At the Outback Bowl New Year's Day, 11 members of the St. James Saintettes Dance Team had the opportunity to perform before the game and at halftime in front of a crowd of over 55,000 people. “We would like to especially thank the entire St. James community for their support in helping us make this dream come true,” said coach Beth Johnson. “The support we received was amazing and we could not have made it without it!” The Saintettes performed with dancers from 12 states. There were 293 dancers in the older group and 68 in the younger dance group. Johnson, who has been dancing since she was age five and calls it her “love,” said the team had an opportunity to try out for the Outback Bowl performance during a camp in Iowa in the summer of 2013. They took their shot, and, a few weeks later, they found out they were headed to Florida. Of course, much work still needed to be done. Not only did they need to practice vigorously, they also needed to raise the money--about $1,700 per dancer--to fund the trip. Consequently, the dancers sold practically anything and everything that could be sold, said Kali Wright, a senior. And, they were able to pay their way. None of the dancers had ever been on a trip like this, and Johnson--despite having been involved with the team for a decade--said she'd never taken a team on any adventure like this. All dancers learned the choreography from a DVD sent to them in early December, but the show wasn't put together until they arrived in Florida--meaning they had only 12 hours to work on formations and polish the routines. For the pre-game and halftime performances, 1,300 high school band students surrounding the dancers provided music for the show. The half-time show theme was the musical “Grease,” and the performance closed with a patriotic finale, “Armed Forces Salute.” Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, did the choreography, along with assistance from Ali and Amanda Clough. “The dancers will remember this performance forever, as there is nothing quite like performing on this scale,” Cindy Clough said in a press release. “The most exciting thing for me personally is when the dancers got to watch their performance on the projection TV at the final banquet. They have no idea what the 'Big Picture' looks like until they see it on screen.” (Just For Kix is a full service dance organization that partners with others to provide everything from recreational dance to extensive dance training, according to the organization. Just For Kix has dance programs in 10 states, teaching over 21,000 dancers, and orchestrates national dance camps and special events.) “We used a variety of props (in the show), including poms, hooplas and capes,” Clough said. “The choreography also incorporated the poodle skirts the dancers were wearing.” Though much of their time was devoted to practicing and performing, the dancers--along with coaches and family members--still found time to tour the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdon, Busch Gardens, and Clearwater Beach. They also enjoyed a dinner cruise New Year's Eve, as well as a talent show and dance party. The dancers particularly enjoyed their time on the three-story yacht, because they got to dress up in formal attire, have a dance party on the top deck, and eat copious amounts of “delicious” chocolate cake. Despite all the ancillary benefits, senior Danielle Gonzalez said her favorite part of the trip was the camaraderie built with her teammates. “We created a bond and really got to know each other,” she said, to which Wright added, “It made us closer, and made us more like a family than a team.” Johnson said the “whole package was the experience of a lifetime,” and added that the “shared moments” from the trip amount to much more than the typical coach-team relationship. While the ladies said the trip was a fantastic experience, it wasn't a perfect fairy tale. The first problem was the weather. Cold, rainy conditions prevailed for most of their trip, including their performance on New Year's Day. “We didn't even pack for rain and cold,” Johnson said. “But, you wouldn't have known (how bad the conditions were) when they got out on the field; they were troopers, and it went without a hitch.” Lyndsey Haler, a senior, called the conditions “awful,” and said it was very slippery. Unlike the football players, who have special cleats for footing in sloppy conditions, the dancers wore slippers, which aren't designed for a slick surface. Haler said she saw other dancers fall, but all the Saintettes managed to stay upright. Gonzalez said, “Once you started dancing, it wasn't so bad.” “It was addictive to hear the cheers,” she continued. “I wanted more of that; I craved it.” Wright called the “sea of faces” a “big, amazing rush.” The damp weather wasn't the only thing that made the dancers shiver, however. While watching film of their morning practice in a local gym, a “football-sized” rat plummeted out of the rafters into the bleachers, Wright said. This intrusive interloper sent the dancers scurrying like, well, like rats on a sinking ship. Haler said she was nearly trampled in the panic, but, eventually, they got back down to business, preparing for their very important--and very public--performance. The rat was never seen again after his dramatic drop. The game--in which Louisiana State University defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes--was contested in Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ryan Anderson can be reached at