Dedication, leadership ability and, of course, dance skills are all qualities the Apache Belles require for each member to have on their team and this year is no different. Even though they only get the privilege of being a Belle for two years, the pride and honor is something that will last them a lifetime.
“Being an Apache Belle is so much bigger than the short two years of your life that you spend training and preforming. It’s a part of being a legacy,” said Jasilyn Schaefer, Apache Belles director, “Linking yourself to the years before you and forever linking yourself to those that come after you.”
The Apache Belles are no secret to Tyler Junior College. The internationally famous dance team will be celebrating it’s 65th year as one of TJC’s legendary traditions. The Belles will continue traditions o
f their own this year including preforming at home football games, and dancing and entertaining during Tyler’s Texas Rose Festival Coronation on Oct. 19, 2012.
Outside of dance, the girls are held to a very high standard as representatives of their school.
“We want to represent our school in respectful, educated, and a high standard kind of way. We are like ambassadors to TJC,” said returning Belle Rebecca Barnell.
There are even higher expectations for the returning Sophomore Belles.
“We say in Apache Belles that your freshman year is your learning year and sophomore year is your leading year,” said Schaefer.
The sophomores hold themselves accountable to being leaders to the freshmen as well as holding high standards for their own reputation.
“We definitely set the example for the freshmen and kind of teach them the way a Belle is supposed to act and how they are supposed to be on and off the field,” said Sophomore Belle Michaela DiFonzo.
The Belles keep themselves busy all year round. During the fall semester they will preform at the home football games and some away games. Later in the semester they will host their Belle Babes workshop on Sept. 15. In October, they will lead the Rose Festival Parade with the Apache Band, which has been a tradition since the 1960s and 70s. Mid spring semester the Belles will have the opportunity to preform at two military bases in Japan for U.S stationed troops and visit Tyler’s Sister City Yachiyo. The officer Belles will get to perform with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders on a cruise ship hosted by Spirit Celebration. To see more Apache Belle events and dates visit their website ApacheBelles.com.
“It is exciting to have the privilege of taking the name and honor of the Tyler Junior College and the Apache Nation all over the state, nation and the world,” said Schaefer.
Outside of the busy dancing schedule, the Belles are fulltime students and have to maintain a high GPA both semesters. It can be hard to balance the two, but the team’s hard work pays off.
“Yes, it’s very difficult. But you just have to be very dedicated to be on the team. Once you’re on the team, you really have to devote all your time for the next two years, which I am ok with. I enjoy it,” said Barnell.
“It’s definitely a challenge because you have to keep up with your school work and make sure you go to all your classes and do all your homework. On top of that, you have practices and some times late practices and you can get tired, but Mrs. Shaefer definitely makes sure that we are on top of our school work and everything,” said DiFonzo.
Being an Apache Belle opens up many opportunities to travel, make long lasting friends, and be a part of an internationally famous dance team. Many Alumni Belles remember their years at TJC and are honored and proud to call themselves former Belles.
“A year or two ago, I saw them [Apache Belles] on TV and it just made me feel excited, you know? It made me remember the years I was there and makes me feel proud that I was a part of it. It’s just some of my greatest memories,” Debbie Kader, former Apache Belle (’72-’74), said.
The standard that the Belles and their directors hold has consistency through the decades.
“We had three-a-days and it was hard work trying out. Our choreographer Al [Gilliam] would cut you down if you weren’t doing right. So you needed to have the physical part of it but you also had to have the courage to take disappointment when the director or choreographer corrected you. It was only because they wanted you to get better,” said Kader.
Kader went on to work for the state of Texas and later returned to Tyler and worked for Al Gilliam, who was the former choreographer for the Belles and also a director in the TJC Theatre department.
“This year the Apache Belles will celebrate their 65th anniversary and will continue the legacy of excellence displayed by the preceding years,” Shaefer said.
To see more Apache Belle events and dates visit their website ApacheBelles.com.