Team Feature: Barrington
Do it for Beyoncé! The Broncettes Dance Team are a fun blend of goofy yet thoughtful
by Norm Ramil / 8ca.team.leader & dance.fan
Most people call it Lake-Cook Road, but Barrington residents call the part that runs through their town Main Street. Just west of downtown is the huge campus of Barrington High School, home to about 3,000 kids. You know you’re in a classy place when one part of the building’s outside wall is labeled the “Natatorium,” the Latin word for a building with a swimming pool.
The school got some late-2000s national attention courtesy of pop-punk band The Academy Is. They named their 3rd major-label album Fast Times At Barrington High, a play on the title of one of the greatest movies of the ’80s (the album hit #17 on the Billboard album chart and also spawned a minor pop radio hit, “About A Girl”).
Schools with horsey-type mascots have a specific challenge when it comes to naming their dance teams. Barrington solves it by turning their Broncos into Broncettes. Over the years I’ve found the Broncettes working in an upstairs wrestling gym, the cafeteria, and even at a nearby church gym. Today’s my first time seeing the team actually practicing on their home court.
Actually, we’re not really on the home court—that’s basketball’s domain during these winter break afternoons. I find the Broncettes gathered in the back of the gym in a curtained-off section. This part of the gym even has a different floor, so it’s got more of a fieldhouse feel instead of a performance floor. I’m not complaining, though, because there’s a sweet rock-climbing wall off to the side, and the windows let in the light of an early-January afternoon that’s trying to decide between clouds and sun. Besides a really loud air vent and the persistent dribbling in the background, this makes for a pretty good spot to start the final sprint toward sectionals.
All nineteen varsity dancers are here for this winter break practice, and eight of them are back from last year’s varsity. These jazz and lyrical specialists are led by eight seniors. Completing the roster full of experts in leaps, pirouettes, and capezios are six juniors and five sophomores.
But in this sport, you need to pair your elite skills with some mad conditioning. So the Broncettes start off this afternoon with a long, long warm-up routine led by Coach Kristin DiGilio.
It’s more of a full-on workout than anything meant to just get the muscles activated. Coach leads her team in jumping jacks and a set of cardio moves to a pretty fast (145 beats per minute) Ben Rector song. She next calls out for ten pushups at half-speed that lead right into their plank. T-Pain’s “Church” serves as the soundtrack to the next section. While the girls have plenty of energy to laugh and chitchat, watching this intense workout has me regretting what I’ve eaten since Christmas Eve. Up next is a Jay Fay’s “Dibby Dibby” at a “moombahton” tempo of 112 BPM. The Broncettes get a tiny break before the next song (“Me Too” by Meghan Trainor) accompanies more plank movements.
Coach DiGilio shifts to the back of the formation and lets her captains lead the actual stretching. Thirty-five minutes into this workout, the dancers are planking again, and they hold it for what seems like forever. They even hang onto it long after the song ends (silence usually signals that it’s time to chill, but not for these dancers). When they’re finally done, the girls head to their bags to change into jazz shoes while I try to understand why no one looks exhausted.
DiGilio starts the music so that everyone can check spacing before the team does a full run-through of their sassy lyrical to the classic soul ballad “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” It’s a classic ‘60s r&b song that’s best counted in sixes, not eights (music geeks would point out that the time signature is probably 12/8, hence counting in sixes). Once the song ends the Broncettes hold their final formation while Coach DiGillio walks through it, checking spacing again. One section of the dance needs some work, so the main group focuses on how to maintain their spacing during the parts where the formation shifts with the music. Luckily, the Broncettes have a ton of colored floor lines to help figure this out.
In the meantime, the group that’s not involved heads to the side and breaks out their foam muscle-rollers—but they keep an eye on the rest of the team and throw some opinions and feedback their way.
This team collaborates well. Lots of ideas are tried out and rejected as they try to make the smaller groups that expand outward from the middle look more distinct. I pick up on the Barrington polish: smart, poised, and focused kids putting their athletic and mental gifts to work. The process would be a boring grind to another kind of team, but these Broncettes go at their problem head-on and without complaints.
One of the solutions seems to be working, so just to make sure, they count it out a few times to see if everyone can get to their spots in time. Then they check it with music.
During a water break, Coach DiGilio hypes the upcoming show: JV’s coming over to varsity to demo their dance one last time before their final competition this weekend. Varsity sits, lined up, while the JV dancers take the floor. The experienced Broncettes support their JV with cheers aimed at the whole team and also individual girls. I’m pretty impressed—I can totally see the emerging talent that’s not too far off of varsity-level. I even spot more than a few JV team members who would add a lot to varsity teams at other schools.
Afterwards both teams gather around Coach DiGilio and JV Coach Jen Benson for a quick meeting. All the girls get an info sheet for this Saturday’s comp at Rolling Meadows. They review the checklist for the day, and DiGilio puts some extra emphasis on the early bus time.
With JV done for the day, Varsity gets back to work. DiGilio has her Broncettes run “Natural Woman” from the top, and this time those small groups expand outward toward the corners and get there looking clean and distinct. It’s a quiet little victory that took most of an hour to solve, but it’s definitely going to tilt their point total upward.
But that’s just one section. Another part of the dance has some big question marks because its choreo is on the newer side. Coach DiGilio makes sure the girls review it; a couple girls even demo it just to make sure all Broncettes are on the same page. A captain takes her turning group off to the side while Coach DiGilio works with the left half of the formation. For the turning group, the key is the plié at the exact right time, and they focus heavily on those counts.
In the meantime, I spot the alternates working in the back corner and notice that they look super legit (there’s not a weak link on this roster). A turned ankle, a sketchy meal, getting sneezed on, a disastrous final exam—whatever happens, I’m feeling varsity will be ok with these backups.
I love the musicality here. I’m impressed that the girls have also picked up on the shuffled “AND” counts, not just the sixes feel. And here and there, they count by threes (not sixes) because some moments in their choreography call for that kind of detail. It’s like the Broncettes and their coach know that you can’t paint a musical picture with just one size of brush!
OK, so they’re musically-informed, well-conditioned, and efficient collaborators. But the Broncettes are also an upbeat group. “We have lots of fun and quirky personalities. These girls love to laugh and have a good time,” writes DiGilio.
Dancers who hope to wear the Broncettes uniform need to display triples and a la secondes at tryouts. All types of leaps, spinning discs, capezios, splits, leg grab holds & turns, and a positive attitude are all required!
So where does a future Broncette pick up these skills? The list of studios that these dancers have studied at is long, so just imagine what it’s like to integrate all of the little variations in technique that come from so many studios. There’s The Dance Loft, Trilogy, The Dance Project, Lisa’s School Of Dance, Dance Motions, Denise Sabala’s, and Midwest Dance Collective. A few Broncettes danced on the two middle school teams that feed into Barrington High School.
Coach DiGilio tells me “they’re encouraged but not required to continue taking studio outside of dance team.” Much of the Broncette roster is involved with the BHS Orchesis Company, “so we alternate practice days with that program in the fall.” But when the competition calendar takes full effect, it’s all dance team for these girls.
The BHS dancers keep busy during the summer with team technique practices. They also cultivate their physical and mental toughness with a Battle Tested team-building event, which nicely complements their zumba and yoga classes. Of course there’s the trip to UDA camp, also.
Fundraising starts with selling cookie dough and other goodies at the start of the season. The team works to run their sponsorship program throughout the summer and fall, enlisting local Barrington businesses to help out with team costs.
DiGilio’s coaching philosophy comes into play in terms of building her team. The girls build a tight bond with activities like team pasta parties and volunteering for Feed My Starving Children. “It’s about having fun, making memories, and creating lasting friendships. We spend so much time together that we truly become a family.” This includes both varsity and JV. “We assign big and little sisters across teams, which encourages team bonding. Throughout summer and fall we always practice together. Once competition season begins, practice spaces are very limited so we are not able to spend as much practice time together.”
I can vouch for the tightness of the whole program: when JV performed for varsity at today’s practice, the older dancers gave plenty of personalized, individual support to their JV counterparts. And I saw it again at the Mid Suburban League conference competition a few days later, when the JV girls and Coach Benson made the trip to Rolling Meadows High School to loudly support their varsity. Coach DiGilio adds, “Age doesn’t matter on this team—we are all a family!”
Coach DiGilio danced on Crystal Lake South’s varsity pom team for four years (class of ’07), back during a very good stretch for that program. She ran the JV team at Barrington for a couple years before moving to Varsity, where it’s her second year coaching. She’s got the perfect academic profile for these dancers: a U of I-trained math teacher with an analytical mind and a light approach to correcting her team. The calculating side of this math teacher popped up immediately when I showed up at practice. One of her first comments? “We’re trying to decide which routine to perform first at [the next competition] to see how it affects scoring.”
Coach Jen Benson leads the seventeen-member JV Broncettes. The well-liked coach and district staffer works with a good group of JV kids, whom I got to meet in the bleachers a few days later at the Rolling Meadows comp (and then again at the conference comp at RMHS a couple days after that). I got the sense that these polite, friendly, and mature JV dancers are going to make a definite impact when all those varsity seniors depart.
Seniors and juniors look back on their UDA camp notes to come up with four or five football routines. The Broncette captains design the hip hop pep rally routine. Outside choreographers handle their two competition dances.
Dance #2 for this afternoon’s practice nicely coincides with the opening up of the next section over, the one just behind the divider. The varsity Broncettes pack up their gear and I wrap up the long extension cord on its spool. We wait around for a couple extra minutes while the next-door basketball team grabs their stuff, and I’ve got a few extra moments to compliment Coach DiGilio on being part of those amazing Crystal Lake South teams about a decade ago.
Once we again unwind the extension cord to feed power to the bluetooth speaker, it’s time for “Run Boy, Run,” the Broncettes’ intense, modern jazz routine. One girl wonders out loud, “What if we brought a hip hop routine to conference?”
By 1:57, the team’s running it full-out just to see where it is. One senior has the energy to yell out (in the middle of a combo), “You got this!” Another dancer calls out, “Point your feet!” A short workshop session follows, and then they go by groups. DiGilio has the middle group sit and watch both outer groups who are having a little trouble on a quick movement while down on the floor. It hits on “and-one,” so that count gets yelled out loud several times. And-one! I can imagine the basketball team on the other side of the screen thinking the Broncettes are playing a pickup half-court game, with one of them getting fouled on a layup.
Another part of the dance needs attention, so again the Broncettes split into groups. The lead captain’s in one group that’s being cleaned by DiGilio, so the other group manages to workshop on their own. Coach takes video of her group doing it full-out, and then these dancers circle around the phone to watch and critique themselves.
The Barrington Broncettes have been a top 5 IHSA state team for much of that series’ short existence, but came up short of qualifying this year at a very difficult sectional. I was a few yards away at floor level as those 3A qualifiers got listed, minus a hard-working and talented Barrington team. The scene of disappointment–the hugs, the tears, the looks on faces that read, “That score isn’t us, we’re more than that”– was something I won’t forget.
But I also won’t forget how, just a couple weeks before, this team won the Mid Suburban League championship, beating some very talented teams on a cold Monday night in Rolling Meadows. And I also remember rushing to last year’s conference competition and being just in time for awards, and the surprise I felt when I heard those ’15-’16 Broncettes call me out by name. And the pleasure of watching them as they learned they’d won the MSL conference title. That team went on to finish 4th on Day 2 of IHSA state.
Barrington Broncettes State History
(8 Count Audio routines marked with ***)
- 1996 IDTA 3rd in AAA Pom
- 1997 IDTA 4th in AAA Pom
- 1998 IDTA 3rd in AAA Pom
- 1999 IDTA 4th in AAA Pom
- 2002 IDTA 5th in AAA Pom
- 2005 IDTA 4th in AAA Hip Hop***
- 2005 IDTA 3rd in AAA Dance***
- 2006 IDTA AAA Pom Dance Champions***
- 2006 IDTA AAA Dance Champions***
- 2007 TDI 2nd in AAA Hip Hop
- 2007 TDI 3rd in AAA Lyrical
- 2008 TDI 3rd in AAA Hip Hop
- 2008 TDI 5th in AAA Open Dance
- 2008 TDI 5th in AAA Lyrical
- 2009 TDI 3rd in AAA Open Dance***
- 2009 TDI 2nd in AAA Open Pom***
- 2010 TDI AAA Open Pom Champions***
- 2010 TDI 5th in AAA Open Dance
- 2011 TDI 2nd in AAA Open Pom
- 2011 TDI 5th in AAA Open Dance
- 2012 TDI 2nd in 4A Open Pom
- 2012 TDI 4A Open Dance Champions
- 2014 IHSA 2nd in 3A
- 2015 IHSA 5th in 3A
- 2016 IHSA 4th in 3A
Practice ends and the varsity Broncettes are free to head out into the winter afternoon. I get to talk with the seniors (see below), and I leave thinking about how these kids don’t seem to take things for granted. It’s a school of high achievers, students whose families (for the most part) have the resources that let them pursue their passions. The alumni list from BHS is full of pro athletes, politicians, actors, and musicians, all from a town of just 11,000. It’s got the 29th wealthiest zip code in the United States.
But for all that, there’s the talent and drive that you need for success. Or at least to give yourself the chance of succeeding. “We can only control our team and the effort we put forth on that floor,” writes Coach DiGilio, herself the veteran of some intense competitions and rivalries as a member of her own poms team.
I don’t know if the team’s ever conquered that rock wall in the back of the BHS gym, but something tells me they sure could if they wanted to.
A 3-minute interview with all 8 seniors
From left to right, I got to chat with Kayla, Sarah, Kate, Caroline, Alex, Natalie, Kelsey, and Kylie.
Which studios have you danced at and what did you study there?
Kayla: I danced at Dance Motions basically my whole life. I studied hip hop, ballet, jazz, lyrical, modern, and that’s about it.
Sarah: I went to a park district and I focused on jazz and a lot of pom.
Kate: I danced at Bataille [Academie of the Danse] and I did jazz, lyrical, ballet, and then company.
Caroline: I’ve been dancing at Bataille since I was 2 years old, so basically all my life. I’ve studied pretty much every style of dance, but [during] my high school career, I’ve been just doing ballet, jazz, and lyrical.
Alex: I’ve danced at Dance Project and then Bataille. I’ve studied hip hop, jazz, lyrical, and ballet.
Natalie: I’ve been dancing at Bataille. I’ve studied ballet, jazz, contemporary, and pointe.
Kelsey: I used to dance at The Dance Project but now I’m at Bataille and I’ve taken acro, ballet, jazz, and lyrical.
Kylie: I also danced at Bataille and I studied acro, lyrical, ballet, and jazz.
What’s your personal favorite style of dance?
Coach DiGilio: I like jazz probably the best, and I do love hip hop, but we don’t always do that. [someone off camera says, “Show us a move, coach!”]
Kayla: I like sassy jazz, and more fierce jazz.
Sarah: I agree with Kayla, and also pom.
Kate: I would say lyrical.
Alex: I like intense jazz or hip hop.
Natalie: Either intense jazz or contemporary.
Kelsey: Jazz (snaps her fingers).
Kylie: Either intense jazz or lyrical.
What’s been the best part of your season so far?
Sarah: Pasta parties!
Caroline: Kind of like bonding as a team. I feel like this team has been really cohesive and we work together well. We try to help each other when we need it.
Kayla: I think the most recent practice with…when Ms. ___ came in, that was probably one of my favorite memories so far.
Kelsey: And how the age from both teams, like JV and varsity, [doesn’t matter]. Seniors hang out with freshmen even outside of dance, so I think it’s pretty cool.
What are some traditions you guys have on competition days?
Kelsey: We’re all in a circle, and the captains give a little speech, and then we do a hip bump around the circle, and we have a little chant. And we always say, “Do it for…” something. “Do it for Coach,” “Do it for Craig, Coach’s boyfriend,” “Do it for each other”…it’s random.
Kelsey: Oh, I’m sorry, fiancé. I thought you said Beyoncé…like, “Do it for Beyoncé!”
What are some teams you guys admire?
[Others call out]: Lake Zurich, South Elgin.
[Interesting note: these three schools happen to match what Coach DiGilio wrote to me in an email when I asked her that same question. In other words, this team and their coach are on the same page when looking at the competition out there!]