With all of the new changes that will inevitably shape this year’s football season, the Penn State Lionettes Dance Team is trying to adjust and keep things in perspective.
Captain Nicole Symeonides (senior-public relations) has been on the dance team for four years and has danced since she was two years old. She said that the only aspect that will change for her team this year is their schedule and the addition of six new members.
“We’re going about our usual thing — the situation hasn’t changed us. We just go along with what we have to do,” she said.
But she also noted that for the past four years seniors have gotten the chance to go to a bowl game — an opportunity that will not be available this year.
But Symeonides does not let that get her down.
“It’s OK,” she said. “We make the most of it. We’re still happy.”
The 2012-13 Lionettes squad is made up of 27 girls who practice a minimum of 12 hours per week. They can be seen dancing at football games, men’s and women’s basketball games, wrestling matches, men’s and women’s soccer games and at women’s volleyball games. But what most people do not know is that the team lacks a coach.
The team has an adviser, Sue Sherburne, but the girls on the team do the choreography and make up practice schedules, Symeonides said.
Everyone, except the freshmen, is involved in coming up with the routines. “Together we lead the team,” Symeonides said. “It’s all student-based and student run.”
The girls won their first national championship last April. Captain Sara Leary was on the team when they won.
“Coming off the win last year, it’s always a lot of stress and pressure but I think our team this year has really taken that in a positive light and really are going to use it as motivation to push forward,” Leary (junior-integrative arts and advertising) said.
The team aims to keep themselves the same despite all of the university’s changes.
“We’ve always had strong morals. We want to be role models for the university in the coming season and always,” Leary said.
Symeonides said she is excited and confident in the group this year and is looking forward to seeing the outcome of the fan-base.
Captain Melissa Diehl (senior-marketing) described what it is like on the field in Beaver Stadium.
“You step out there and literally the field shakes when you’re on it and you can’t stop smiling. We have to smile because we’re performing but it’s not difficult,” Diehl said. “Smiling for three hours is so easy because it’s just insane and you have chills the entire time.”
But what Diehl and the other captains are really excited about is their only huge change this semester — the addition of six new team members.
The new girls do not get to perform in the first two games of the season, but that does not stop their excitement for this weekend.
Meet the New Members:
Brooke Piccione said this year of football is going to be unlike any other. Piccione (sophomore - public relations) said she joined the squad because she always looked up to the team and sees them as “the most amazingly talented group of girls.”
“We’ve become friends so fast,” she said. “I’m really excited to see the field dance at the game — that’s when the attention is on the team.”
Most of the girls were very emotional the first time they were on the field and Piccione does not think she’ll stray from that. “I’m just going to cry, just to be out there with [all of the] other people cheering for Penn State,” she said.
Much like the other girls, Piccione wants the community to know that she is thankful for their continued support and for supporting the athletics through everything this year.
“It’s really important to us to keep everyone’s heads held high and be the most spirited team that we can be,” Piccione said.
Alicia Popescu has been dancing since the age of five and decided to try out for the Lionettes when she first saw them perform on the field.
But what Popescu (sophomore -marketing and media studies) wants the community to know is that the dance team is about much more than dancing — they’re about the community. This week, for example, the team helped at the Penn State Bookstore amidst all the move-in congestion.
“We’re more than a dance team, we’re ambassadors for the school and are role models. That’s something I took away from the first week at pre-camp. I want to be a better person — a better girl — just to represent the team and set a good image,” she said.
Popescu is also involved in a business fraternity and wants to go into the music industry, whether in entertainment or marketing
“All I’ve felt is positivity,” she said of her return to Happy Valley. “Everyone is in the same boat here.”
Starting her dancing career 16 years ago, Angela Connors finds her motivation from the Penn State community.
“It’s a really cool thing I get to do,” Connors (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) said. “It’s not what I expected, but I can’t wait for this weekend and to see what everyone is talking about.”
She is most excited to see how the fans come together after the past year and is eager to see how people react to the team.
“You’re dancing with your best friends. We work really hard to look great all the time and have fun,” Connors said. “We want to show everyone that we’re just having a great time doing it.”
Connors is currently pursuing a career in the medical field and hopes to dance for most of her life, she said.
Jessica Spellman (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) has been involved with the dance team since sixth grade but defines this year’s Lionettes as an amazing team.
“I came to a clinic in April and saw the unity in the team,” she said. “All the girls are super friendly. It felt like a place I would belong.”
Unlike her teammates, Spellman didn’t want to go to Penn State at first — her mother was the one to send in her application. Yet, once she went on a tour of the campus, she knew she wanted to attend, due to the sense of community, she said.
“As a freshmen, I’m obviously confused as to what we’re facing as a dance team but I want to be there not only for my team but for the community,” Spellman said.
Though the members can’t dance on the field this weekend, the girls have been involved in “Be a Part from the Start,” and Spellman said she couldn’t be happier.
Spellman wants to continue dancing, and is currently looking into a career in psychology and wants to work with kids.
Spellman said she is most excited to see the atmosphere of everything at the game.
“I don’t know what to expect, but I’m pretty sure I’ll cry,” she said.
Katie Shearin said being on the Lionettes is everything she expected it to be and more.
“We’re very busy. We do a lot of things not just for ourselves,” Shearin (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) said. “It’s very time consuming but definitely worth it.”
Shearin, who went to summer session at Penn State and lived in the same building as the freshmen football players, has a different perspective of the players she will be dancing amongst.
“I got to know them really well and it was really cool to see that, despite what was going on, they were sticking together,” she said. “They [know] that it’s going to be rough but they’re going to push through it to prove to everyone else who they are and what they’re all about.”
Shearin hopes to go into public relations or marketing one day and wants to continue to dance in the future.
“There’s no other place I could see myself other than here. I fell in love with it so fast,” Shearin said.
Amy Doering first heard about the Lionettes from a current member and after hearing about her experiences decided to join the team.
Doering (freshman-division of undergraduate studies), who began dancing 15 years ago, said being on the Lionettes has really shaped her college experience thus far.
“I’ve been here for not even a week but I feel like I’ve been here for a month because I’m so involved through the dance team,” she said.
This weekend marks her first Penn State football game, and she remains “extremely excited.”
“This game will be really emotional for all the students and the alumni. The players especially are going to go out there and prove to everyone that Penn State is still Penn State,” Doering said.
It is the main goal of the new Lionette members to keep a positive image and to be a role model for fellow students.
“It’s a big year,” Doering said. “A lot of people have their eyes on us and I’m so excited to be apart of it.”
A Captain’s Perspective
Diehl is excited about the new team members and said the new girls blended in easily. She called the team smart, beautiful and independent women, who “aren’t just out there to be pretty.”
Dance, Diehl said, is not always considered a sport. “I don’t really consider it one, I consider it an art form, but this dance team is a sport,” she said.
“We have set training hours that we come to. We lift. We run. We practice at least 12 hours a week, and we dance like crazy,” she said.
Alumni of the Lionettes Dance Team have gone on to be teachers, members of Wall Street, and have obtained many other careers. One Lionette alumna is currently involved with “Teach for America.”
That is the image Diehl and the other captains want to portray.
“There’s so much negativity surrounding the school. Our team was going through this last year but we won a National Championship amidst it all,” Diehl said. “We’re using that as a positive and we’re really boosting the fact that we are a spirit squad. We want to bring a positive atmosphere back to Penn State.”