College Dance Team Central

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Freshman Man Performs With Rock Chalk Dance Team



By CJ Moore
Kansan.com

When Kansas plays South Florida on Saturday, fans will see a new face on gameday in Memorial Stadium. But instead of wearing shoulder pads, a helmet and making crunching tackles, Tim Flattery will be decked out in a crimson and blue top and black jazz pants displaying his graceful athleticism with the once all-female Rock Chalk Dance Team.

Flattery, an Onaga freshman, is the first male dancer in the history of the dance team, known until recently as the Crimson Girls. This Saturday marks his KU debut in front of a stadium full of football fans who have never seen him dance. Tim’s mom, Vicki Flattery, realizes fans that are there to see bone-crunching football may react to her son’s appearance in a girls dance troupe by asking, “What the hell is that dumb kid doing out there?”

But mom says she knows from past experience that after the male dancer jokes subside and crowds see what Tim can do, they often come away declaring, “That’s Patrick Swayze out there.”

When Tim heard the Crimson Girls had changed their name to a more gender inclusive Rock Chalk Dance team a couple of years ago, he decided to make history. Tim is used to dropping jaws. He played high school basketball and danced during the halftime entertainment. Tim insisted on taking dance lessons as a 9-year-old after years of dancing to the beat of the oldies music his father blasted through the Flattery house. And now, Tim is on campus as a dance major and ready to show the world that guys who dance can be artists and athletes, too.

Not your average family

So where can you find the kind of guy who would try out for an all-women dance team?

Meet the Flatterys.

Tim dances. Dad used to be a lawyer, but decided in 1991 he wanted to build a golf course. Now, instead of dad practicing law, both mom and dad are on the road with the family-owned carnival. Older sisters, Carly and Laney, also work for the family carnie business.

“I’ve been a carnie since I was born,” Tim says. “My family, they don’t want to do the normal, pattern things.”

Born to dance

When the Flatterys went to watch Tim’s two older sisters in school programs, they’d have to sit in the back of the auditorium, because 2-year-old Tim couldn’t resist dancing to the music in the aisles.

Tim blames – or better yet, thanks – his dad for his love of dance.

“Ever since I was very little, he always had music on – The Beatles or Michael Jackson – and I would always dance to it,” Tim recalls.

So when Tim went to his parents and told them he wanted to start dance lessons, it didn’t come as a shock. Vicki or Chris Flattery would drive Tim to Holton, 30 miles east of Onaga, twice a week. And there in a Holton dance studio, Tim discovered who he was.

“It didn’t take long to see that the kid had a lot of ability,” Vicki says. “And like anything, whether it’s soccer or softball or any kind of sport or singing, when you see that, you foster it.”

With his family’s encouragement, Tim kept dancing. When he entered high school, he made his way onto the varsity dance team his freshman year. He was co-captain of the team by the time he was a sophomore.

Tim also played guard for the Onaga High School basketball team. With just over a minute left in the first half, Tim would race to the locker room and swap his basketball uniform for his dance team gear.

Then, to the befuddlement of the opposing crowd who had seen that same kid on the court playing a minute ago, Tim would join his dance teammates for their halftime performance.

By the beginning of the third quarter, Tim was back on the court in his high tops and basketball uniform.

“You’re a really fast changer,” Tim recalls his classmates telling him.

Tim was no stiff on the court. He scored 25 points in a junior varsity game his sophomore year and then nailed a dance routine that his team had been struggling with all week later that night.

Thick skin

Before Onaga embraced Tim as a dancer and surrounding towns learned that he was the star of his dance team, Tim had to prove himself.

“I know a lot of people were fixing their eyes on me because I was the only one who was different,” Tim says.

Vicki remembers sitting in the stands and biting her lip as she saw, “some raised eyebrows and some snickers and some jabs in the ribs.”

Then he would dance and “it was obvious that Tim excelled at this,” Vicki recalls. “If he would have been no better than any of the girls or not even as good as any of the girls, then I think that the ribbing and snickering would have continued. But once he got out there and performed, honestly, pretty much all eyes were on him.”

Tim said he realized he had to let his dancing speak for itself and learn to shrug off criticism with a thick skin.

So when Tim started thinking about choosing a college, he had one thing on his mind: dance.

It was a forgone conclusion that dance was going to be his major. The only question was where would Tim take his talent.

Mom pushed for a junior college.

“I told him that I felt like he could get his education paid for through a junior college, because of his dancing ability,” Vicki says.

Tim didn’t want that. He wanted to show his ability on a bigger stage. He told his mom he’d been a big fish in a little ocean for too long. He was ready to be the little fish in a big ocean.

He was ready to learn and get out of his comfort zone in Onaga. And that’s where the desire to be a Rock Chalk dancer came from.

This summer Tim and his mom drove to Lawrence for the dance team tryouts. Not surprisingly, Tim tried out in a room full of ponytails.

Once the initial shock wore off for the 75 women, they liked the idea of having a male teammate.

Rock Chalk Dance Team coach Tasha Ruble says, “It’s not weird or different for them because a lot of them have danced with males in their studios.”

Tim immediately proved he belonged and when the judges tallied up their scores from the tryouts and he was among the top 22 dancers. He made the team and made history.

“I think he’s probably opening up a lot of doors for other people who may have been nervous about doing that,” Ruble says. “For him to come in and try out around 75 girls, that took a lot and I’m proud of him for doing it.”

When Tim is dancing with the Rock Chalk Dance team, the 5-foot-8 lone male almost gets lost in the mix. Tim spins and leaps into the air in perfect unison with his female teammates. His movements are crisp and with a purpose. He rocks his head back and sways his shoulders to the beat of MC Hammer’s “Do not pass me by.” It’s in that moment where you finally see the difference.

As the women look to the sky and swing their heads back, their ponytails follow behind. But there’s Tim in the middle, and his short, dark blonde hair doesn’t move with the music.

“Either way you’re a dancer,” teammate Katie Rose Hargreaves says, “whether male or female.”

Tim says, “I just want them to know that just because I am a different gender doesn’t mean I’m doing the dance any different. It’s not the girls are over there and I’m over here free styling. We’re a team. We’re together.”

Sometimes that fact is lost on Tim’s mom. When Tim would dance with his Onaga dance team, Vicki would videotape from the bleachers. Being a mom, she would of course zoom in on Tim.

Tim would yell at his mom, “Mom, we’re a team. How am I supposed to know how the team is dancing if I can’t see everyone?”

Tim’s friend, Shannon McNeal, says Tim is becoming well known around campus. “People know him,” she says. But Tim doesn’t want to be a big deal. He just wants to be part of the team.

Can’t stop dancing

As Tim drives to dance team practice in his 2004 blue Cavalier, oldies blast from his radio and Tim starts moving to the music. When Tim hears music, it’s a natural reaction. He dances, even when he’s sitting.

McNeal says, “Every night we go out, no matter if he’s driving or someone else is driving, he’s dancing. And at the parties and pretty much anywhere we go, he dances.”

He will dance for his biggest audience ever this Saturday when 40,000 Kansas fans get their first look at Tim on the sidelines and on the field during the KU football game. Tim has won over his hometown and made people look past his gender. He was daring enough to go to a big college and try out for an all-women squad. Now comes the greatest challenge of all.

Tim’s not in Onaga anymore. He’s in Lawrence and the macho snickering is getting louder. A columnist in the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram made fun of Tim, writing, “Oh, sure, those Big 12 South teams win national championships, but how many have male dancers?” The Kansas City Star, Columbia Daily Tribune, local radio stations and sports Web sites like Deadspin.com also picked up on the news.

When word spread to Onaga what was being said about Tim in the papers and on the radio, Vicki called to see how her son was holding up.

“I said ‘are you OK?’” Vicki recalls, her question met by silence. Finally Tim said, “Yeah, I’m just kind of worried about my teammates.”

It hasn’t just been the media who questioned Tim’s place on the dance team. KU students have already made unkind remarks, not to his face, but to his friends.

“They’ve already been jerks,” McNeal says. “The first week we were here we would hear bad publicity every day. People are just really close-minded about things.”

Tim knows what he’s up against.

“I’m on a division 1 collegiate team. This is not going to be little Onaga where I’ll have half the school sitting in front of me knowing my name,” Tim says.

His mom hopes people will give him a chance and that once KU fans see him perform, they will discover what the town of Onaga already knows, Tim Flattery can dance.

“I hope that they will watch his performance and they will let him prove himself,” Vicki says. “And I feel like KU is a liberal enough school and they are open minded enough that they are going to look at this and say ‘you know what, this is a pretty cool deal. And KU is a trend setter.’”

Kansan staff writer C.J. Moore can be contacted at cjmoore@kansan.com.

— Edited by Elyse Weidner

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