I was recruited by Michelle Ng and Without Limits to write about my experiences in my final season of College Ultimate. 2011 has many possibilities...let's see how they pan out. E-mail me (robyn-fennig@uiowa.edu)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Centex Danceoff: Thoughts from the Fire Baton Girl

I’m excited to offer the world a fresh voice in this guest blog post. Many of you may not recognize her on the field, but I am positive you remember her as the “Fire Baton Girl” from the Iowa Centex Dance. Chelsea Russell is not only a Division1 College athlete and the Golden Girl (aka Feature Baton Twirler) at the University of Iowa, but someone, who like many of us, leads a double life. Everyone at Iowa knows her, but everyone else, meet Chelsea Russell: Saucy Nancy ultimate player and seven-time World Champion athlete.
Chelsea performing at a Hawkeye football game

For 18 years of my life I spent nearly every Saturday competing across the country in a little known sport that has trouble garnering respect from the general public. Sound familiar? Competitive baton twirling has been fighting to earn recognition as a true, viable sport since the 1940’s. Despite the fact that I was only introduced to ultimate a few short years ago, I’ve known what it’s like to participate in a semi-cult-like, yet decidedly awesome sport since the age of three. The transition from baton to ultimate was an odd one – most people assumed my ability to catch a baton under my leg or without looking would help my performance on the field. I found out pretty quickly that wasn’t the case. Any member of Saucy will back me up when I say my first practice as a cutter wasn’t exactly graceful. In fact, I’m still working out my growing pains when it comes to ultimate. So imagine my surprise and delight when I first learned of the dance competition at Centex – when Robyn first sent me the video of SOL’s winning routine from 2010, I was immediately psyched to get started working with Saucy on a dance of our own.

At first, I could tell the majority of our team was a little wary of getting their groove on in front of a large crowd. Approximately two people showed up to our first meeting – myself and one of our fearless captains, Andrea Uhl. I think most of those two hours were spent playing Just Dance 2 and trying to figure out how we were going to convince the other 26 members of our team to get involved. But eventually we decided on the ridiculous disco anthem “Rasputin” as our song and things started falling into place. And by falling into place I mean, of course, an impromptu dance lesson with five of my teammates the night before we left for Centex and an hour long “dress rehearsal” in our hotel’s parking lot after we all arrived in Austin (procrastination is for winners, in case you aren’t aware). For weeks Dre and I had been trying to wrangle Saucy into figuring out our dance, but because our season had been going so well it was obvious our minds were more focused on strategy and, you know, actual ultimate practice. After the 18 hour ride to Austin, it was even clearer how much our team really didn’t feel like putting this thing together.
Chelsea showing off her move between games last spring

Yet, fifteen minutes after I started 5-6-7-8-ing the girls into place, everything seemed to change. Saucy Nancy is generally a giggly team, but girls were literally cracking up as they hip thrusted, Bernied, and attempted to stick their hips out at the proper angles. Getting to watch Katie “Rage Kage” Johnson sky a girl with her absurd vertical is outrageous, but getting to watch her awkwardly shake her booty?  That’s fricking hilarious. I’ve been choreographing both dance and baton since I was 15, but I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun putting a routine together as I did in that bug-ridden parking lot.
Excelling at a sport is both physically and mentally taxing. Before long the pressure of having to consistently perform to the best of your ability will get in your head – no matter how much mental toughness you happen to have. The weeks leading up to Centex were filled with plenty of injuries, bouts of the flu, and just plain exhaustion for starters and rookies alike. Yeah, we had an insanely tough tournament we had to focus on – but everyone needs a break. What better way to take our minds off the daunting task at hand than a chance to rock shiny spandex leggings and make complete asses of ourselves?!

There’s been some talk of whether the Centex dance off is beneficial to women’s ultimate. Do I personally think it’s a great addition to our sport? Hell yeah. Here’s my reasoning: it’s not often every single member of a team gets the same amount of play time at any given tournament. The dance competition creates an opportunity for each player to participate equally, unifying teams in a way normal play can’t. I cannot express the sense of camaraderie I felt within my team while people were screaming and cheering during our performance. Not only that, but I was having so much FUN while doing it – and every member of Saucy expressed the same sentiment after we were finished. For those few hours during the dance competition, our team was stress-free. There’s something to be said for stepping back from the intense nature of competition, taking the time to do something extraneous, and straight up enjoying yourself.

Featured photo from TWIRL Magazine. Showing off her fire skills.
In response to those that claim participating in a dance off takes away from the integrity of women’s ultimate…I’m going to go ahead and say I think that’s completely ridiculous. The open division doesn’t have a dance competition, but maybe they should. Just because the women are brave enough to throw down their sickest dance moves while wearing some fabulous costumes doesn’t mean we don’t still play hard (sometimes harder than the guys, have you ever seen Chelsea Twohig’s game face?). Dancing doesn’t degrade us to the level of stereotypical “girls,” prancing around and flaunting our assets. Sure, some serious ass shaking and other various suggestive moves (ie: Backpack Girl and her Kansas cronies) occurred on Saturday night. But that’s part of the fun – the dance competition goes to show we can be sexy AND hardcore ultimate players at the same time. Every single woman I saw participating in the dance competition on Saturday was a certified BAMF – they love their team, they love their sport, and it was pretty apparent they loved dancing, too.

One major part of my life involves wearing pounds of rhinestones, a fairly ridiculous amount of make-up, and smiling throughout my routines. Another includes weather at its most extreme, slightly obscene team cheers, and at times more than a bit of mud (understatement of the year). Both encompass countless (and oftentimes badass) injuries, dedication, and most importantly the experience of sharing something with an incredibly unique and diverse community of people who have an unparalleled love for what they do. So I might not shine on Saucy Nancy the way I’ve been fortunate enough to in baton twirling. But this past Saturday night I got to contribute something more to my team than just my (obnoxiously loud) voice from the sidelines, and I know a lot of the rookies felt the same way. Doing our Centex dance, no matter how ramshackle or last minute it may have been, was something we did completely, entirely TOGETHER – and that’s something that can’t be replaced.

Check out some of Chelsea's moves on these vids. She's talented and Saucy could not be more proud of her individual achievements outside of ultimate. She's a selfless teammate and wonderful person, as well as a talented twirler. Thanks for this post Chelsea!! :-)


  1. i want to see a) sol's 2010 routine and b) sauncy's 2011 routine!

  2. Well, SOL won again this year. I can't be sad about taking 2nd. I've finished in the top 2 for three consecutive years :-)

    SOL's 2010 Performance:

    SOL's 2011 Performance:

    *Iowa's will be up soon! We had a supportive UIowa Ultimate dad (Gordon Sedgwick) filming, and he's been on the road for a few days. I'll post it here when he gets it online!

  3. i heard there will be baton twirlers at the FFXXX party this year. just sayin.