Lake Barrington’s Premier Poms Experience includes ‘heart adventures’
Katrina Nishioka 13, Katie Freund 12, Caroline Huttinter 12, and Eliza Thornton 13, practice a dance routine with the Premier Poms Experience junior team. | Ruthie Hauge~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2013 6:15AM
LAKE BARRINGTON — Four years ago, Michelle Wuertz and Sue Barsness set out to create an alternative athletic and social outlet for young girls outside of youth sports activities.
Their Premier Poms Experience, which now boasts three dance teams, teaches girls three different styles of dance. The Lake Barrington-based organization also incorporates a wide variety of community service projects.
“When you help others, it makes you feel so good about yourself, so it’s a win-win situation,” said Wuertz, highlighting local efforts with Relay For Life, Feed My Starving Children, Kids Feeding Kids and Barrington Area Giving Day.
The community service aspect, Wuertz and Barsness explained, helps create a supportive and encouraging environment in conjunction with the girls’ dance commitment.
Wuertz summed it up with the group’s motto: to be caring while also competitive.
While the teams participate in dance competitions, Wuertz said the coaches maintain a strong emphasis on being supportive to one another.
“Sometimes, girls are so hard on themselves,” she explained. “They’re good at bringing themselves down. They can come here and be themselves and be supported.”
Wuertz also pointed out that anti-bullying has become a strong theme among team members.
Almost all of the 52-member Premier Poms Experience squad has said they had either been the target of or witness to bullying at school or elsewhere.
“We feel like we can change that one girl at a time,” Wuertz said.
When joining Premier Poms, each girl pledges to help curtail bullying in their schools and communities.
The organization’s reach extends from the Barrington area to Lake Zurich, Cary, Island Lake and Crystal Lake. Premier Poms fields squads for fourth- to sixth-graders, a team of sixth- to eighth-graders and a high school team, learning traditional poms, kick line and hip-hop dance routines.
Barsness said their motivation partially came from what she and Wuertz saw as a sometimes-overbearing commitment that many youth sports programs demand.
“A lot of things are becoming a year-round commitment,” Barsness said. “We think things can be done differently.”
Premier Poms teams practice two nights a week with no weekend or summer practices. The schedule takes a backseat to academic and family commitments.
Barsness said the only activity the team does in the summer is Badgerette Camp, a four-day team building camp in mid-August for its middle and high school girls.
“They learn the routines and do tons of team bonding,” Barsness said. “It’s a great way to kick off our season.”
The Premier Poms season runs from August to March. For its season finale, the teams perform their routines at a Chicago Bulls game at the United Center.
Premier Poms coach Heather Bilbrey said she admires the program for the way it balances dance with community service and peer support.
“We still have that competitive edge, but we like to be supportive, too,” she said.
Barrington High School freshman Katherine Mena also praised the well-rounded nature of the Premier Poms program.
“It’s fun because it’s not just poms, you do stuff for the community, too,” she said.
Premier Poms calls its community service projects “heart adventures.”
“We go to Alden nursing home and perform for them,” said Hannah Chernik, a team member from Prairie Middle School. “I like seeing the smiles on their faces.”
Wuertz and Barsness described the Premier Poms Experience as the ultimate example of sportsmanship because each girl is encouraged to focus on her individual gifts as a dancer and team member.
“This is truly a team sport,” she said. “We all have different strengths that we bring to the table. I’m proud of this program because it makes us so different.”
The Premier Poms Experience is performing at the Lake Barrington Field House on March 5 to benefit the Cuba Township Food Pantry. In the fall, Premier Poms will begin offering once-a-week practices for girls first- through third-grades.
For more information, go to www.premierpoms.blogspot.com.