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Debs dance into their second half-century


A 5K run/walk fundraiser is scheduled for Aug. 31 at Willamette Park

When 21 members of the West Linn High School Debutantes team danced down the street during West Linn’s Old Time Fair parade on July 20, they were following in a long line of footsteps: The Debs team recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Members of the 2013-14 Debutantes marched in the Old Time Fair parade on July 20 in Willamette. And while the bright smiles and quick steps have remained the same over the decades, much else has changed.

In the 1960s, members of the new dance team sewed their own costumes and danced a kick line. Many of the costumes were made of wool, so they would last without wearing out, and they were handed down from one year to the next. Spandex hadn’t been invented, and the costumes were not form-fitting as they are today. At the time, the Debs performed primarily at school games; there were no dance competitions to attend until the 1970s.

“We performed at assemblies, football games, basketball games and marched in parades,” Sue (Blakely) Bradley said.

A 1967 WLHS graduate, she danced with the Debs from 1965 to 1967 and worked at the school from 1981 to 2010 as an athletics and activities secretary and a May Court adviser and coordinator.

“I have loved watching the dance teams over all the years. They work very hard, travel to many competitions and perform many times during the year,” Bradley said.

Bev (Gerow) Bush was a Deb during her junior year, in 1968, and has stayed involved with the team. At that time, girls were not allowed to be on the Debs and the cheer squad at the same time, and so she chose cheer for her senior year in 1969.

“I can remember that year (1968) our basketball team went to state finals,” Bush said. “I remember dancing the can-can at the Coliseum.” At the time, she said, the dancers really managed the team themselves.

“We didn’t have coaches, we had advisers,” she said. “They didn’t coach. They weren’t at every practice. It was the girls themselves that came up with the routines and did the choreography and everything.”

Bush returned to the Debs in 1989 as the team’s set and props designer and fulfilled many smaller roles too, including designing team T-shirts. The Debs’ motto, “Once a Deb, always a Deb,” definitely applies to her.

“You take a sense of pride,” she said. “You can still stand up with pride and say you could do the moves, once upon a time.”

A more recent Debs alumnus, Regan (Sonnen) Molatore also returned to the high school in May for a Debs reunion. A Deb from 1989 to 1992, she was elected to the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board in May and said that her experience as a Deb has served her well in later life.

“When I danced we were all about big, constant and continuous smiles,” she said. “The coaches were always yelling, ‘Smile!’ In particular, if you were to make a mistake, you were supposed to keep smiling and keep moving. ... The idea being if you stopped you would draw more attention to yourself than if you just kept going. For better or worse, there have been a lot of times in my life when I have messed up, misspoke or otherwise done something that was embarrassing in public. When that has happened, my dance days come back to me and I put a smile on my face and keep going. This message from dance that was ingrained into me has proven to be a simple but valuable skill.”

Returning to the high school as a Deb once again was “an incredible experience,” Molatore said. Her fellow alum, Bradley, agreed.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Debs from all decades returned to the high school for a 50th-anniversary performance in May. From left, Patty (Wall) White, Bev (Gerow) Bush and Sue (Blakley) Bradley all danced as Debs in the 1960s.“Having this reunion was a blast,” she said. “We each watched a video to learn our dance and then met at the high school to practice for a couple of hours before the performance. ... We all had so much fun meeting each other, and for me it was especially (nice) to see so many of the younger girls.”

This year’s Debs are planning another get-together, a fundraiser this time. Dash with the Debs, a 5K run/walk, will be held Aug. 31 at Willamette Park. Race day registration will open at 9 a.m.; preregister online at www.active.com/running/west-linn-or/dash-with-the-debs-2013. Preregistration fees are $35 for adults before Aug. 15 or $40 after. Kids aged 11 to 18 pay $20 and 10 and younger pay $10. Each registration includes a race shirt, barbecue lunch and family fun. All proceeds will support the Debs’ performance at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 30.