For 45 years, the Saintettes have been fighting an uphill battle to be legitimatized by the that state of Minnesota. However, a vote in spring 2018 could change that.
If you walked in room 201 on the third floor of the Armstrong Building in between the hours of 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., you will see 27 girls starting off their two-hour practice going through an intensive workout. Thirty-minutes of high-kicks, lunges, karaoke swings and squats. Throughout the practice, they’ll work on memorizing moves, go through conditioning drills and through a daily stringent ritual to perfect their craft. They have 3 days to memorize each step, routine and movement.
Sounds like the most intense sport in town? According to the Minnesota High School Athletic League, not quite.
For 45 years the Saintettes, the 7-12 dance team in St. James have seemingly spent a bulk of that time fighting to earn the respect of their town, as well as governing bodies that see their hard work as an activity rather than a sport. Every year, they have been seen as good enough for halftime entertainment during basketball games, pregame entertainment for wrestling meets, but never a main event or attraction.
Fifth-year coach Beth Johnson doesn’t want her girls to be seen as just ‘entertainers’, but also legitimate athletic competitors.
“These girls have worked hard, put the time in and have gone through rigorous training and routines, just to reap no awards or recognition,” said Johnson.
The Saintette’s are in a current state of limbo, as they are a program that isn’t yet recognized as an athletic program by the State of Minnesota. Whereas other dance programs can compete for accolades and accomplishments, the Saintettes have to settle for halftime shows and self-sponsored events to showcase their season-long efforts.
On Sept. 11, Johnson submitted a proposal to help build the dance program through a junior varisty feeder system and also MSHL sanction. The junior varisty team received a 4-0 vote, while the sanction vote will be revisited in the spring.
For Johnson, the fight for a MSHL sanction is a personal one. Johnson is apart of a Sainettes’ legacy, as her mother and JV coach Martha was on the first-ever Sainettes dance team. Johnson, herself competed under her mother who coaches, and the two now coach head a program they have given a combined 40 years to.
“Dance has changed since I last danced, it’s a faster, quicker paced sport,” said Martha Johnson. “Every girl who has been through this program has had to deal with being labeled as a non-sport, and it’s wrong.”
However, that could all change with a pending approval from the school board to acknowledge and fund the 45-year program as an athletic sport.
“Dancing has slowly had to fight many obstacles,” said Beth Johnson. “Namely, fighting for respect and legitimacy.”
A MSHSL approved dance team (fall and winter season) can be placed into two divisions, High Kick and Jazz. The Saintettes would be placed in the former, if the motion passes through the school board. The benefits of being legitimized athletically would mean the Saintette’s could compete in sanctioned competitions, be backed by MSHSL revenue shares and also help prospective high school dancers earn experience and accolades to potentially dance at the collegiate level.
However, Anderson and her girls are looking to use every opportunity to prove their worth. The two captains, Alyssa Anderson and Mackinzee Miest see the lack of respect as a motivation to work harder and introduce others to dance.
“Dance is such a combination of skill, hard work and teamwork,” said Anderson. “We work as a team, dance as a team and bond like a team.”
That attitude has permeated to the newly established Junior Varisty Saintette’s team. Many of them discussed being teased or mocked for participating in a “non-sport”, but these young Saintette hopefuls are ready and willing.
“It’s annoying to be told that what you’re doing is easy; because it’s not,” said Alexis Herrera. “We are out to prove that this is just tough as any sport.”
The Saintettes have a Feb. 3 ‘extravaganza’ showcase in the Armstrong Auditorium.