In the Brownwood Lionettes workout room Monday afternoon, pre-recorded favorites from the Lions band including "Hey Baby," "Louie Louie," the Lions fight song and the Brownwood High School alma mater played over a sound system.
As the music played, about two dozen young women performed sharp, precise dance moves, turning one way and another, heads, arms and feet in almost constant motion.
The Lionettes dance team is preparing for a new season.
After starting practices last week, the Lionettes were having their first practice Monday that involved nearly the entire 25-member team.
Lionettes director Stacee Hetzel and assistant Bethany Pittman called out commands as the team danced.
"Get ready for the fight song. … "close … close … down-up-down … right … .left … ready … up … … up … right-right … now listen …. step-close step-close step-close … get ready … "
Hetzel, who is in her 15th year as the Lionettes director, explained the meaning of the "close … close" command.
"They forget to close their feet — stepping together with no gap in between feet," Hetzel said.
"A lot of it is, we’ll try to call out something right before it’s going to happen, like if it’s a diagonal or look or point your toe. Just small details of the dance to try to keep them on beat and on step. Or we would just be counting. It’s not just a dance. It needs to be clean and precise."
This year’s Lionettes consist of 16 veterans and nine newcomers. Officers are:
• Captain — senior Page Boyd
• Co-captains — senior Carlee Richardson and junior Brianna Garcia
• Lieutenant — sophomore Jensyn Evans
The Lionettes were going to be learning their first their first actual half-time routine to the song "Wipeout" beginning Tuesday.
"This is the first time the group’s really been together as a whole," Hetzel said of Monday’s practice. "We didn’t get to go to camp. We didn’t get to do Little Lionette camp. A lot of those things that we’ve done normally — so the girls could kind of get to know each other — we haven’t been able to do.
"So this week, really, all we’re looking for is them getting to know each other, getting comfortable with each other — put them together as a team."
Pittman, a former Lionette and 2015 graduate of Brownwood High School, helped Hetzel with the Lionettes for the last two years as a volunteer. This year, she’ll be a classroom teacher for the first time, teaching communications — and continuing to help with her beloved Lionettes.
Pittman, who has known Hetzel since she was 9, graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in communications and an emphasis in advertising.
She became a teacher through alternative certification.
"I’m so excited," Pittman said of her first teaching job. "It’s really special to be teaching at my alma mater."
The goal is for Pittman to take over some day — soon, probably — as the Lionettes director.
"Potentially this could be my last full year," Hetzel said. "Maybe the next year or two, I will step down and be her assistant, and she will take over. I’ll be the assistant."
The two women talked about the impact the pandemic is having on the dance team’s activities, including preventing them from going to camp and having Little Lionettes camp.
For tryouts, "everything had to be uploaded video and then we had one day where we could do tryouts," Hetzel said. "They could only come two at a time. They walked in, stood at separate sides, did their part and left."
Pittman said, "at first we were kind of worried but then they slowly started showing they knew that they could learn off a video."
Hetzel said the UIL wants the dance teams to avoid "connecting" — for example, to refran from placing their arms on each other’s shoulders during a kick line.
"One thing we talked about when we met with officers last week is utilizing as many props as possible to make the dances visual, without having to connect," Hetzel said. "So we’re going to try some different stuff, maybe some streamers."
The Lionettes and the band will be seated in chairs on the track, except for the halftime performances, rather than their usual places in stadium seats, Hetzel said.
"We were told we weren’t going to travel, now we are told we will get to travel," Hetzel said.
The Lionettes are subject to COVID screenings before any team activites, Hetzel said.
"We’re going to do our best to stay on top of it, but my big thing, as a teacher — I’m just ready to get back in my classroom and have kids sitting in my classroom," Hetzel said.
"And just be as normal as possible and if something happens, we’ll meet it head-on right then and we’ll try to go from there. I can’t live in limbo any more. That was the craziest few months ever. So I’m just ready for kids in my classroom again, I’m ready for them to be dancing again and I know we don’t get to have pep rallies."
Hetzel said the directors have told the Lionettes to "embrace every single week … and who knows, week to week. And that’s what I told my own kid who’s a senior this year," Hetzel said, referring to her daughter CarolAnn. "She’s not upset, she’s handling it real well, but she says ‘it’s not a normal senior year.’
"I said ‘no, it isn’t, but what you’ll do is just take every single day and embrace it and do everything you wanted to do that day and move on.’ That’s how we’ll go forth this whole year. Everything we do is full out, every week. Every opportunity we can we’re going to take it because I don’t know what’s going to happen."
Hetzel noted that the Lionettes weren’t able to have their annual Spring Show in the last school year.
"Will we get to have it this year? Who knows," Hetzel said. "I’m ready for normalcy. I want normal back. If there is something we get invited to, we’re going to do it."
Lionette Alyssa Cantwell, a junior, dances with other Lionettes Monday in the team’s workout room. [Photo by Steve Nash]