Strutters Senior Head Captain Laycen Watson. “Getting a chance to showcase our talent and represent our university … that’s something that I’ll treasure forever.”
The 99-member team, which was founded in 1960, has been featured in the inaugurations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, who was a Texas State alumnus.
The inauguration trip, Fife said, began as a way to offer the Strutters a memorable experience. Early last year, she began researching and applying for performances during inauguration week. Soon, the Strutters were receiving invitations to perform at various inauguration galas and special events, which encouraged Fife to apply for the inauguration parade as well.
In December, Fife received a phone call while vacationing in Mexico, letting her know that the Strutters had been selected to perform. “I was screaming and jumping up and down,” she said.
In the days leading up to their trip, the Strutters juggled multiple rehearsals. In Washington, they’ll perform four different dances at five shows.
The Strutters organization, which was the first precision dance team to launch at a four-year university, has performed at other high-profile events throughout the years, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and numerous NFL and NBA halftime performances. The Strutters’ popularity continues to grow as the university’s dance program becomes more highly regarded. In 2014, the Texas State University’s Division of Dance ranked among the nation’s top 25 dance programs by Dance-Colleges.com.
For Senior Captain Julianne Way of Cedar Park, joining the Strutters has given her real-world dancing and leadership experience. Like many of her fellow Strutters, Way plans to pursue a career in dance education.
Fife, who is on the dance education faculty at the university, said she sees a lot of herself in the current Strutters. Fife grew up dancing and as a young woman in Houston began dreaming of becoming a Strutter after she connected with a dancer on the team who invited her to check out some of the Strutters’ activities. During a high school trip to the university, Fife met Strutters founder and renowned dance team director Barbara Tidwell.
“The beautiful thing about Strutters is that even though it’s constantly evolving, we still have a lot of the same traditions that we had when we were founded,” Watson said. “It’s really just our dances that constantly change, but we’re still founded on the same principles (like manners and class) that Ms. Tidwell had when she founded us.”
Austin Inauguration Day-related events
Texas Public Policy Foundation inauguration watch party – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at 901 Congress Ave. Free watch event will be followed by a post-speech discussion with foundation experts. Lunch provided. Registration required at http://bit.ly/2jdl3ha.
Warriors Gather for Silent Prayers for our Nation — 6:30 p.m., 1100 Congress Ave., near the African-American history statue on the southwest side of the Capitol. Those of all faiths will start silent prayers at 6:30 p.m.
March for Justice and Families — 5-8 p.m. Friday. Marchers will meet at 5 p.m. at Vic Mathias Shores, 900 W. Riverside Drive, march together up Congress Avenue toward the Capitol and then march back Lady Bird Lake for a rally starting about 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.oneresistance.com.
LGBTQ Human Rights Rally — 7-9 p.m. Friday on the south steps of the Capitol. For more information, visit bit.ly/2jantwR.
Women’s March on ATX — 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Marchers will meet on the south lawn of the Capitol in advance of the march, which begins at noon and takes a circular route from the Capitol on 11th Street, south on Congress Avenue, west on Sixth Street, and north on Lavaca Street to return to the Capitol to hear speakers. For more information, visit marchonaustin.com.