Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pick-Up-Your-Knees-and-Point-Your-Toes- Ah-Left!

Ahh, the halcyon days of being a member of Miss Brenda's drill team.  For the one year I was a Robinson Rockette at Robinson High School, she took me on the ride of a lifetime.  Brenda Boiles, our director, was bigger than life - from her engaging and commanding personality to her big brown false eyelashes to her gargantuan brown hair with bulbous bangs.  She wore a thick coating of Merle Norman makeup base and glossy pale pink lipstick.  I was totally infatuated with her and completely intimidated by her.

She waltzed into Robinson, Texas during the Spring of 1971 to begin a drill team at our tiny, somewhat rural high school.  An assembly was held for 8th-11th graders during which she explained to us what a drill team was.  She had been a Kilgore Rangerette.  Her big smile and dramatic tales of high kick lines spun through my mousy dishwater blonde hair past my clanky braced teeth and into my soul.  The part of my soul that dreamed of one day becoming Miss Panola County.

She kind of had this effect on the masses.

She said magic words like "beautiful blue and white uniforms" and "half time performances."  My little insecure pimpled 8th grade self melted into a puddle of wannabe.  I wanted to be "that."  I wanted to be admired by her.  I wanted to be loved by her.  I wanted to be her. 
Me at 8th Grade Graduation
Hair by Mom's Beautician (note cascading Baby's Breath in back)
Dress by Mom who stayed up late on many nights to toil over the intricate shirring on the bodice.
Make up by Slicker and Clearasil (double duty...)
White carnation corsage - totally from my Mom.
(The clanky braces came that summer.)
Miss Brenda scheduled tryouts that were to last one week.  On Monday through Thursday, she spent about 2 hours after school teaching us a basic routine to this 5th Dimension song:

Save the people!  Save the children!  Save the drill team!

I felt like a pro because I had learned terms like "step-dig" and "3-step turn" in my modern dance classes in elementary school.  I can hear her voice to this day.  "Ah-5-6-7-8!"  "Ah-step-ah-dig-ah-step-ah-dig!"  "Three-step-turn-DIG!"  "Now, WITH THE MUSIC!"  She was both powerful and empowering.  Her charisma thumped like a big base drum sending vibrations up our spines.  

With sweaty palms and churning intestines, we sat on the bleachers in the gym that Friday afternoon waiting to be called to the floor for our tryout.  Miss Brenda, as she preferred us to call her, pinned numbered pieces of paper to our shirts.  Yikes!  A number?!  I've been reduced to a number?!  Will she forget all my cuteness and cooperation from Monday through Friday?!  Does my hair look the same?!  Will she know it's ME?!

Called to the floor, I stood in the line of 5-6 girls who would be performing the routine that we had committed to memory over the week hoping to heck that we didn't totally forget every step-dig and step-ball-change we'd learned.  I can still feel the tension and nerves that pulsed through my 4'11" frame.

Once all of the girls had been put through their paces, Miss Brenda disappeared into the girls' locker room to choose the lucky 30 girls who were to become the Robinson Rockettes.  The clock ticked at the speed of molasses dripping off of a piece of cold cornbread.  Then, with lightening speed, Miss Brenda dashed out of the locker room with a big piece of rolled up white bulletin board paper and ran up the stairs to the second level weight room that over looked the gym floor.  She struggled with a roll of masking tape until she had firmly affixed her banner to the railing.  With a dramatic unfurling, down came the sacred scroll of lucky numbers.  Before any of us had a chance to laugh or cry, out the door she flew to avoid heartbroken teenagers or angry moms.

It was there!  My number was there!!  I felt like I had just been crowned Miss Panola County.  Screams, hugs, shrugs, and tears permeated the air.  I WAS IN!  She wanted me!  She saw my amazing dance potential!  She hadn't figured out that I couldn't do the splits!  Glow-ree!  I was a Robinson Rockette, thank you very much!

That summer the hard work set in as Miss Brenda taught us to be a drill team with 4 hour morning practices in the un-airconditioned gym.  We learned to march in place and in lines to "On Wisconsin" blaring from Miss Brenda's record player.  "Pick-up-your-knees-and-point-your-toes-ah-left-left-left-right-left!"  We learned to strut.  We learned how to sit in columns in the bleachers with our knees together and our ankles crossed.  We learned the rules of drill team.  And, if we had worked really hard, sometimes she would tell us tales of her Kilgore Rangerette Days with Miss Gussie Nell Davis.  "If you think that OUR practices are tough, you should see Miss Davis' practices!"

Drill Team Rules According to Miss Brenda
  1. Never, ever chew gum in public no matter how bad your breath gets.
  2. Always, always stand with good posture with your stomach sucked in.
  3. Behave like a drill team girl at all times - morning, noon, and night - off campus and on.
  4. No inappropriate, garish behavior in the football stands - only feminine cheering and polite hand-clapping were accepted.
  5. Never take ANYTHING into the football stands with you - no coat, no purse, no Coke, no giant dill pickle, no Frito pie, no nuttin'.
  6. Never stretch prior to a performance or run through a routine where the crowd can see you - that's what the area under the bleachers was for.
  7. "Yes, Miss Brenda" and "No, Miss Brenda" were the proper ways to answer her.
  8. Always touch up your boots or white tennie shoes (for gym floors) with white shoe polish before a performance.
  9. A drill team girl NEVER runs in uniform.  She struts.
  10. Beauty knows no pain, so, smile and buck up.
Red lipstick and false eyelashes were "part of the uniform."  And, if a girl could afford it, a "fall" covering up short hair was appreciated.  Better yet if we all had shoulder length hair of the same color, texture and curl.  There was no "droppin' it like it's hot" or booty shakin'.  We gently "bounced" off of our left heels while standing in the classic drill team version of "3rd position."

Brenda Boiles is on my short list of life-changing people.  She was a finishing school in high heels.  Our 3rd performance as a brand-new drill team was...are you ready for the Cotton Bowl.  We did a pre-game performance for the Dallas Cowboys in the cold, pouring rain. (see rule #10)  She convinced us that we were amazing buds of womanhood with the world at our fingertips.  And, I fully believed her.  Thank you, Miss Brenda.  You were in my path for such a time as that.

Miss Brenda helping a Rockette get her Little Red-Red piled on
before our pre-game performance in the Cotton Bowl
(photo from Robinson's "Galaxy" year book)

Post Script:  During my sophomore year at Baylor, Miss Brenda was offered the job of establishing a Baylor drill team.  The former Rockettes that were Baylor students at the time were elated.  Tryouts were held.  Practice had begun.  Then, one day, Miss Brenda didn't come to practice.  We were told that she wasn't going to be able to continue as our leader.  Turns out she had cancer.  She passed away within the year at the age of 36-ish.  The "Honeybears" kind of fizzled after that.  I simply cannot wait to see her in heaven!  "Pick-up-your-knees-and-point-your-toes-ah-left-left-left-right-left!"


Unknown said...

So funny to find this blog. I was a Rockette in 1971. I relate to all you posted about Miss Brenda. She was life changing.
Thanks for the memories.
Helen Raborn -- was Palmer

Carolyn Lackey said...

Hey, Helen! I was a Rockette my freshman year. I actually graduated from University High in 1975 because Robinson stopped taking transfers. How on earth did you land here on my blog?

Carolyn Lackey said...

OMG. Is it Boiles or Boyles?

Unknown said...

I really only remembered her name as Miss Brenda.

Due to a fire in my youth I only have memories of the drill team so I googled "Robinson Rockettes Miss Brenda". It wasn't a serious search, as I thought the chances were slim to find something on the Internet. I was wrong. :-)

Life happens and I dropped out of the drill after that first year but it was a highlight of my young life. It really did give me confidence I wouldn't have had otherwise.

Would you happen to have a picture of the team that year? I would love to have a scan of it if it isn't too much trouble.

Thanks for your response.

Carolyn Lackey said...

Hey, Helen!
When I get a minute, I'll see what I can find!

Unknown said...

Just when you have time. I would appreciate it.

Teresa Fetzer (Crocker) said...

Hi Carolyn, I was a rockette from 79 to 81. Loved it! I was an officer in my junior year then I got pregnant and married! Came back and was a manager since I wanted to be involved with the team in some aspect. Those years were great and a highpoint of my life. And, even though I didn't know Ms Brenda, I heard such wonderful things about her. Unfortunately, I have very few pictures of the Rockettes except for the annuals so I thought it was great when I saw your picture on the internet. Thanks for that and Go Rockettes!!!!

Shawntel Boiles said...

This post is amazing. I am Miss Brenda's daughter, Shawntel Boiles (Kerr now). These amazing words brought tears to my eyes! Thank you for the trip down memory road!

Shawntel Boiles Kerr

Carolyn Lackey said...

Shawntel, I remember when you were born! Your mother was so loved by so many!!!

Unknown said...

I remember when you were born too. Miss Brenda made a big difference in my life also. Great memories!
Helen (Palmer) Raborn

Janice (Crow) Walling said...

Very very fond memories of Miss Brenda. I was in drill team the very first year. She was so inspiring for so many of us. “ open up your eyes and smile “ I will always remember her. Such a special lady!


Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door t...