WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Lil' and Elite Wranglers brought a little bit of Texas to the Inaugural Parade on Friday, performing their signature country swing dances while marching past thousands of spectators.
The College Station-based dancers, aged nine to 18 years old, were chosen from about 3,000 applicants to become one of the 40 groups — two from Texas — that followed President Donald Trump's limousine from the U.S. Capitol to the White House.
"We're excited about being a part of history," said Director Sharon Toups. "When I found out that we were selected and I told everybody, it was pure excitement."
Their style of dance incorporates polka and waltz steps with acrobatic lifts, a unique challenge for a parade that normally features a number of marching bands.
Forty-four of the teenage Elite Wranglers and younger Lil' Wranglers participated in the parade from the dance troupe's total of 120 members. That number was set by parade officials, who said this year's parade was smaller than in previous years.
To fund the trip, the troupe solicited donations online, raising more than $50,000.
Toups said appearing in the parade was not a political statement but an opportunity for the Lil' and Elite Wranglers to perform on a national stage, adding that she would have applied no matter who won the presidency.
"We know it's been a pretty rough election season," said Toups. "We wanted to bring something positive and happy."
Toups and her teachers said one of the hardest parts about preparing for the inauguration was replicating the parade route. They were forced to turn parking lots and streets in College Station into replicas of Pennsylvania Avenue, occasionally unintentionally blocking traffic. It also was a challenge to craft a routine that allowed the dancers to move forward and turn while still performing dips and lifts.
The preparation went down to the wire. Wednesday evening dancers were practicing their turns in a cramped conference room in the Arlington, Virginia, hotel where they were staying.
Toups said the group had a packed schedule since arriving in the Washington area on Monday. They performed for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz during his constituent breakfast Tuesday and for fellow Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn in the Kennedy Caucus Room on Thursday. The evening before the inauguration, they performed at the Texas State Society's Black Tie and Boots Ball.
Kyler Lewis, one of the captains of the Lil' Wranglers, said his friends back in College Station were watching the parade.
"They're just in school. They're pretty jealous," he said.
But maybe they shouldn't be. Four teachers accompanied the dancers, who were in class on hour each day.
"I've administered nine tests and quizzes since we got here," said teacher Lindsay Zahn, whose son 12-year-old son, Caden, danced in the parade.
Toups hopes the Lil' and Elite Wranglers' routines have gotten their Washington audiences — and maybe even the president himself — interested in Texas-style dance.
"I would love for President Trump to learn how to do some swing with his wife, Melania," she said. "I would love to teach them."