Cathy Wheat, founder and former director of the Highland Belles drill team at Highland Park High School, may never stop dancing.
For more than 35 years, she has dedicated her life to helping girls excel in their passion dancing and drill team. That work continues three evenings a week at Highland Park Dance Company, where many of her students are daughters of her former Belles.
“I always ask the girls, ‘Are you doing this because your mother was a Belle?’
And they all say, ‘No,’” she said. “They are doing it because of what they see on the field. They love the Belles, and they love how they dance how they perform.”
When Wheat was a drill team dancer with the Kilgore Rangerettes (first drill team in the United States), she was always taught to be “fair, firm, and consistent.”
She has carried on that rule in her everyday teachings of dance.
“The driving passion did not come from me. It came from the girls,” Wheat said. The secret to success is that you have to push them beyond what they are sometimes. I take their desire, and I push them the best that they can be.”
Wheat aims for her lessons to go beyond dance and drill team, for them to build core values such as “discipline, dedication, learning to be on time, taking constructive criticism, and self-sacrifice.”
“It is perfect for raising a family, having a business, and serving a committee. Dancing will fade away, but life lessons never will.” -Cathy Wheat
“It gives them an avenue to be stronger, more independent, and overall a more self-sufficient woman,” she said. “There’s going be failures in life, and you better be able to be self-reliant and strong enough to pick yourself up and move on.”
Dance lessons last forever, Wheat explained.
“It is perfect for raising a family, having a business, and serving a committee,” she said. “Dancing will fade away, but life lessons never will.”
Highland Park Dance Company owner Casey Sinclair, a former Belle, likes seeing her previous teacher work with a new generation of dancers.
“Her ability to reach these young girls is still unmatched all of these years later,” Sinclair said. “She has a gift for seeing into the hearts of young people, believing the best of them, and helping them to believe in themselves.”
Wheat is proud of Sinclair.
“When I leave the studio, Casey will be there to continue the legacy, and there will be other great teachers there,” Wheat said. “I love working with the girls, and I can’t put a timeline on that, but when that time is there, I will know.”