SANTA FE, N.M. — Pretty much any champion team can point to its pedigree of hard work and dedication to the cause as the keys to its success.
The St. Michael’s High Pony Express dance team is the living, breathing embodiment of that philosophy.
The 18 members of the all-female squad get to school in the wee, dark hours of the morning, say sometime about 5:30, and put a wrap on the effort shortly before the first bell around 7:30 a.m. Perhaps with a bit of a mumble and grumble, they do this six days a week from mid-summer through the state championship competition in late March.
“I’m not a huge morning person so, for me, it’s a big accomplishment to wake up every morning,” said senior Melissa Castillo. “You know, you really know who’s into it if you get up every morning.”
The Pony Express also performs at football and basketball games, plus participates in at least three competitions every year.
It is without a doubt a resounding recipe for success, as St. Michael’s can be rightly compared to such dynasties as the old N.Y. Yankees, Boston Celtics or even the UConn women’s basketball team.
The Pony Express has galloped off with the state championship a ridiculous 23 times, said coach Lydia Sanchez.
“They work hard to keep the tradition going,” Sanchez said this week after the Pony Express added yet another trophy to a case that surely has little room left.
Sanchez, who has been at the helm of the squad for 25 years, says it’s really all about the girls.
“I just stand at the front and yell,” she said.
The squad members come up with the themes, develop the dance moves in time with music and create their routine. Sanchez just keeps them focused on that task, she said.
The coach doesn’t give herself enough credit, Castillo said.
“I think it’s our coaches,” she said of their success. “They really push us into doing our max. Even when we’re tired, they make us keep going.”
It’s amazing the effort that goes into creating a routine that takes about two minutes to complete, said senior Kelsey Herrera.
“We practice so long for two minutes,” she said. “But, in those two minutes, we have the crowd cheering with our headstands and the uniqueness we bring to dance.”
It’s part of what makes being a part of the team so special, Herrera said. “Just seeing the dedication that the team has always had,” she said.
“And the state championships that they created, being a part of the sisterhood and family that we have as a team and with one another.”
Most of the team members did not come from a dance background, Castillo said.
She decided she wanted to become a Pony Express dancer after seeing the squad perform while attending basketball games of her older brother, Robbie Castillo.
“The dance team would dance at halftime, and I watched and was in awe,” she said. “I knew that, when I was in high school, I wanted to be a part of that, too.”
Now that the season is over and another trophy is secured, Herrera said she’s looking forward to some time away from it all.
“Dance has been part of my life for six years,” she said. “It was so worth it and it was a good time in my life. But I’m ready to go experience other things and no more 5:30 practices. I get to sleep in.”