Area teens share Super Bowl halftime stage with Beyoncé

Minutes spent on stage in front of millions of viewers Sunday night left a few Baton Rouge teens with eyes “wide open.”

Chosen to perform in a group of dancers backing Beyoncé and her former Destiny’s Child partners during the Super Bowl halftime show in New Orleans, several high school- and college-aged dancers practiced for days to mimic the superstar’s routine while she sang “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” during her 13-minute performance.

“This experience was phenomenal, a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Danielle Stamper, a senior at McKinley High School. “I can’t explain it in words. It still hasn’t hit me. This experience was like an amazing opportunity.”

During the song, a troupe of a few dozen dancers appeared behind singer Beyoncé Knowles and, dressed in short black blazers over leotards with heels that complemented the singers’ outfits, performed along with her. Hundreds of fans, including a few Baton Rouge-area high school and college students, rushed the field to act as fans.

The experience, from the tryouts to the detail-focused practices days before the performance, was something in which the back-up dancers could take pride, said Dominique Zenon, the McKinley High dance team sponsor, who taught two of the girls who danced in the show.

“Even if the cameras didn’t shine directly on them, they were in a national production of the Super Bowl,” Zenon said. “You never forget that.”

Months before the Super Bowl, dancers were asked to email audition videos to the team that planned the halftime extravaganza. Stamper and her friend Brianna O’Rourke, also a senior at McKinley, learned of the audition from another area dancer. Notified they had been chosen for the group, they were invited to a practice, which turned out to be a second audition, O’Rourke said.

The week before Super Bowl Sunday, the dancers received a video of their routine, and they memorized it. When they arrived for rehearsals at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales Thursday, the routine had changed again.

“It was a lot of changing, it was pretty fast that we had to learn everything,” O’Rourke said.

Adapting to changes, Stamper said, is a part of dance.

“If you love dancing and put your mind to it, I’m pretty sure you could do anything that’s thrown at you,” she said.

During the rehearsals, O’Rourke and Stamper were impressed with Beyoncé. They wore earphones so they could hear everything Beyoncé said before and after the show, Zenon said.

“Every time we saw her she was flawless in her singing and performing,” O’Rourke said. “She was very, very nice and humble, and we were a little surprised. We didn’t expect her to be rude, but she was so nice, it blew us away.”

Once the show began, the dancers said they were nervous, and the performance seemed extremely fast-paced. Hundreds of workers built the stage in minutes, and pre-selected fans rushed the field to cheer during the performance. The fans practiced their cheers and excited dancing during rehearsals.

“I didn’t really have to practice,” said Alyssa Henderson, a sophomore at Episcopal High School in Baton Rouge who was chosen through her dance class to act as a fan. “I was already pretty excited.”

Beyoncé sang four songs before the back-up dancers joined her.

All the dancers could see were lights, Stamper said, so the packed Superdome audience didn’t add to her anxiety.

“There were so many people. It was breathtaking,” Stamper said. “Once the show started, it was like, ‘Oh my God. Let me get ready. Let me remember the choreography.’ You don’t want to get in front of millions of people and screw up. That would be terrible.”

While the television camera focused on Beyoncé, the dance troupe behind her could be seen performing in near-perfect concert with the star. The minutes on stage ended too soon, Stamper said.

“Once you got off stage you were so relieved because all the hard work and dedication that you put into this finally paid off,” she said.

Zenon said both Stamper and O’Rourke “came back with their eyes wide open” from the dance experience. Both said the performance encouraged them to try dance as a career.

“I never thought of dance as a realistic profession for me, and I’ve been dancing for a while,” O’Rourke said. “When I got there I learned about commercial dancing being an actual thing and, you know, having a variety of training you can go far. ... It’s definitely possible but lots of work.”