Going to a declining junior college in the middle of nowhere to be on the top dance team in the nation is not a typical high school senior’s dream.

Waiting until three weeks before college starts to find out where you will be attending college is definitely not what most seniors dream about.

Going through a week of physical and mental suffering is unquestionably not what anyone imagines, but this was my dream, and it was also 105 other girls’ dreams.

It’s a dream called Rangerettes, and it’s been a dream of thousands of girls for 76 years.

Photo Courtesy of Caroline Bentley

Rangerettes was the first dance team ever created and anyone can tell. They are world-famous because of the well-roundedness of the program. Rangerettes are top in the nation for a reason, and girls dream of becoming one for a reason. Once you’re a Rangerette, you’ll always be a Rangerette.

The tryout process for Rangerettes is very different than any other dance team audition. Usually, girls’ hair and makeup are done up (teased with hairspray, fake eyelashes, makeup to the max and bright red lipstick). Tight dance shorts paired with glammed up dance crop tops are usually the preferred attire. For Rangerette auditions, you wear absolutely no makeup with natural, slicked back hair. You wear plain black shorts, a plain black leotard and a laminated sign with your name on it across your chest. It’s the biggest lowering of self-confidence you could do to an 18-year-old girl, but they do it purposely to judge you off of ability rather than appearance.

Photo Courtesy of Caroline Bentley

Looking back, I should have realized that this dance team was not like the rest, but in the greatest way possible. Rangerettes pushes you to a whole new mental and spiritual level during the week-long tryout process. You pride yourself when you succeed and become disappointed when you don’t do your best. But what puts Rangerettes apart from other dance teams is that when you are going through the tryout process, you want every other girl in the room to be able to be a part of such a special team. Every single girl in the room is rooting for you and you are rooting for them.

Then the day finally comes when your future is decided for you. Will you get a spot on the team, or not? They call it sign drop. Each girl auditioning lines up in an auditorium to wait for a sign to — literally — drop from the ceiling. When the sign drops, it has 36 numbers, representing the 36 girls who just made the team.

Photo Courtesy of Caroline Bentley

I was lucky enough to see the number 26, my number, and the number that changed my life. When the sign drops, it comes out of nowhere. Different pitches of screams let out across the stage. Some screams are for good reasons and some are for bad reasons. Once the girls who were not selected to be on the team exit the stage, everything starts going 250 miles per hour — something I would soon learn is the norm in “Retteland.”

Within a matter of one hour, you choose a girl to live with (someone you don’t even know), get fitted for your uniform, receive a binder full of more rules than one can count and finally start to realize this is real life and not just your imagination.

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Photo Courtesy of Caroline Bentley

Once “real life” starts, practice becomes more challenging and free-time turns into a luxury. There are morning workouts, required dance classes, mandatory “on your own” cardio and school (the most important, but often the most forgotten).  There is so much you have to remember. You constantly have to be going over what was cleaned (perfected) during practice the day before, make sure you have all of your practice clothes ready to go and constantly studying the school work that is always present.

Rangerettes do not get the respect they have by doing nothing all day. The first few months, I honestly didn’t understand what the hype was about. I auditioned because they were the best – nothing else really mattered to me. I had a difficult time balancing Rangerettes, school, family and friends, while still staying positive every day.

Photo Courtesy of Caroline Bentley

It took until the end of my first semester to finally get a theoretical face slap and finally understand why so many past, present and future Rangerettes loved this experience. It wasn’t just the shared passion for dancing; it was the environment we as Rangerettes had. We were constantly pushed to be better individuals and athletes. Respect and determination were expected every single day and we learned the value of teamwork, sometimes the hard way. I thought Rangerettes were known worldwide because of their dancing, but I realize now that Rangerettes are known for the respect, drive and pride behind the beautiful shows and performances they bring. The directors, alumni and current Rangerettes expect nothing but the best from every single person, all day, every day.

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Photo Courtesy of Caroline Bentley