Since she was three years old, Tribal member Marlee Affentranger and her parents have known without a doubt that not dancing is simply not an option for the young artist.
“They could tell at my first dance recital that it was what I love to do,” she said.
The Holloway family descendant has competed with her dance studio, DreamCatchers Dance Company of Shawnee, Oklahoma, since kindergarten. She particularly enjoys musical theatre and lyrical styles, but, above all, loves to learn new techniques, skills and styles.
Affentranger’s passion led her to found the first-ever pom squad at Bethel (Oklahoma) High School.
There was no program for dance at Bethel when the now-senior started attending.
“I’ve never really had a passion for any sport besides dance,” Affentranger said. “My school didn’t really offer a social activity for me that I was passionate about before we got started.”
What began as a frustration turned quickly into inspiration for action for Affentranger and a friend, who took the idea to start a pom squad themselves from bedroom brainstorm to school board presentation.
“We got tired of saying, ‘Why don’t we have pom?’” Affentranger said. “(We said) ‘We would love it, let’s see what we can do.’ So, we started doing some research, and then we talked to a few different people throughout the school. … We worked together to make different presentations and we presented to our principal and then we asked to talk to our superintendent and from there we asked to present to the board. The month after we presented to our board, they voted to make pom happen.”
Tryouts were held in February 2022 and the team began performing during the 2022 football season, Affentranger’s junior year.
Now in its second season, Bethel pom performs at home and away football games and home basketball games and competes at Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) Game Day Competitions.
Founding the Bethel pom squad was just the starting point for Affentranger, however. She has overcome additional obstacles in her pursuit of her passion.
During the 2022-2023 school year, she underwent two major hip surgeries, leaving her non-weight bearing and unable to perform with the team except for some sideline routines during the later part of the football and basketball seasons.
Now fully recovered, Affentranger leads the team as captain during her senior year and revels in learning and growing with the team.
“I think teamwork has been a big thing, and work ethic, because we do perform at every home game,” Affentranger said. “It takes a lot to get a routine clean enough to put on for halftime.”
She also enjoys developing her skills across dance styles.
“Most of our routines we just perform one time,” Affentranger said. “I love that because we get to learn all these different styles.”
Performances range from hip hop and high kick to jazz and traditional pom.
At a home football game on Sept. 29, 2023, Affentranger could be seen anchoring the team on the 50-yard line through formation and level changes, powerful jetés and sharp pom placement. The marching band accompanied them from the sideline as the team gave their halftime performance under a supermoon.
Back on the sidelines, Affentranger’s leadership was also evident — without ever becoming overpowering — as she coordinated between the marching band staff and her teammates for short, energetic numbers between plays on the field.
The team of seven dancers, whose talent and passion are evident on display, is a testament to Affentranger’s leadership style: bringing others up with her at every opportunity along the way.
“That’s one of the main reasons I started pom,” she said. “Because I knew there were other girls in our school district who didn’t get to enjoy what they love because we just didn’t offer it. And so, it’s been cool for me and some of the other girls too, who wouldn’t necessarily be involved in a sport or activity (otherwise).”
After high school, Affentranger has her sights set on continuing in the dance world, whether at a performing arts school or within the dance industry.
“We’re still exploring some of the applications … so it’s going to be a little while before I know for sure, but I just know I want to dance,” she said.