KATY MAGAZINE I December 2019
By Natalie Cook Clark
Rehearsals. Dedication. Teamwork. Meet the Dance Team Directors of Katy. They coach and inspire the students in their competitive high school programs to challenge themselves on and off the field.
Katy Bengal Brigade
Henson has been the director for the Katy Bengal Brigade for 37 years, with a total 39 years of teaching experience. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Texas Lutheran University and a degree in Dance from Texas Women's University. Henson was also featured in Katy Magazine's August/September 2016 issue.
"When you have been a director for as long as I have, there are so many poignant memories," says Henson. "The performance of 'Salute to America’s Finest' at the Rockets game right after the start of Desert Storm, the emotions were high and the standing ovation of the audience taught our girls what true patriotism means.
Dancing through Heartache
Henson has also led the Bengal Brigade through some difficult times. In 2004, Sara Krauss, a junior Brigade dancer, collapsed during a routine practice. She passed away due to an undetected heart disease.
"Sara’s quiet demeanor and beautiful smile reminded me to listen with my heart," says Henson.
The Brigade chose to dance their planned kick routine at the football game just days after her death, knowing that was what she would have wanted. After the dance the team held a moment of silence for Sara.
"There were tears on both sides," says Henson. "But to watch our girls struggle to finish is something that will remain with me daily, as will the memory of Sara."
A Dancing Support System
Watching the team's dynamic through success and hardships further proves how valuable these experiences are for the students.
"I believe that Katy Brigade offers one of the best means for our teens to grow with others their own age," explains Henson. "The Brigade and cheerleaders offer companionship while also teaching discipline, determination and self-motivation. Being a member of a team holds you accountable to that team, to those individuals, but it also gives you the support system that is always there for you."
A Single Mom
Henson, a single mom has called Katy home for 37 years.
"I have been blessed with the best son ever," says Henson. "My son Ross graduated from Katy High School last year. He attended Katy Elementary and Woodcreek Junior High. Ross is now attending the American Musical and Dramatic Arts Conservatory in New York."
Recently, Henson was nominated for the Texas Dance Educator's Association Lifetime Achievement Award. The winner will be announced in January.
A Privilege to Watch Them Grow
"This job has given me the opportunity to share in the lives of 1000’s of girls and a few boys over the years," says Henson. "I have the privilege of watching them grow, to challenge them in the dance and cheer arena but most of all in life."
Mayde Creek Martinettes
Katy ISD Bred Heather Iovine, director to the Mayde Creek Martinettes, is the example of the type of person and professional that Katy ISD can produce. Iovine laid the building blocks for her career as a Pacesetter at Taylor High School. She acted as Lieutenant Colonel during her junior year and Colonel her senior year. She experienced first hand the benefits that these young women can get from being part of a team.
A Dance Family
"Dance team gives students a group of like-minded friends and a family away from home," says Iovine. "It teaches them important life skills such as conflict resolution, time management, and critical thinking. Students graduate from this program understanding hard work is necessary in order to succeed, and how important it is to hold yourself accountable for your actions."
From Taylor Pacesetter to Professional
When Iovine graduated from Taylor HS, she stayed a Texas girl and attended Texas Christian University where she received a Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Modern Dance with an emphasis in Classical Ballet. Since then, Iovine has built a solid career in dance education, including being the director of Trendsetter Dance. This is her sixth year as director for the Martinettes.
So many memories..
Iovine has experienced many of her best dance memories at Mayde Creek.
"Watching a team of young ladies come together to raise each other up and become each other's strongest support system is my favorite memory each year," says Iovine. "The bonds these girls build over a course of a year is incredible. But what amazes me even more is that this mentally has not just become a habit but a legacy for the Martinettes."
A Growing Mayde Creek Family
Iovine married Josh May this summer, making their Mayde Creek bond even stronger since he is the head basketball coach for the school's Lady Rams.
This season, the Martinettes will add a special new member to their team because Iovine and May
are expecting their daughter, Piper this spring.
"I'm doing the job that I dreamed of doing as a little girl," says Samantha Shilk-Cockerham. "I remember looking up to my dance instructors as a young dancer and into college."
Now she is in her seventh year directing the Cougar Stars and 19th year overall of directing drill teams.
Experience Led Her to Dream Job
Shilk-Cockerham gained experience with the Dance Company at Texas State University, where she earned a Bachelor's Degree in Dance and Speech Communication. After college, she worked as the director and dance instructor at Cedar Park Middle School, and then as the assistant director at Cedar Park High School. Shilk-Cockerham also owned her own dance studio in Round Rock. Before leading the Cougar Stars she was the Head Director and Dance teacher at Cypress Springs High School.
"It’s a dream job, a way of life, and the only 'job' I can see myself doing," says Shilk-Cockerham. "I have learned so much from the students, fellow teachers and parents that I am surrounded by each day."
Dancing as Individual vs. Team
Having taught dance to students of various ages, Shilk-Cockerham can see the difference and benefits of high school dance teams.
"Some students in dance are often very much focused on themselves and correcting technique on their own bodies," says Shilk-Cockerham. "When they get to Cougar Stars, some of those same dancers, reveal how broken they were by previous dance experiences, and we work hard to heal those broken dancers with compassion, sisterhood, and positive feedback. We work hard and have high expectations."
"The dancers who used to move as individuals in constant competition with one another, look to the left and to the right of them and see sisters that are working for the good of the team," explains Shilk-Cockerham. "Changing a young dancer’s outlook on themselves is a huge reward and a reason for dancers to get involved in dance team at school."
Role Models to Tiny Dancers
The Cougar Stars have many performances and activities planned for the year.
"One of our favorite performances is with our Little Miss Cougar Stars," says Shilk-Cockerham. "Dancing on the field with their special guests is always so much fun! I always tell our Stars to think about all the young dancers in our community that look up to them and use that as motivation to be kind, confident, and helpful young ladies both in and out of school."
A Supportive Family
Shilk-Cockerham has been married to Casey Cockerham for 18 years.
"He has been there from the beginning of my career and has sat through countless football games, contests and Spring Shows. He's right there by my side!"
The Cockerhams have two boys. Donovan is in fifth grade and Daxton is in Kindergarten, both attend Fielder Elementary. They have lived in Katy for 10 years.
April Hunt started her career as a student on the drill team and now she's giving her special insight into leading a team of high school dancers. This is Hunt's 16th year as the Director of Morton Ranch's Maverick Belles and her 17th year overall teaching in public school.
Hunt trained for 14 years in ballet, tap, and jazz. At Victoria High School, she was a member of the varsity dance team and served as an officer her senior year. Hunt went on to graduate magna cum laude from Texas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Dance.
Maverick Belles at the Super Bowl
An incredible highlight from Hunt's dance career was being part of a Super Bowl halftime show.
"I will never forget the opportunity to be a part of Super Bowl 51," says Hunt. "The halftime production took months to organize and rehearse and watching everything come together was indescribable."
Hunt is proud to be a Maverick and the director of the Belles.
"Morton Ranch High School has always felt like home and I treasure my Maverick family as much as my own," says Hunt. "I am also very blessed to work alongside some of the most talented, supportive and creative dance directors in our state."
More Than Pom Poms
"I have said for years that dance team is far more than pom poms and red lipstick," says Hunt.
She also believes that students in in this program learn vital lifelong skills that make them well rounded adults and employees.
"One year of service on a dance team will expose team members to time management, communication skills, physical fitness, injury prevention, team building strategies, leadership skills, responsibility, self-confidence and above all discipline," says Hunt. "We are able to achieve that all through the art of dance."
A High Standard
Hunts holds her dance team members to a high standard. They work tirelessly to support their fellow Mavericks while preparing for their own competition and spring concert season.
"My goal is for the Maverick Belles to take pride in their organization at all times and to always think team before self," says Hunt.
Directing While Raising A Family
Hunt admits it's difficult to be a dance team director and raise a family.
"It takes a lot of balance and time management to be an effective director and mother," says Hunt. "I am so fortunate to have a supportive husband that has allowed me to do what I love every day!"
She has been married to Gregg Hunt for 17 years. They moved to Katy in 2004 when April took the job at Morton Ranch, the year the school opened. They have two children, Ryleigh and Ayden who both attend Katy Junior High.
This may be Kirsten Gillespie's first year as the director of the Seven Lakes High School Sapphires, but not her first year with the team. For four years, she was the Sapphires' assistant director.
Her 22 years of dance experience includes many disciplines: ballet, hip hop, jazz, lyrical, modern, and tap. This Texas girl was one of the first Captains and the first Colonel of her drill team at Kingwood Park High School in Humble ISD. In 2010, Gillespie was named an All-State Dancer at the Texas Dance Educators Association annual convention.
Gillespie earned a Bachelor's of Science degree in Kinesiology with a Dance Science concentration from Texas A&M University, and received the Honor Graduate award for the Dance Department her senior year.
A Rewarding Job
"The most rewarding part of my job is having a student for most of their high school career and seeing the tremendous growth that happens in that short amount of time," says Gillespie. "High school can be a really challenging time for these young people and having the ability to mentor, encourage, and teach them life lessons along the way is such an honor."
Gisellepie hopes her students fall in love with dance by the end of their high school years, and they realize that dance provides them with a safe, positive environment that helps them grow as a person.
A School Family
There's a lot of pressure in high school and having a school "family" can help.
"Being a part of a dance team is the perfect example where girls feel welcomed, find community, and have the opportunity to express themselves through dance in a safe environment," says Gillespie. "There is nothing more rewarding than hitting that perfect formation, or winning a prestigious award knowing full-well that they could not have accomplished that without everyone on their team."
The dance gym is widely considered the girls’ second home.
"This is their happy place, an escape from the stresses of school or home, and a place they are always welcomed," explains Gillespie. "Whenever these students reflect on their high school careers, they won’t think about what grade they got on a test or what their class rank was; they are going to remember the friendships and memories they made in the extra-curricular activities they chose to be a part of."
Exciting Year Ahead
The Sapphires have an exciting year ahead and have been working very hard.
"We have some strong, powerful dancers this year and I cannot wait to show them off at our three competitions in February," says Gillespie. "This season, the Sapphires will perform contemporary, jazz, lyrical, modern, novelty and pom."
Gillespie has been happily married to Jared Gillespie for four years. He is a high school teacher and coach in Cy Fair ISD. The couple moved to Katy right after their wedding in 2015 when she accepted the Assistant Director position at Seven Lakes.