Kickin' It With Melissa Page
When you first meet Melissa Page, you’re struck by the enormous amount of energy radiating from such a petite person. Talk with her for a few minutes and you’re captivated by the passion she has for her profession. A born and bred Texan hailing from the big city of El campo, current population 10,795, Melissa started dancing at the age of three and she’s been high-kicking ever since. During her years at El Campo high school Melissa was a proud member of the cheerleading squad, making Head Cheerleader while she continued to study dance in the studio.
From dressing out in El Campo colors during high school Melissa went to putting on a white hat (reminiscent of the famous Kilgore Rangerettes) and dancing as a member of the Texas State Strutters while she was in college at Texas State in San Marcos. After college, armed with an education degree with a specialization in dance, Melissa began to turn her love of performing into a career. Starting at Brenham High School in Brenham, Texas down in Washington County Melissa then took her talents to nearby Blinn Junior College. When the opportunity arose back in 1997 to work with the Emerald Belles at Carroll Melissa made the move and says, “I’ve been blessed to be here ever since.” With a group that has more than doubled under her leadership, Melissa is busily working on her 15th season as Director of the award-winning Emerald Belles. We caught up with her for a few minutes to check in on what keeps her kicking after all these years.
Southlake Style: Tell us about your family.
Melissa Page: I have a son Reed Bartosh, who is in 6th grade and three stepdaughters with my husband, Mark. We have one at Baylor, and one each in 3rd and 5th grade at Tanglewood in Fort Worth.
SS: This is your 15th year at Carroll. What path brought you to Southlake and the Emerald Belles?
MP: At Texas State I majored in education with a specialization in dance. I started working at Brenham High School and then moved on to Blinn Junior College but when the opportunity arose at Carroll I made the move and I’ve been blessed to be here ever since. In addition to acting as Director of the Belles I work with the show choir, choreographing and teaching dance routines.
SS: How has the program grown and changed over the last fifteen years?
MP: The first year I was at Carroll in 1997-98 we had sixty-five Emerald Belles and last year was our largest group ever with eighty-six girls. This year there are eighty-two, it varies year to year. We hold tryouts every year using independent judges and anyone can try out regardless of their grade level. We don’t stop a freshman from trying out for Varsity. If they’re good enough, let them come on, they’re welcome to try out.
The program grows because of our tradition, we’re known as an award-winning program. We have families whose daughters all become Belles, one after the other. One girl will graduate and then I’ll have her sister.
SS: When do you and the girls get going in the summer to begin practicing for the upcoming year?
MP: This year we started August 3rd with just our officers to prepare for football season. The officers were established last year and it’s about more than just being able to dance. They need a good grade point, good leadership qualities; each officer is in charge of their particular squad for tracking attendance and tardiness. The entire team started practicing August 8th from 8:00 to 4:00 every day, Monday through Friday.
SS: With such a large group of girls with varied personalities what keeps them all working toward the same goals?
MP: One of the first things we do each year is hold what we call “Camp Carroll.” We go over our constitution and we talk about what is expected of each girl. I tell them, “We are a group, we may each be totally different, but we’re a team. They know what the team expects of them and they do it.” I hold each one accountable, this is our tradition, and we carry it on.
SS: Once school is underway how does your practice schedule change?
MP: As an Emerald Belle you actually attend a class every day but we get going a little earlier than the class bell schedule. We meet every morning at 6:45 and we’re going full out until 9:00 or a few minutes after. Then all eighty-two have 30 minutes or less to get ready and get out the door to their next class. The veterans help the new girls get into the routine of getting ready in record time, even with “hat head.”
SS: Hat Head? They wear their hats to practice?
MP: They do. With the sequin hats on I can see if even one person misses a head snap or a move because those sequins just pop all in sync. During football season we also practice with the band every Thursday at 3:45 to do a run through of Friday night’s performance.
SS: Speaking of football and halftime shows who chooses the music for football season and choreographs the routines?
MP: Choosing music for football season actually is easier than choosing for our competitive season because we work with songs the Carroll Dragon Band can perform. After selecting the music we work on the choreography and the officers assist in teaching it to the rest of the girls.
SS: Tell us more about your competitive season?
MP: Our truly creative side comes out during the competitive season that starts after football season is over. All of our costumes, music, and dance routines are completely over the top. Every facet of the competitive season shows a completely different side of the Belles. For competition I do the choreography and design the costumes with the help of my officers, Consultant Curtis Harnagel, and occasionally, my former captain Lyndsay Renger. Everything is themed, lyrical dance comes into play, it’s exciting. We’re recognized as an award-winning team, we do well in competition year after year.
SS: With all the expenses involved in putting together a season what part does fundraising play in your job as Director?
MP: Wow, we have to fundraise constantly. Just costuming, buses, feeding the girls, it’s very expensive. My Assistant Director, Kathryn Dobrow, is such a big help with keeping track of the numerous ongoing events and spreadsheets we’ve got working. Also, I have an amazing booster club and the best group of Moms. They’re so good to me.
When I first came to Carroll the program was under the athletic department and I had to go to the Athletic Director, Bob Ledbetter at that time, for everything we needed. He was so supportive and when I told him I wanted to start our own booster club he thought that was a great idea. Everyone at Carroll has always backed me on whatever was required. Every committee on the booster club just takes their job and runs with it. The veteran moms tell the newer ones how it works, the tradition carries on.
SS: The girls also have performed on cruise ships, right?
MP: Every other year we all take a cruise together. This year we’ll be cruising again and performing while we are on the ship. The girls love performing. Other passengers will ask them why they’re onboard and the girls spread the word on the ship and we end up having a full house for every show.
SS: After the year of performing do you all relax a bit?
MP: We have a huge banquet every year and all the seniors get spotlighted. We used to give each senior a “live” moment but as our numbers grew, that part of the evening is now woven into a great video spotlighting all of the graduating seniors.
SS: A number of the Belles go on to a successful career in dance. Do you stay in touch and see what the girls are up to?
MP: We do have a number of girls who go on to a career in dance, or as a dancer or cheerleader for an athletic team. It’s great to see what they are doing. On our new website we’ve got an album of photos of all the Belle alumni who are pursuing dance and I keep a “hall of fame” photo display in the Belle area at school.
I actually stay in touch with a number of the girls, especially the officers because we become so close. I’ve been to lots of weddings, baby showers; we are still like a big family. Sometimes we might not actually see each other in person too often but we still stay in touch. We recently had an Emerald Belle reunion, many of the girls even brought their babies, it was so incredible.
SS: Now that you’ve been with the girls for so many years, can you share a few of your favorite moments?
MP: Let’s see, there are so many, I could literally write a book. I remember when Lexy Hulme was young; she was on the shy side. Years later she told me, “You had to come and convince me to come out of the corner and dance.” Now, Lexy just appeared in the Glee 3D movie.
A story that is near and dear to me truly showed me these girls are like my family. When I had my son, Reed, and was on maternity leave, one of my officers, Amberly Hix, just stepped up and pitched in as a my acting Assistant Director. I was able to come up to the school now and then but she was so focused and never once complained. It was so important to her to not disappoint me. I’ll never forget that.
SS: So tell us, can you still high kick?
MP: I still can, I do it now and them. Sometimes when my stepdaughters have friends over they want to see me dance. Their friends think its “cool” that I’m Director of the Emerald Belles.
SS: After all these years, what keeps you motivated?
MP: No doubt, it’s the girls, the kids.
SS: How long are you going to keep doing what you do?
MP: I really don’t know. Teaching studio dance just wouldn’t be the same. This isn’t an 8 to 5 type job. It’s not just about teaching them dance, you teach them about life. The girls still motivate me every day. My husband once said, “This is who you are.”
We agree, Melissa. That is exactly who you are. Curtis Harnagel, a consultant with Melissa during the Belles competition season for more than seven years now, said it perfectly, “Melissa is an amazing talent. She is one of the best people to work with and I feel blessed that she is also one of my closest friends.” Melissa and Curtis work tirelessly together throughout the competitive season to, as he put it, “make the team look as stylized and current as possible, through music, concept, costuming, and choreography.” Curtis believes, “The Emerald Belles would not have amassed their notoriety, success, and accolades without the steadfast guidance of Melissa Page.” All of us here in Dragon Country agree.