Dance team readies for Outback Bowl

Dancers with the Dream Makers Dance travel team practice April 7 in the gym at Elvin Hill Elementary School in Columbiana. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – During a recent Dream Makers Dance practice, the head instructor, piece of paper in hand, asked the 16 girls on the squad’s travel team to gather around.

Some of the girls said they were worried that afternoon inside the Elvin Hill Elementary gym: “What’s wrong?” some thought. “We in trouble?”

No worries, though, as Jenny Lespi delivered great news.

“Congratulations to you and your dancers,” Lespi read from an email print out. “You have been accepted as members of the 2011/2012 Outback Bowl Performance Tour.”

News of their selection for pre-game and halftime festivities at the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2012 in Tampa, Fla., was greeted with much excitement. Screaming, mostly.

“We’ve never done anything like this before,” said Janie Wydemon, a recent homeschool graduate. “So it is an honor.”

It is the first time a dance group from Alabama has made it through the audition process for the Outback Bowl, Lespi was told by event organizers.

Dream Makers Dance is a community education program through the Shelby County Board of Education. The travel team consists of girls ranging from fourth-grade to one senior at UAB. Numerous Shelby County schools are represented.

Lespi, who teaches special education at Elvin Hill in addition to heading the dance program, sent an audition DVD to the Outback Bowl selection committee.

Dream Makers Dance will perform alongside other dancers while a to-be-determined country music star performs on stage, Lespi said.

Dream Makers Dance will have its year-end dance recital May 21 in Chelsea. The travel team practices year-round and will perform June 11 at the Country Tonite Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

But it was the Outback Bowl that was on the minds of dancers and parents at an April 7 practice.

Columbiana Middle sixth-grader Faryn Fryer’s family has travelled before to watch bowl games. They’re big Alabama fans.

“To know that she could be one of them on the field is really exciting,” said Faryn’s mom, Twyla Fryer, a volunteer who helps with the program.

Kerri Woods, another volunteer parent, said she hopes to “make this dream come alive” for daughter Kayla Woods, a sophomore at Shelby County High School.

Parents have launched a fundraising campaign to help pay for the trip.

“We just want to make sure these girls from a small town can see a piece of the big life,” Kerri Woods said.

The dancers can’t wait, including other travel team members Hannah Wallace, Grace Driskell, Kalelyn Lucas, AnnMarie Yednak, Gaylon Beasley, Tracy Trice, Amber Neilsen, Racheal Trice, Jessie Behrle, Shae Brown, Tessa Otter, Kasey Benson and Nikki Farish.