Football is an experience in Texas. It’s about much more than just what happens when the players snap the ball. I mean, what would the Dallas Cowboys be without their cheerleaders? They certainly couldn’t be America’s team without America’s sweethearts, right? And if you’ve ever danced in a drill team or enjoyed the precise high kicks and jump splits of these athletes, then you have the women of Kilgore College to thank.
I traveled to East Texas to pay my respects and visit the official museum of the Kilgore Rangerettes—America’s first precision dance drill team.
After filling my belly with pork ribs at Country Tavern Bar-B-Que, I cruised Kilgore, between Tyler and Longview, and passed the towering oil derricks of the “World’s Richest Acre,” which once held 24 wells on one city block. In the 1930s, Kilgore was the definition of a boomtown.
While football games at Kilgore College were popular, the college’s president became irritated with fans leaving at half time and drinking under the stands. So in 1940 he tasked teacher Gussie Nell Davis with figuring out a way to keep fans in the stands. Her solution was to bring a group of talented dancers onto the field. It launched a multibillion-dollar industry.
I stepped into the Rangerette Showcase and Museum and was immediately impressed with mannequins showcasing the evolution of the uniforms. While the skirts may have been scandalous at the time—they dared to show knees—the uniform is now iconic. I appreciated the short film giving context to the stories and was blown away by the number of photos depicting Rangerettes with celebrities and presidents throughout the decades.
I’ll never think of drill team dancing the same way again. Now to work on my high kick!