The Legacy of “Come Sail Away”, the Ownership of Dance, & the Purpose of a Poms Team


A few weeks ago, my high school poms team celebrated it’s 20-year anniversary. Now, why a high school sport puts on a 20th anniversary party may sound a little strange, but the team I was apart of is no ordinary high school poms team. For four years of my life, I was part of a family that taught me humility, work ethic, confidence, and social customs. I meet other alumni, and realize we are all the same people: busy, hardworking, driven women. And, I see my former teammates, and feel like time, age, and life experiences have not distanced us at all. It’s an unexplainable, sacred bond (it was one time referred to as a ‘cult’, but I am not quite sure we fit the qualifications of strange chanting rituals).

My favorite part of the entire reunion was watching 20 years of Ponderosa Poms videos, beginning at the very first competition, and ending with last year’s state performance.

When I was 15 years old, I won my first state championship, which perhaps would go down in the top five most memorable moments of my life. If you were present in the Denver Coliseum that day, you remember a strange effect that took place as we walked onto the competition floor. Legend has it, vendors shut down, people pulled into the venue from the aisles, and the entire coliseum was silent, mesmerized, as we danced to ‘Come Sail Away’. No one can explain the captivating aura that summoned everyone to watch the dance floor, but they felt, whatever was about to happen would be moving.

When I go back to look at our video, we actually were not that good. The turn section was not synchronized, our arms were kind of droopy, and someone might have started too early. But, there was something incredibly magical about that performance that touched other people. That is the true nature of dance: to evoke unexplainable emotion in not only the dancers, but also the observers.

My own poms team dealt with some drama in the dance class our school offers as a gym credit. The class is composed of half poms girls, half non-poms girls. And, of course, the poms girls are competitive, try to dominate the class, do toe touches all over the place, and the other girls feel left out, unimportant, insignificant. What I had to remind my girls of is the great thing about dance is it is a gift that is available to anyone; no one has supreme ownership over who gets to dance and who does not get to dance. You could be a master turner and be able to pull off a quad while standing on a block of ice, or you could not even know what a quad is: everyone has the opportunity to dance.

Some people have recently been disagreeing on the purpose of a poms team at a high school. To any outsider, it seems frivolous as to why we have these girls, running around, waving pom poms in the air, worrying about how many sparkles their costumes have, and smiling like a bunch of crazed, plastic Barbies on the sidelines.

But, a poms team is so much more than those superficial tendencies as seen from the outside. While it appears as though we are just waving around pom poms, we actually do pushups and planks during practice everyday, so that we make waving those pom poms around look good. Sometimes, our dances are so endurancily taxing that we throw up in the bathroom, and then do it again, and do it so diligently that an observer would never know. We are concerned about how many sparkles our costumes have, because if someone has fewer than another, it means we don’t look the same, someone stands out, and it takes away from the idea of putting other people before ourselves. And, we smile like plastic Barbies, because we are learning how to put our sore muscles, our sprained ankles, our tired muscles aside for the betterment of society, and to try to crack a smile from someone else in the crowd.

But, of course, as the outsider, you do not see any of those things, because the nature of the sport is to make it look easy.

And, aside from just the dance-performance aspect, the inception of a poms team, historically, was to be the poster child for the school. Whenever Special Olympics or Race for the Cure requests representation, we send the poms team. When we want to sponsor a youth clinic and plug our high school to the feeder schools, we send the poms team. And, in times of tragedy, we look at our poms team to serve as pillars of support.

My freshmen year of high school, we experienced an overwhelmingly amount of tragedy. In particular, we lost three of our beloved classmates in one car accident. Shocked and shaken, the school turned to the spirit teams for support. I remember leaving our poms summer camp, suiting up in our Ponderosa jackets, and standing around the student body, as they sobbed, to organize a balloon release. When a more recent car accident occurred, the poms team was called to represent the school and attend the funeral. And, when a classmate was diagnosed with adrenal cancer, it was the poms teams who was called to post pictures on social media and create awareness.

But, this is what these girls are trained to do. This is the nature of the sport. Because, while we do those planks and pushups, we are actually learning how to work through pain and trauma; we hope we never lose a classmate in a car accident, and we also know that, if this does happen, eventually, the school will need to move on, and we might be called to show them how; as we know very well, sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. And, while we don’t want to be the one ostracized from not having the proper amount of rhinestones, we know that, in times of tragedy, we must know how to stand in solidarity for our community, and that no matter what background, school, or economic class we come from, we all survive in this thing called ‘the human condition’. And, while we learn how to plaster on Barbie smiles despite our sufferings, it’s really because, at some point, we might need to be the spokespeople, the announcers, the speakers for a community that is too shocked to know what to say; we have to learn how to put our own emotional states behind to be the strength for someone else.

No, a poms team is not just about waving around pom-poms and having cute, matching t-shirts. It’s about something so much bigger than ourselves. And, we are happy to be that.


3 Responses

  1. Very well written, but you probably knew that already. 🙂 Best line IMO: That is the true nature of dance: to evoke unexplainable emotion in not only the dancers, but also the observers.

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