The Booker T. Washington Lionettes Prepare for Mardi Gras and Beyond
This year, the Booker T. Washington Lionettes are marching in seven Mardi Gras parades. The dance team will make their way through the city’s parade routes, performing carefully choreographed routines to thousands of spectators. They have sparkly red, black, and silver costumes ready to go, as well as plenty of water, pickle juice, candy, and fruit to keep them fueled through miles and miles of dancing.
For Lionette captain Ronye Harvey, a senior who moved to New Orleans from Baton Rouge during the pandemic, this will be her first chance to march in a parade.
“The whole team works hard so we can look good and keep up the name of the school,” she explains.
Harvey plays a serious leadership role in helping her team prepare for the Mardi Gras season. The Lionettes practice for three and a half hours each day from Monday through Thursday, and five hours on Saturdays. Often, the girls continue to practice with each other over FaceTime when they get home.
Harvey helps set the culture that helps the team sustain such hard work and long hours. She finds her teammates’ dedication to dance, and to one another, makes the effort well worth it. She says they end up missing each other when they have time off for school breaks.
When they are out of school for a week or so, Harvey explains, “you will miss going to practice. You will miss hanging out with the people you’re always with. It’s the bond that’s there, you miss it after you don’t have it for a while.”
Harvey’s work as captain, however, goes beyond practice. She and her fellow upperclassmen serve as mentors and role models to the younger dancers, who they call Lionette “cubs.”
“They expect us to be leaders,” she says. “They come to us like, ‘Oh, can you help me with this? Can you help me with schoolwork? Can you help me with this, that, and the third?’ And the teachers also ask you to be a leader….so you basically have to stay focused on everything.”
She feels she’s grown both as a leader and a dancer since coming to Booker T. Washington. “The last two years I’ve been on the team have been the best experience I’ve had,” Harvey says. “And as a dancer, I can say this is the best my craft has been since I started dancing.”
Harvey attributes much of her growth to the team’s coaches: Coach Mike Ricks, Coach Kia Harrison, and Coach Lamar Price. Price and Harrison work with the Lionettes specifically, while Ricks manages the full program of auxiliary teams–-the dance team, the flag team, the color guard, the majorettes, and the letter carriers.
All three are experts at dance and marching in parades. Ricks has marched for over 20 years, and this is his 10th year as a coach for our city’s schools. Price and Harrison have been dancing since they were young as well, and they were also members of the dance and cheer teams at L. B. Landry – O. P. Walker College and Career Preparatory High School when Ricks was the coach there.
He was confident that Price and Harrison were right for the job at Booker T. Washington.
“Lamar was a cheerleader when I was at Landry-Walker, and Kia was one of the dancers. So I know both of them. And I’m just extremely excited to have both of them by my side here. I think our children benefit from all of the wonderful things that they bring,” Ricks says.
Price was thrilled to take on the role. “So, when I first got the invitation to become the Lionettes coach, I was excited, because I’ve always wanted to be a high school coach and help the girls build up to a potential that anybody else can’t build them up to,” he says. “I have a gymnastics background, a cheer background, and a dance background–I decided I wanted to give that foundation to the girls.”
“This is my first year with the Lionettes,” explains Harrison. “But it feels like it’s been forever. Because we practice a lot. And the girls work really hard. They want to better their craft, for sure. And they make sure that they keep a team bond going on….we just want to make sure that we are being leaders inside and outside the school as well.” Ricks points out that it’s not just about Mardi Gras parades and football games. It is about making sure the students are taken care of. He believes that Booker T. Washington, KIPP New Orleans Schools as a charter network, and the city of New Orleans collaborate in that care.
“I think our children also benefit just from a city, and a school, as well as a network that supports everything that’s going on with our children…sometimes I have a habit of worrying about them too much,” he says. “So I’ll call the Saturday practice just so I can know where they are. They think I’m bored. I just want to know where they are,” Ricks says.
Being a member of the Lionettes is also about opening up opportunities after high school.
“What’s key for us, in teaching them different genres, is that it helps them more when they decide what college that they want to go into,” explains Price. “Say for instance, we teach them a jazz piece, if they decide that they want to go to Bethune-Cookman or Prairie View, then they already have that style as background behind them.”
Ricks agrees. He says the team will turn more fully to that preparation once parade season ends. “After Mardi Gras, the seniors will be practicing for their colleges and universities…they’re going to do the dances from whatever college that they want to go to,” he explains.
Until then, there’s nothing quite like marching.
“It’s just emotions all over the place,” Ricks says. “For me, it’s so exciting to just sit back and watch them. Mardi Gras becomes not about me, not about our coaches, but it becomes about our kids, it becomes about the presentation that they put on for the city and for the world.”
“All the hard work that we do,” says Harrison, “It is all for Mardi Gras.”
When the music starts, Price says, and the crowds are cheering along the route, something changes.
“Trust me,” he says. “It just hits your spirit, and your blood starts boiling, and you just do what you know.”