Following in her (dance) steps: Hastings dancers both cheer for the Vikings
It was the early 1980s when Jan’s School of Dance first opened in Hastings. Andrea (Schappa) First was one of the first students there, and she quickly became an assistant instructor as a sophomore in high school.
“It was the next step,” she said.
She loved teaching the kids and loved the challenge of making a transition from student to teacher, she said. She kept working with the studio even after college and still teaches there today.
Her next step in her dancing career came in college. The Mankato State dancers were invited to the Vikings stadium to perform during halftime, and there Andrea got to see the Vikings cheerleaders perform live. At that moment, she knew becoming one of the Vikings cheerleaders would be her next challenge.She heard an ad on the radio that the Vikings would audition for new cheerleaders, and Andrea took the opportunity. About 600 people tried out, she said, and only 32 got to be on the squad.Being a Vikings cheerleader was amazing, First said. Now she’s an alumni cheerleader, and still performs for certain events.
Inspiring the next generationOne of Andrea’s students was a girl named Kayla. Kayla started dancing at Jan’s when she was 2 years old, and she did her first dance recital with Andrea as her teacher.Andrea had a big influence on Kayla.“(Andrea is) somebody I always looked up to,” Kayla said.Andrea has a heart of gold, Kayla said, and was always positive and friendly. And since Andrea was a Vikings cheerleader, Kayla figured that the whole squad had to be just like her teacher, and that made her want to be part of the squad as well.“The reason I wanted to be a Vikings cheerleader is because Andrea was a Vikings cheerleader,” Kayla said.After graduating high school, Kayla went on to college at Gustavus. A couple years ago she had an opportunity to try out for the Vikings and, although she didn’t make the team, she did get a spot in the training program, where she learned the squad’s cheers and its philosophy.In April, auditions opened up again. There were about 100 people trying out, and Kayla was one of them. After making the first cut, she and about 50 to 60 other dancers attended a three-week training camp that prepared them for a show and their final audition.The day after her final audition, Kayla got the call. She had made the team.There’s a lot to being a Vikings cheerleader. The dancers practice three times a week for three hours at a time during the football season, and they make several publicity and charity appearances as well. They like to call it a part time job with a full time commitment, Kayla said, but “it’s definitely worth it.”
Mentor and menteeGetting to experience the Vikings cheerleader squad together has been special for both Andrea and Kayla.Andrea knew right away that Kayla had what it takes to make it as a dancer. Kayla always had a sparkle about her, Andrea recalled, and worked hard to improve. Dance is a passion in Andrea’s life, and she could see the same passion in Kayla.Still, it was great to see her student follow so closely in her footsteps.“It’s a neat feeling that you can impact someone’s life,” Andrea said.As Kayla’s solo teacher, Andrea developed a bond with Kayla. And that only grew once Kayla made the Vikings training team. Andrea said she could just look across the field and see Kayla’s progression, almost just like she had 20 years ago as her dance teacher.For Kayla, having her dance teacher around to help her through the audition process was invaluable. She emailed Andrea every day during the audition process, getting some critical support as she worked toward her dream.“She’s definitely still a mentor for me,” Kayla said.
Performers and teachersBeing professional performers has made an impact on Andrea’s and Kayla’s teaching. For Andrea, being a Vikings cheerleader broadened her horizons, she said. It showed her new choreography, new techniques and new ways of teaching.“It ups your level of performance,” she said.Now, when she teaches at Jan’s, she’s better able to translate those skills to her own students.For Kayla, being a Vikings cheerleader is an opportunity to inspire kids in the same way she was inspired.“Them seeing me reach for my dreams... helps them do the same,” she said.And since she didn’t make it on the team at her first audition, she’s a living role model for not giving up, she said.Kayla is hoping she can be the mentor to her students that Andrea was to her.“Everyone should have that person they can go to for anything,” she said.Of course, none of this would have happened if not for the woman who taught both of them.Jan Tripp, owner of Jan’s School of Dance, has been a pillar of support for both Andrea and Kayla, and her affection for both women is plain to see.“They’re really positive role models,” Jan said. “They’re like my daughters.”They are enthusiastic, upbeat, energetic and great with all the kids, she said, and they both have a huge passion for dance. And she’s grateful, she said, that they both take time out of their busy schedules to come back to Hastings to help her at the studio. The fact that they’re both professional Dancers as well as excellent teachers is just a bonus, she said.And while Kayla credits Andrea for inspiring her to be a Vikings cheerleader, she credits Jan with all the rest.“I wouldn’t be dancing if not for her and her studio,” she said.“(Jan’s) just always been like a second mom to me,” Kayla said, and she’s honored to represent Jan and the school.Editor’s note: Current members of the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders are not permitted to use their last names. That’s why the last name of Kayla is omitted from this article.