|Current Golden Girl Captain Danielle Hardy leads a routine during a practice. The team practices at least four days a week to prepare for their performances.|
Golden Girls celebrate 50 years of an LSU tradition
They are often seen as the beauties dancing with the Golden Band from Tigerland. Each time they perform, all of them in glittered glory, nearly 100,000 fans cheer for their next move.
This year marks the 50th year the Golden Girls have stepped onto the field, making them the oldest dance line on campus. The last 50 years have brought changes to the team, whether it was new costumes or new team members, but the tradition remains the same.
In 1959, the football team entered the season as defending national champions with Paul Dietzel as their coach. That year, the dancers introduced themselves to Tiger fans as the LSU Ballet Corps, becoming the Golden Girls in 1965.
On Oct. 31, during halftime of the LSU vs. Tulane game, some of those same women will take the field once again celebrating 50 years of memories—many of which have contributed to who they are today.
A true calling
At 13, Bogalusa native Tari Smith was a self-proclaimed tomboy who enjoyed riding horses and climbing trees. Occasionally her best friend would convince her to dance in her living room and then say, “Tari, you’re really good at this!”
When she was 16, Smith was asked by a Los Angeles-based dance company to teach high school dance teams across the United States. It was this experience that gave Smith a vision to teach.
“I knew I wanted to own my own dance studio,” Smith said. “I love to teach. I think there is a teaching chromosome; either you’re born to teach or you’re not.”
Former Golden Girl Tina Smith practices in 1986.
In California, Smith met a girl from Chalmette who told her about a dance team at LSU that she “had to try out for.” Two years later, Smith headed to LSU and enrolled in the then offered dance major program. In March of her freshman year, 1981, she tried out for the Golden Girls she had heard about.
The girls were asked to prepare an original routine and perform it individually. From there, 30 applicants were chosen for the second round. These girls were taught a routine and had to perform it an hour later. Only 16 ladies made the team—Smith being one of them.
“I will never forget Tari’s audition,” said Frank B. Wickes, director of bands. “She came out of the corner like a gymnast and did this Russian toe-touch. It was stunning. All the judges looked at each other and I thought, ‘Here comes a star.’”
The year Smith auditioned for the team, it was Wickes’ second year as the director of bands. After 30 years in that position, Wickes is planning to retire following this year, leaving a lasting impression on the program and those involved.
“He made a difference in my life,” Smith said. “He brought the program to another level by giving people with talent a real chance.”
Wickes’ first few years with the band brought change in the form of breaking racial barriers, making new rules for the dance line and even including the team in the pregame show.
Smith still remembers taking the field for her first performance, sharing it with her teammate and best friend, Claudeidra Minor, one of the first black women on the dance line—someone Wickes described as “such a joy.”
“My first performance was also my first time in Tiger Stadium,” Smith said. “I was hooked.”
The 50 years of Golden Girls results in about 800 women who all carry some sort of memory from their time on the team.
In 1992, Nicole Marchand earned her place as a Golden Girl. She spent four years on the team and considers it an integral part of her college experience. She still remembers the way her mom shouted her name as she marched with her teammates down the hill toward the stadium.
“Now, when I see the band or the Golden Girls, tears fill my eyes because it’s such a privilege to be selected,” Marchand said. “I hold these memories very close to my heart. The whole band becomes your family and you never forget that.”
"Of course, I have so many memories from being a part of this line,” current Golden Girl Captain Danielle Hardy said. “The first time I ever marched down the hill is something I will never forget.”
In 1993, Andree Leddy joined the team. Although she said she could probably write a book on her Golden Girl memories, she specifically remembers the game at Alabama. That year, the Crimson Tide were the defending national champions, running on the longest undefeated streak at the time—winning 30 games and tying one.
“The march to the stadium (in Tuscaloosa) was an experience,” Leddy said. “We won that game—completely amazing. The band kept playing, and we kept dancing until no one was left in the stadium. They had to ask us to leave.”
A family affair
After being involved in dance in Covington since she was three, Blair Buras headed to LSU in 2000 and auditioned to be a Golden Girl. But even after years of practice and experience on her junior high and high school dance teams, Buras didn’t make the cut.
Months afterward, Buras enrolled in a dance school owned by Smith. After months of training, practice and learning technique, Buras went out for the team again and was successful. She served as team captain in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
The team captain is voted on by other team members, but Linda Moorhouse, associate director of bands, has the final say. The captain is responsible for all choreography, keeping schedules, running practices and making sure costumes are prepared before games. The team gets the music for its next routine after Saturday’s football game, and the dance must be ready to teach Monday.
In 2004, Buras’ sister Hilary joined the team. The girls spent that year on the team together before Blair graduated, and Hilary became team captain in 2005.
Blair said the two were destined to be involved with the university after growing up around it.
“Our dad played football at LSU, and we had season tickets,” Blair said. “Being a Golden Girl is something I’ve wanted to be forever.”
As teammates, Blair and Hilary shared an emotional year on the team when their mother passed away.
“I was so glad she got to see us dance together,” Blair said. “It was a time when we really needed each other, and it was special that we were together.”
Since 2003, Blair has been teaching dance classes under Smith’s leadership. She teaches the Golden Girl prep class, where current team members and those who aspire to be on the team can learn proper technique. She also teaches ballet for all ages, lyrical, jazz and contemporary dance.
Blair has a master’s in nutrition; she likes applying her knowledge about healthy eating to her students at the dance studio.
“Since weight is part of it, it’s a good place to be modeling healthy habits,” Blair said.
She said she wanted to teach since college, and she doesn’t see it any other way.
“I’m happy teaching dance,” she said. “I can’t see the day when I’m not teaching.”
Tari’s School of Dance
Smith graduated from LSU in 1986 as a first-generation graduate with a bachelor’s in education. She later earned her MBA from LSU in the 1990s and opened her first dance studio in Gonzales, where she graduated high school. Her studio moved to Baton Rouge in 1987. This year’s recital was her 25th dance production, all of which have taken place between five locations.
Former Golden Girl Tari Smith takes the field in 1983.
“I didn’t have a lot of formal training,” Smith said. “I sometimes think about what I could’ve done if I’d only had a good teacher, and I want to give my students that. What I do is very rewarding.”
Today, Tari’s School of Dance is located on Perkins Road, where it is thriving. When Smith approached the bank about a new building for her studio, she said they laughed at the idea of “little girls in tu-tus” becoming a booming business.
But Smith has watched her students grow and get accepted by the New Orleans Saintsations, the Los Angeles Laker Girls, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, New York City Rockettes and, of course, the LSU Golden Girls.
“Tari is such a special person because a lot of the Golden Girls now have come through her studio,” Wickes said. “She has been a real mainstay.”
Smith has molded 50 students to become Golden Girls, continuing a tradition that has left wonderful, lasting memories in her heart. Her current school, which has four studios, is decorated with pictures of successful dancers she’s helped along the way.
“She was a Golden Girl,” she said, pointing to a poster. “She’s a Tiger Girl. She was on Broadway.”
After so many successes, Smith’s studio is often labeled “the dance team studio.”
“I’m proud of that and that we have great dancers for the kids to look up to,” she said. “But we do offer so many other classes.”
Although Smith has the experience with Golden Girls, she still said it’s very competitive.
“Everyone is really talented, smart and pretty,” she said. “They have to know technique, pass an interview and maintain a good GPA.”
Golden Girls have to be accepted to LSU and maintain college GPA of 2.0. The team practices with the band four days a week and on their own as needed.
“These girls are athletes; they have to give up a lot to be on the team,” she said. “I’ve been through a lot with the Golden Girls. It was a wonderful experience, and I loved it.”
Aside from Blair, current Golden Girl Brittany Brady took classes at Smith’s studio. After growing up in Tari’s School of Dance, Brady said she made the team during a very popular audition year.
“We had just won the National Championship so there were about 100 other girls auditioning as well,” Brady said. “I was extremely nervous because it was something I wanted so badly.”
Laura Lynne Covington Matthews, a Golden Girl from 2000-2004, also became involved with the team through Smith.
“Tari told me that I should try out and encouraged me to do so,” Matthews said. “I went to the LSU games as a little girl and wanted to be a Golden Girl. She prepared me for the tryouts, and I made the team.”
Smith works day and night at her studio, laughing when she mentioned she actually did sleep there at one time. Now she concentrates on the future success of her students, work she describes as extremely rewarding.
“I’m looking at some of these kids who I’ve seen grow up,” she said, looking out the window. “And then I’ll get to see them on Broadway.”
Several of the Golden Girl alumni have moved on to marry, start families and enjoy flourishing careers. LSU 2007 graduate and former Golden Girl Lacey Minchew was a Miss Teen USA and was named Miss Louisiana this year.
Leddy teaches the dance line at Holy Savior Menard High School in Alexandria. Minor now serves as an attorney for the Louisiana Department of Justice. Another Golden Girl alumna Melanie Hebert is now a news anchor in New Orleans.
“It’s a good feeling to know that you are part of LSU’s history and are seen as an icon by devoted LSU fans,” current Golden Girl Brittany Brady said.
Through all the hard work, determination and practice, Golden Girl admirers can look forward to another 50 years of an outstanding tradition.
“The Golden Girls are one of the oldest traditions at LSU. When you think LSU football, you think Golden Girls,” Leddy said. “Being chosen as part of the team is both an honor and a privilege. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and you’ll have some of the best memories of your life.”
Holly Ann Phillips | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations