Strutters Go Gaga for Super Bowl Secret
Nine members of the — Mia Woodruff, Lauren Guidry, Lyvia Ebarb, Avery Harris, Chelse Cisneros, Madison Esquivel, Ashlynn Koons, Sydney Hanson and Victoria Doan – led by director Cathy Riley, right, were part of the Super Bowl 51 halftime show in Houston Sunday.
Victoria Doane (circled in red) was one of nine Bridge City Strutters who took part in Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show featuring pop artist Lady Gaga.
By Dave Rogers
For The Record
The tape didn’t self-destruct and the mission wasn’t impossible.
Still, the air of secrecy Cathy Riley and her girls labored under for the past couple of months left everyone involved feeling like some real espionage agents.
Never mind that more than 100 million people watched them perform Sunday as part of Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl 51 halftime show.
The nine Bridge City Strutters involved couldn’t tell their friends or family about it until they had departed Houston’s NRG Stadium Sunday night.
“Everyone had to sign a [secrecy] contract, no social media, no contact, the show was all confidential,” said Riley, who has been director of the Strutters for 20 years.
To violate the secrecy agreement would mean exclusion from the show.
Mia Woodruff, Lauren Guidry, Lyvia Ebarb, Avery Harris, Chelse Cisneros, Madison Esquivel, Ashlynn Koons, Sydney Hanson and Victoria Doan were the Strutters in the on-field crowd of 800 dancers who surrounded the stage.
“At first the whole team was invited, but then the legal team from the Super Bowl decided they could only take [age] 16 and up, so we could only take nine girls,” Riley said.
“Initially, just my principal [Elisha Bell], me and the superintendent [Todd Lintzen] were the only ones that knew. Then we had to have a bus driver, Mrs. [Valrie] Gilbeaux, who teaches English with me. She had to sign a contract, be confidential and not talk about it.”
The Strutters’ participation began when Riley was contacted by Joyce Pennington, whose Texas company runs the dance/drill team camp the Strutters attend each summer.
“She contacted me in December and said it was an amazing opportunity, so I definitely wanted to give that opportunity to those girls,” Riley said.
For two weeks prior to the Super Bowl, the girls traveled by bus to Houston stadiums to practice for six to eight hours per day to learn their moves for what ended up as a seven-song, 13-minute performance.
From Jan. 23-Jan. 29, the girls practiced their routines at high school stadiums in Baytown and Pasadena.
“We didn’t really get to dance like they normally do. It was more movement, with little computerized torches,” explained Riley, who kept a keen eye on her girls. “The Strutters always followed Lady Gaga on stage, were at the front, around her at the piano. You could see them at the very end when she jumped off.”
Last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were dress rehearsals inside NRG Stadium where the high school dancers worked with Lady Gaga and her backup dancers.
“She was so kind and friendly, a very, very nice lady, who was very loving to the girls,” Riley said of the singer. “She actually went into the crowd of 800 kids and high-fived and hugged them.”
Lady Gaga made a name early in her career with outrageous costumes and shocking acts and statements.
Don’t think that Lintzen, Bridge City’s superintendent and one of the few Cardinal insiders who knew the secret, didn’t keep a nervous eye on the halftime show.
“There were probably a lot of people that were doing that,” he said. “But I looked at the NFL, which said it was going to be a family-oriented show, and it being a good opportunity for the girls.
“It was a good event. They’ll remember that for the rest of their lives.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, the girls were told to dress in their own Lady Gaga costumes, which mainly included brightly colored clothes and wigs. The Strutters joined the other dance groups in assembling at “an undisclosed location” which turned out to be Butler Sports Complex a couple of miles south of NRG Stadium.
A police escort cleared the buses’ way to the Super Bowl, and from there, it’s a bit of a blur for Riley.
“They bused us up there, and buddy, it’s on,” she recalled. “It took eight minutes to get the stage set and then we ran. Boy, did we run. I don’t know the last time I ran.”
The Strutters director and Gilbeaux, the bus driver, watched from the sidelines.
“When this started, I had a very different perception of Lady Gaga,” Riley admitted. “But it wasn’t the same when she was working with those kids.
“I know we were all a little concerned that she might throw something in [controversial], but every piece of choreography she did was the same as practice, every word she sang or said was the same as practice – except the ‘Hi mom and dad’ part.
“I was very pleased she did it like she did it.”
She spoke for her girls when wrapping up the experience.
“It’s a once in a lifetime event even going to the Super Bowl,” Riley said. “How many people even go to a Super Bowl?
“It was pretty cool. Bigger than life at the actual event. I thought watching it on TV would be just as good. But it wasn’t.”