For 50 years they’ve twirled in parades, leaped in front the Saline High School marching band, dazzled audiences in gymnasiums and on stages around Michigan and won state and national championships.
Last Saturday, past and current performers and coaches from the Saline Twirlettes gathered at Liberty School to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the community youth organization.
The anniversary celebration began with alumni being honored as they walked through a vista of posing Twirlettes. It continued with speeches from their founder, Shirley Michaels, and alumni. After two rousing performances by current members of the Twirlettes, the alumni made their way to the media center for refreshments and conversations. Along the way, they stopped in the hall to view old pictures, uniforms and other keepsakes collected for the golden anniversary.
Founder Shirley Michaels was warmly received by the crowd gathered to welcome the Twirlettes. Surprisingly, the founder of one of Michigan’s renowned twirling acts didn’t have any twirling experience when she formed the group in 1968. Michaels and her family had just moved to Saline from Virginia. She was looking for activities for her first and fourth-grade children. In Virginia, her daughter had been a member of a twirling group.
Michaels new Dave Wolter, director the Saline High School marching band, and asked him if there was a youth twirling club.
“He said, ‘No. But why don’t you start one,’” Michaels recalled.
Michaels protested, telling Wolter that she did didn’t know how to twirl.
Wolter suggesting using the Saline High School majorettes to teach the young twirlers and that Michaels act as the advisor.
They went with that idea and planned for about 20 girls to attend the first registration and were startled by the response.
“It ended up that we had over 100 little girls come out. That proved it was something really needed at that time for little girls to do,” Michaels said.
The organization became known throughout the state. They’ve performed at the University of Michigan, won national championships, received commendations from three Michigan governors, US Senators, Congressmen and Saline’s Mayor.
Their members have gone on to be featured majorettes in Big 10 and Ivy League schools. Haley Williams, Miss Michigan 2013, was a Twirlette who used her twirling skills to help her win her crown. Amanda Coy, a 2018 graduate of Saline High School, was named to perform the featured “Girl in Black” role in the Purdue All American Marching Band.
Few represent the Saline Twirlettes better than Chrissy Houle, a 2012 graduate of Saline High School. She went on to graduate from Yale with a degree in Global Affairs. She worked as a communications aide for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016 and now works as an associate to the president of McLarty Associates in Washington D.C.
Despite her busy, she rushed home to Saline in time to emcee Saturday’s Twirlette celebration. The Saline Twirlettes have played a key role in Houle’s life. She became involved with the Twirlettes in kindergarten at a camp. She then participated in a recreational program. From there, she was hooked. Houle remembers demanding of her parents that they let her join the national team, which trains all summer long to compete in the national tournament. She competed in nationals from 2001 to 2015.
Her youth in the Twirlettes forged many great friendships and helped build confidence and values that serve her well.
“They were and are my second family. I wasn’t just there learning twirling moves, I was learning values and life skills, from how to be committed and dedicated and disciplined in order to train and work … to have the ability to dream big and set big goals for yourself,” Houle said. “I definitely know how to work under pressure. In addition to team events, I did in individual events. It’s just you on a massive gymnasium floor, all by yourself with all eyes on you. If you can survive that, you can really survive anything, be it a final exam or your first job interview or working in whatever role you happen to be in now.”
Outcomes like this leave director Susan Usher beaming about when recruiting new members.
And, for Shirley Michaels, it’s hard to believe she started it all 50 years ago.
“It gives me cold chills. I can’t believe it. I’m still here to be able to witness it. I’m so grateful. And they are doing such a fantastic job,” Michaels said. “My, it has progressed from 1968. It is a marvelous place for young girls to go and get confidence. I think it’s terrific.”
For more information about the Saline Twirlettes visit www.salinetwirlettes.org.