Hazel Park Vikettes Keep 60 Year Tradition Alive

Hazel Park Vikettes Keep 60 Year Tradition Alive

(Cheryl Weiss, Nov 19, 2017)

Hazel Park, MI – How do you keep a sixty-year school and community tradition going?  In Hazel Park, the Vikettes high school dance team, reported to be the oldest dance team in Michigan, have done it by creating a close-knit community based on dedication, passion, and professionalism that becomes a second family for kids, their families, the coach, and the director.

The Vikettes dance team is more than an extra-curricular activity; it is a tradition, a commitment, and a passion for each member.  This year, as they celebrate their 60th anniversary and reflect on their past, present, and future, they shared their experiences and thoughts about what being a Vikette means to them.

This year’s team is small, just eight members, at least until tryouts in April, but most have been dancing for years.  Team Captain, Faith Laframboise, has been dancing “forever”, she said.  She is a high school junior and has been dancing for eleven years now. Freshman Rebecca Adkins has also been dancing for eleven years, and has been on the team for two years. Kayla Alkatib has been dancing since second grade and she is a ninth grader.  Senior Kaitlyn Anderson has been dancing for a year and a half, and this is her first year on the team.  Freshman Aaliyah Dean has been dancing for four years, and this is her second year on the team.  Jacy Hammonds, also a freshman, has been dancing for seven years, and this is her fifth year on the team.  Aleana Kosheba, another freshman, has been on the team for three years, and she has been dancing for four years now.  Finally, freshman Liyah Wilson has spent the last seven years dancing and on the team.

Hazel Park’s dance team program begins with the Starlettes, a team for kids in first through third grades.  When they enter fourth grade, they can join the Hazelettes until they complete fifth grade.  At sixth grade, they join the Parkerettes until eighth grade.  The Vikettes are high school students.

Kayla Hendrickson is the Coach of the Vikettes.  She has been a part of the Hazel Park Dance teams since she was in the fifth grade, and she has been coaching since she was nineteen years old.

Shannon Strong-Jones, in her first year as Director of the Vikettes, also grew up on the teams; she was a part of the dance team program for nine years.

The Vikettes have a busy performance schedule.  They perform for varsity football games, varsity basketball games, and pep rallies at school.  In addition, they participate in eight dance competitions annually, which include traveling to Saginaw, Ohio, the University of Michigan, and Ortonville.  To prepare for this, they practice every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evening for three hours and every Saturday for two hours.  If players are injured, they still are required to attend practices and watch.

When asked why they chose to be a Vikette, Alkatib said, ‘I’ve been passionate about it since I was little.”  Since the Vikettes are a Hazel Park tradition, little girls grow up watching their sisters, friends, and neighbors perform at events, and they often know that they want to dance with the Vikettes one day too.

For Kosheba, it’s about the team bonding, the togetherness they share.  “It’s like having another family,” she said.  They practice long hours together, they travel together, and they spend more time with each other than with other friends, and sometimes more than their own families.   Director Strong-Jones agreed.  “There is so much team bonding,” she stated.  It’s not always just practice and competitions; they go to waterparks and attend other fun events together that are not necessarily dance activities.  Even at practices, they have an 8:00 Oreo break, and enjoy a snack together. 

Laframboise, the team captain, shared, “It’s fun to see it click, and to see them ready to perform.” In her years with the team, she has seen other team members come and go, and looks forward to tryouts in April; hopefully they will welcome more Vikettes to the team in the spring.  Wilson, another veteran member shared, “It’s fun to watch the kids grow up.”

Being a Vikette requires commitment, dedication, and a lot of organization as well as discipline.  Strong-Jones and Hendrickson ask that dance is the number one priority for the teens.  They must keep their grades up. And they do; all Vikettes are honor roll students and most of them have straight A’s.  Some of the dancers are also in other sports or activities.  For example, Kosheba and Wilson are on the volleyball team.  Adkins and Dean are in band.  Alkatib is on the soccer team and Hammonds runs cross country.   When asked how they manage to do everything: keep up with schoolwork, other activities, dance, and spend time with friends and family, Wilson said, “You get used to the schedule after a while.   You have to manage your time wisely.  Enjoy the time off!”  Laframboise said, “Sometimes you have to decide to not go to a game and get work done.”  This takes maturity and discipline, and learning to manage your time and your responsibilities is often a lesson learned in college.  For the Vikettes, it’s a part of their lives, something they have integrated into their routines as early as freshman year.  Clearly, they are successful, mature, responsible young women.

It’s not just about the school year, however.  According to Strong-Jones, this is one of the only programs that go all year, including all summer.  While everyone else is enjoying summer vacation, the Vikettes are hard at work on new routines and practice.  “They have just twelve days off all summer. This is where they spend their time,” she said.

Being a Vikette is hard work, but there are many memorable moments filled with laughter along the way.  When they were asked to share an experience as a Vikette that they will always remember, Strong-Jones immediately exclaimed, “The hip hop dance!”  All the girls laughed as she explained for this dance, they chose a Pied Piper theme and everyone wore silly mouse masks. She has a video of it on her phone. As the video played, comments around the room included, “Best eight seconds EVER!”  and “I watch it over and over all the time!”  Hendrickson said, “As a coach, there is never a dull moment with these kids!”

Wilson shared the time they had a paint fight at camp.  The Hazel Park School District owns Camp Hazel Woods in Holly, and teams go there periodically.  This particular time, everyone was having fun.  They had watered down paint in squirt guns and prepared for a paint fight.  The problem was that they had black shirts, and the paint was so watered down that it didn’t show on the shirts.  Then, they couldn’t get the paint off their skin!  Strong-Jones said, as she laughed, remembering the event, “Epic fail for shirts!”

Hammonds remembered another time they were at Camp Hazel Woods “in the wilderness, and there were bugs!”  She was in the bunk bed, and saw an earwig right there on the bed.  She went on, “I was trying to wake Kayla up!  We had to sleep in champ chairs with hoodies.”

Laframboise related another story the director and coach didn’t know about, when they were away, and everyone brought snacks.  Someone supplied lots of chips and salsa.  Well, Laframboise really loved that salsa.  So much, in fact, that at the end of the evening, she swiped a jar under her shirt to munch on later.  Hendrickson exclaimed, “You stole the salsa?!”  Giggles ensued around the room.

There are challenges for the Vikettes, as with any team.  Injuries happen…hips, knees, back problems, stomach issues, headaches.  Sometimes the girls can’t participate, sometimes they need physical therapy.  Sometimes members decide to leave the Vikettes; two girls quit this season. Laframboise shared that sometimes typical teenage behavior such as clashing of personalities or disagreements can cause drama.   But in the end, it works out. “We’ve all adjusted,” Kosheba said.  They have a team now that is dedicated, committed, and close.  “I’m confident of their abilities as a team,” Hendrickson said.  She continued, “We have ups and downs…this is a team that’s going to compete really well.” Laframboise added her agreement, “We’re a strong team now.”

How did they move through the inevitable drama that occurs to a strong, confident team?  According to Hendrickson and Strong-Jones, in their first year working together, they talk about things as they happen.  Just like any family, there are going to be conflicts occasionally, but they talk about it.  The girls  know they can go to Hendrickson and Strong-Jones anytime they need to talk.  Kosheba said, “We can talk to Kayla and Shannon about everything. There’s no judging.  You don’t have to be scared to go to them about anything.”  All the girls agreed with that; they all know that Strong-Jones and Hendrickson are there for them, always, and it means a lot to have someone like that in their lives.  That trust, that unconditional support makes a difference for the girls.

The 2017-18 Vikettes are continuing a long-standing tradition.  For 60 years, there have been Hazel Park Vikettes.  Many Hazel Parkers remember Flo Crachiola, “Mrs. C.”, the Director of the Vikettes for 38 years. She retired six or seven years ago, but she is still dearly loved and respected.   She instilled the professionalism, commitment, and passion for dance in the Vikettes over the years, according to Hendrikson and Strong-Jones.  They remember that’s what they grew up with as Vikettes, and they would like to see it fully return, as some of that was lost a bit after Mrs. C. retired.  For Strong-Jones, “it’s so important to create professionalism…it’s important to teach the life lessons.”  She tells the girls, “This is your job.”

Although directors may change periodically over the years, the choreography for the fight song has never changed.  At football games, people in the stands who are in their 50’s and 60’s do the routines along with the Vikettes. No matter how many years have passed, they remember.   That’s tradition; that’s what it means to be a Vikette.  It’s not just for high school, or not just a part of childhood; it’s a Hazel Park tradition, and it’s a part of the dancers forever.  There have been many reunions of Vikettes over the years.

The Vikettes also support the younger teams.  At the end of their practice in the evening, they are joined by the Parkerettes (grades six-eight).  As the younger kids came in to show the older kids the routines they’ve been working on, the Vikettes cheer them on.  “Yeah!” they cheer.  “Let’s go!” they exclaim, supporting the Parkerettes  like big sisters cheering on their little sisters.  The Parkerettes already demonstrate professionalism; during their first routine, the radio suddenly died.  They simply kept going, singing and dancing without hardly missing a beat.

What keeps the Vikettes coming back to the team every year?  Kosheba exclaimed, “All of it!” Hammonds shared that she enjoys performing, and the fun they have together.  For Alkatib, it’s competing that she loves.  Laframboise reflected, “We all came here because we love to dance, but we stay because we love this.”

The Director and the Coach stick around as well.  Both Hendrickson and Strong-Jones grew up in Hazel Park Schools and danced from elementary school through high school.  Both moved around a bit, left for a while, and now are back home with the Vikettes.  Looking back on their days with the Vikettes, when the team had 40 members, things have changed some, but they beam with pride at the 2017-18 team.  S  Both Hendrickson and Strong-Jones agree that there is not enough positive press about the wonderful things happening in Hazel Park.  There are great kids in the district, and amazing girls on the Vikettes; they want to be a part of the growth and positivity in the community.  With the energy, optimism, commitment, and dedication this year’s Vikette’s demonstrate, they are setting high standards for the future Vikettes to follow.

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