Christina Aguilera's hit "What a Girl Wants" blared on a boombox while about 20 seventh-grade girls danced in a three-line formation. Teacher Amy Morris demonstrated dance moves as she called out, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!"
As the popular song faded, a second teacher, Christie Ficke, shouted: "I didn't see very many teeth!" The girls laughed and gave her exaggerated smiles.
Next door, their eighth-grade counterparts practiced a dance choreographed by 14-year-olds Nicole Pettit and Katie Mayfield to Britney Spears' "(You Drive Me) Crazy." Meanwhile, a group of sixth-graders outside was performing drills to "All The Small Things" by Blink 182.
The girls comprise Lime Kiln Middle School's Dance Company, which boasts nearly 80 members. Opened this past school year, the Fulton school draws pupils from various neighborhoods, some of whom have been redistricted from other middle schools.
Seventh-grader Meghan Cohen said it was uncomfortable leaving friends at her old school, a feeling shared by others.
Lime Kiln needed an activity to help establish a sense of identity and school spirit, school personnel said. Morris and Ficke, both sixth-grade teachers, had participated in pom squads in high school and thought a similar activity would be fun for their pupils.
The two joined forces with physical education teacher Debbie Lange and created the group in October as an after-school intramural activity. The response was so large and enthusiastic that the crew extended beyond the customary three-week time for intramural activities and continued rehearsing weekly until summer vacation.
The dance company is open to both genders, but no boys have signed up. The group is the "only intramural [activity] dominated by females," Lange said. In addition to the artistic side, the girls have a "healthy activity and opportunity not to feel self-conscious and competitive against boys, who are usually bigger," she said.
Teacher Norman Belden agrees. There has never been an activity for girls that did not include competition against boys, and the numbers indicate a genuine need, Belden said.
The noncompetitive aspect of the dance club could be why so many have joined. No tryouts are required - just enthusiasm and a willingness to make new friends. Some members have no dance experience, while others have had years of training. Meghan Cohen's gymnastics background might have been helpful but was not required. It "wasn't a matter of whether you're good," she said.
A sense of unity and camaraderie became evident around the school. Lime Kiln's paw prints - the mascot is a leopard - adorn faces and T-shirts. "LKDC" (Lime Kiln Dance Company) has appeared on classroom chalkboards.
Pupils Anna Schlicht and Bentley Fazi said they can't stop dancing. Members of the group were dancing down the hallways, at home, at recess, and nearly any chance they had.
The group spent its first year performing at several school events and the Howard County Dance Festival. For next school year, Morris and Ficke envision broader horizons. Additional community participation is being explored. Morris plans to network and is considering performances to benefit charitable causes.
With the first year behind them, the girls are relieved that the uncertainty of coming to a new school with unfamiliar faculty and classmates has passed. Morris says the club has helped them forge friendships and move forward. Andshe and Ficke have enjoyed themselves, too.
"We've really enjoyed the chance to get to know the girls," Morris said.
At least one change will be made next year.
Although the music choices by the girls have been extremely popular, tempo needs to be considered when choosing a tune. The teachers plan to have the final say on next year's selections.