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Strutters to celebrate 60 years

dancers during performance

Strutters to celebrate 60 years

By Jacque Crouse

It’s more than high kicks and parades for this sisterhood at Texas State

When high school teacher Barbara Guinn Tidwell decided in 1960 that she wanted to teach in college, she sent query letters to colleges and universities across Texas. Little did she know that her quest would begin a dynasty that is still alive and – well – definitely kicking.

In September, the 83-year-old will help celebrate the 60th anniversary of the precision dance and drill team that has performed in 26 countries, and at two presidential inauguration parades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, college bowl games, NBA and NFL games, and “America’s Got Talent.”

“They have come a long way from those early days,” says Tidwell, who directed the Strutters for 37 years. When Dr. J. Garland Flowers, the third president of Texas State University, answered Tidwell’s letter, he said he wanted Tidwell, the former Kilgore College Rangerette, to start a dance team that could “keep the fans in their seats” during halftime. Tidwell began in August 1960, putting together a team that performed the very next month.

“Everyone in San Marcos who could sew was drafted and helped to make uniforms,” she recalls. “At the last minute, I had to fly, and I mean fly, to San Antonio because we ran out of buttons.”

Elizabeth “Stoney” Burk Walker (B.S. ’73) and Linda Gregg Fields (B.S. ’66) say being a Strutter helped them to build lifelong friendships and gave them a set of life skills that took them much further than just their college careers. “You learned about managing time, being on time, following through,” Walker says. “Mrs. Tidwell let you understand that you were there for an education and you were expected to do well in your studies. You were held to a higher standard.”

Fields, a San Marcos native, remembers going with all her friends to Mrs. Tidwell’s “Charm School” in high school. “You learned manners, how to walk, stand, and sit, how to dress properly for all occasions,” she recalls. “She has been a huge influence in my life — I owe a lot to her as far as confidence and generally just how to run your life.”

What started with 68 members in a precision drill team that performed at halftime grew to an internationally lauded group of about 100 members each year who also perform a Holiday Extravaganza and Spring Show. 

Lisa Winters (B.A. ’87), from the Rio Grande Valley, originally expected to become a Kilgore Rangerette. “I went to Mrs. Tidwell’s camp and loved her and the campus so much, I never even tried out at Kilgore,” Winters says. “She had such high expectations of what you should be. I could have been a wild, crazy kid, but not as a Strutter. I learned grace, poise, and life skills that have helped in my life and career.”

three women in strutters outfits
1997 The Strutters have performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, college bowl games, NBA and NFL games, “America’s Got Talent,” and 3 presidential inaugurations.
strutters laying in circles
The Strutters started with 68 members for the first year.

When Tidwell retired in 1997, former Strutters Captain Susan Angell-Gonzalez became the second director/choreographer. Angell- Gonzalez directed the dance and drill teams at San Antonio’s Winston Churchill High School for several years, owned her own dance and cheerleading studio, and later opened the dance school ShowMakers of America. “When I was the director/choreographer of the Strutters, I used to encourage my students to push to their potential and dance with passion and heart,” Angell-Gonzalez says. “It was my goal to make them believe they had the heart of a champion. I looked at each student as if they were a champion.”

In 2013, Tammy Fife (B.S. ’85) became director. Today, the Strutters also feature a Jazz Elite and Pom Squad. The Jazz Elite performs some of the more technically challenging dances and the Pom Squad performs on sidelines during games, featuring women who are probably the best athletes on the Strutters and who energize fans during the games. Fife says a number of Strutters have gone on to become cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans, as well as the San Antonio Spurs Silver Dancers.

Melita Wallace (B.B.A. ’18) was the first leader of Pom Squad. She says becoming a Strutter was one of the best decisions she made. “Besides travel opportunities, it taught me to facilitate, organize, and to be a better leader and public speaker,” she says. 

Pom Squads at most NCAA Division I universities are the only drill team. When Texas State went Division I and the decision was made to have a Pom Squad, Fife wanted to keep the tone and culture within the Strutters traditions. Wallace noted that the squad is part of a larger Strutter tradition. “You form friendships for life. It is interesting how on such a large team (there were 133 Strutters her first year) you still end up feeling like it is smaller, getting to really know each other through team bonding activities,” Wallace says. “It is a sisterhood as well as a dance team.”

Selina Flores (B.S. ’15) thought she would spend her life teaching elementary school but says being a Strutter changed her goals. After graduation she was a Cowboys cheerleader for two years and then taught kindergarten. “Now I am in my first year as director of a high school drill team in Houston,” she says. “I loved the dance world so much I just couldn’t stay out of it.”

Flores says Fife has become her “mentor for life” and says that she learned critical life skills as an officer for three years and head captain her senior year. “Being a Strutter prepared me with discipline, dance, passion, leadership, friendship, and connections,” Flores says. “You learn manners, how to be a young professional and to be an example for others.”

Wallace agrees the Strutter training is invaluable. “I am definitely proud to be a Strutter alum,” she says.  

Coming up:

  • Strutters 60th Anniversary Reunion  -- 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6, University Events Center
  • Football home opener: Sept. 7, Bobcats vs. Wyoming Cowboys @ Bobcat Stadium
  • Strutters will open the 2019 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Nov. 28