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Lionettes Ready To Leap Back Into Beaver Stadium

For many of us, heading back into Beaver Stadium means getting to hang out with 107,000 of our closest friends again. For the Lionettes Dance Team, it means the chance to once again perform in front of 107,000 people.

The Lionettes are one of several dance organizations at Penn State. However, they are the only ones you’ll find in Beaver Stadium every week in the fall and competing against other collegiate dance teams in the winter.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lionettes haven’t been able to show Penn State football fans their skills in almost two years. With the first full-capacity home game since the fall of 2019 quickly approaching, we sat down with the Lionettes captains to see how they’ve been preparing for this season.

Captains Mary Barnes, Kara Manuud, Haley Danielson, and Samantha Torres came to the Lionettes for the same reason: They didn’t want to stop dancing. Though Danielson was raised in a Penn State family and Barnes wanted to attend a larger school, it was each girl’s passion for dancing that led them all to this team.

It’s safe to say that there is never a shortage of dance for the Lionettes. Regardless of the season (besides summer), the team practices four days a week for three hours in addition to completing regular weightlifting. They also attend various performances, appearances, or competitions that might pop up any time during the week.

Penn State fans are probably used to seeing the Lionettes only at football games alongside Penn State cheerleaders. As soon as football season starts to wrap up, the Lionettes gear up for their competitive season, which is why they practice year-round.

Due to the pandemic, only about half of their team members know what it’s like to perform at Beaver Stadium. On its own, this would be daunting enough. However, the Lionettes have also operated without a head coach since May. Julie Berardi, a former Lionette and head coach since 2015, stepped down from her position this past spring.

“We still have a really good relationship with her, and she agreed to help us as much as possible,” Barnes explained.

Berardi was the Lionettes’ first and only head coach. Prior to 2015, the team was independent for more than 20 years. Before Berardi’s hiring, the team brought home first place in the National Dance Alliance College Nationals three years in a row.

The captains mentioned that in the absence of a coach, their responsibilities remain the same as what they would have previously. The only additional work they have had to handle this year are some administrative duties.

Thankfully, the cheerleaders and their assistant coaches, who are very close with the Lionettes, have been a massive help. The spirit director, who oversees both cheerleading and the dance team, continues to work closely with the Lionettes and currently acts as their main leadership figure.

While talking to the Lionettes captains, though, it was clear that the absence of a captain was the least of their worries. They seemed confident for the upcoming weekend and proud of the team that they have.

“Morale is higher than ever,” Torres said. “Everybody is so willing to work every single day they come into practice. We’re just so excited to be back and we’re ready to go out there.”

Danielson notes that the lack of events and activities on campus last year likely sparked the increase in enthusiasm. She added that most members of the Penn State community can identify with the team’s sentiments.

“We never know when it’s going to be our last performance, last game, last practice,” Danielson said. “So, we’re really focused on making the most of every opportunity that we have and bringing the Penn State pride to anything that we can.”

Danielson and Manuud highlighted how close all of the Lionettes have gotten and how that contributes to their success as both individuals and as a team.

Manuud shared a story from over the summer when the team attended the UDA (Universal Dance Association) College Camp at the University of Scranton. Dancers voted for a leadership award described by one question: “If you couldn’t be on your team, which team would you want to be on?” The majority of the dancers, also from other top dance teams around the country, said they’d want to be Lionettes.

“At the end of the day, our job as Lionettes is to represent Penn State to the best of our ability. The fact that we were able to leave the Penn State name there meant everything to us,” shares Danielson.

Looking ahead, the Lionettes are prepared for pretty much anything. When football season wraps up, they will move into their competitive season. And if a head coach comes their way, the team will welcome them with open arms. Until then, Barnes says they are “practicing some extra self-discipline and teamwork to stay sharp for the upcoming season.”

Most importantly, though, we’ll all finally get to see a performance from the Lionettes on Saturday, September 11, in Beaver Stadium when Penn State faces Ball State.

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About the Author

Haylee Yocum

Haylee is a sophomore in the Schreyer Honors College studying immunology and infectious disease. She is from Mifflintown, PA, a tiny town south of State College. She is a coffee addict, loves Taylor Swift, and can't wait to go to a concert again. Any questions can be directed to @hayleeq8 on Twitter or emailed to [email protected]

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