Hold the Bubble Gum

The summer between Harby Junior High and Alvin High was a long one for drill team dancer Jessica Manley. The "really, really, really bored" teenager spent a lot of time playing on the Internet and looking forward to high school, where she'd be transformed from a Hawkette to a Jacketeer.

One day, she came upon former drill team director Melissa Darnell's Web site, with its call for essays for her forthcoming book, Dance/Drill Diaries. Because she "had nothing better to do," Manley set about writing "My Life in Junior High Drill Team."

"There were a lot of times in drill team when I thought I couldn't go on," she wrote in the conversational two-page essay about her eighth-grade year. "The practices were just too much or a move was too hard. But I always had my teammates to help me and keep me going."

The story won over Darnell, and Manley became the youngest dancer-writer to be included in the book. The teen was glad but not "ohmigod" excited. But then, that's not her style.

Manley, a freshman with a tongue ring, is not the bubble gum-chewing, way-too-enthusiastic gal one might expect. In fact, she joined her junior high drill team on a whim.

"I took dance when I was little," Manley says, "but I never liked it, so I quit." A friend convinced her to try out for the drill team, and she found she liked it, even if her version of the in-crowd wasn't so impressed.

"I hang out with kids that don't like to be so involved," Manley explains. "We like punk rock music. They never wanna do work. They skip classes. It's hard."

But Manley doesn't seem too bothered by what the other students think of the Jacketeers. "They call us the Whore Corps. But the band members are the ones wearing their skirts up to here in practice," she says, raising her hand in the air.

Manley does not want to pursue a career as a writer, but she does plan to keep dancing through high school -- even though she knows the team will never dance to her favorite punk bands at a pep rally.

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Cathy Matusow
Contact: Cathy Matusow