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March 18, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Thump. Thudump. Thumpthump. The muted sounds of basketballs vibrate through the floor above and echo off the basement walls of the Armory Sports Center at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. Stepping to the unpredictable tempo provided by the bouncing balls, dance instructor Sonrisa Wood walks absentmindedly, her black sweat pants gently dragging across the beige tiles. Mirrors along the walls reflect her image from every angle as she mutters about the uncomfortably cool temperature.
The beat soon intermingles with muffled voices as a group of young girls barrels into the basement. They swarm around the room like electrons in orbit.
Separately, the girls are animated and excitable children. Together, they make up the Lil’ Lady Bulldogs Dance and Cheer Group. Coming to practice their dance routines twice a week, the seven girls ages 6 to 11 leave whatever troubles and worries children have at the door. This is a safe place, a fun place, a place to belong.
Wood leads the group, created by Columbia’s Community Recreation program, and choreographs and teaches the girls’ dance routines. The 28-year-old is youthful with her too-long pants and cheery voice. Often joking with the girls as she guides them through pre-routine stretches, she is more of a big sister than a parent.
After leading the team in stretches, Wood places tiny pieces of tape on the floor to mark a spot for each girl. Jockeying for the best position, the girls jump from piece to piece like large frogs on lily pads.
Finally, it is time to dance.
The voices of the girls are overwhelmed by a crescendo of Carrie Underwood’s country-pop twang in “Cowboy Casanova.” The girls sing along with the music while taking their places. Focusing on their steps, the girls’ hands make sassy snaps as their feet cross and slide. They move with unexpected agility and surprising coordination. Arms swing and toes point while the girls attempt to stay in sync.
“Show me 5. Show me 6. Show me 7. Show me 8. Good, good,” Wood says as the girls show her the routine in slow motion. Brows furrowed and eyes focused, they step together, the floor echoing their movements.