Shining a light on the Starlets

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The 2022 Starlet team gathering before the Homecoming Parade (photo by Jennifer Ayers)

Marin Poleshek, Managing Editor

For half a century, the Star Spangled Girls have dazzled spectators with their kicks, twirls, and leaps. Revered nationwide for their commitment to precision and tradition, it is no secret that the Spangles are a cornerstone of the Homewood community.

This year though, a new team of dancers is getting their chance in the spotlight. Under the guidance of Spangle Director Jennifer Ayers and new Assistant Director Courtney Windham, the Starlets are working to build their own legacy within Homewood’s dance program. 

While this marks the inaugural year for the Starlets, the need for a Junior Varsity dance team has long been recognized. In the past, students have not been able to try out for the dance line until sophomore year. Though Ayers claims that “it is better to keep freshman dancers separate,” the lack of dance opportunities for freshmen created an awkward gap between middle school and Spangle-level dance. The creation of a middle school dance team in 2021 drew further attention to the need for program expansion at HHS, acting as the final catalyst for the Starlet team.

Twelve freshmen and sophomores compose this year’s team of Starlets. Acting as a springboard for Spangle hopefuls, the Starlets dance at Monday night Junior Varsity football games and perform routines at Friday pep rallies.

However, the Starlets are not simply “mini Spangles.” According to Windham, the Starlets are “their own team,” functioning as more of a “dance team versus dance line” that is not part of the marching band auxiliary.

Starlet Director Courtney Windham performing in a 2011 halftime show (photo by Alesia Windham)

Along with the creation of this new team came a need for additional staff. Though Ayers has directed the Star Spangled Girls for the past twenty-five years, the responsibility of two different teams required the designation of an Assistant Director position.

To fill this role, Ayers looked to Spangle alumni Courtney Windham. A fifth-grade teacher at Hall-Kent Elementary, Windham’s return to Homewood dance has been celebrated by both faculty and students.

When asked about her return, Windham describes it as a “full circle moment.” She recalls always wanting to come back and teach in Homewood but didn’t think an opportunity like this would present itself. “It was always a fantasy,” Windham says, “It is so special to actively continue this legacy instead of just being a part.”

The emotionality of this tradition is underscored by the celebration of Homewood High School’s 50th anniversary. While this milestone is important for the community as a whole, it is particularly significant for the marching band and auxiliary, which has planned its entire halftime show around recognizing band alumni.

Even though the Starlets do not dance with the band, there is no doubt that its legacy extends to the team. With Spangles as their role models and alumni as their audience, the expectation for greatness during this first year is high.

“I don’t want them to be cute,” says Windham, emphasizing that the Starlets are to be regarded in the same manner as the Spangles. Ayers agrees, saying that even though Starlet members are younger, she “expects the same” as she would with her more experienced dancers.

And, though Homewood is only weeks into football season, the Starlets have superseded these expectations. After each performance, the crowd’s response to the girls has been exceedingly positive.

“So many people have approached me saying that they didn’t know what to expect,” says Windham, noting that many are shocked by Starlets’ caliber so early in the year. 

In truth, however, these performances are far from the first time that the Starlets have been held to high standards. According to Ayers, the tryout process for Starlets is identical to that of the Spangles, requiring students as young as eighth grade to learn the same dance routine as returning upperclassmen.

While each team functions separately, the audition process is one of the many ways that Starlets prepare to be Spangles, which Windham claims is the end goal.

It’s not just about dance, it’s about becoming a woman that can be confident and successful in the world.”

— Jennifer Ayers

The 2022 Starlet team posing in their pep rally outfits (photo by Jennifer Ayers)

However, for some Starlets, dancing is only one facet of their school involvement. In addition to the team, a number of members also participate in marching band, splitting their time between instrumentalist and dancer. According to Windham, this was “not expected at all,” but is both welcomed and celebrated.

“They know the standard of the band already,” she says, emphasizing Homewood’s belief in allowing students to participate in various activities. Ayers corroborates this, claiming that she “wants students to do as much as possible” and “not have to pick one over the other.”

Freshman Emma Avery, a member of both Starlets and the marching band, says that this dichotomy can be “stressful,” but not unmanageable. “Tuesdays are really tough,” she says, alluding to the difficulty of going straight from Starlet rehearsal to band practice. Despite this, she describes the team as a “giant family” and claims that the presence of other dual-committed students makes these long days easier. 

Though the role of the Starlets is continuing to take shape, there is no doubt that these dancers have already made a name for themselves in Homewood. “They want to rise to that new standard they set for themselves,” says Windham. “I’m proud of them [and] I’m proud for them.” 

At the end of the day, the Starlet team is rooted in values much deeper than performing routines and perfecting their craft. “It’s not just about dance,” says Ayers, “it’s about becoming a woman that can be confident and successful in the world.”