By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — With her older brother playing basketball for McAlester, Kalyn Pirpich spent many nights of her childhood at Bob Brumley Gymnasium, watching both the Buffs and the cheerleaders. She tried out for and made the cheerleading squad heading into her freshman year at McAlester High School, but a year later switched to pom because it was more dance-oriented.
She’s been on pom ever since.
“I ended up really liking pom,” Pirpich said Friday.
“You go to school all week, and it’s stressful and emotional and you have all kinds of different troubles. And then you go to dance, and you just let it out.”
Pirpich grew up in McAlester, going to Frink-Chambers for elementary school and junior high, then coming to MHS. She started dancing as a 2-year-old at Angie’s Dance Plus in McAlester, her first clear memory being a jazz dance solo competition in Midwest City at which she competed as a 7-year-old.
“The song was ‘Teach Me How to Shimmy,’” Pirpich said. “I was really nervous, and all my mom told me was to use my face and to go out there and have fun. ... I ended up getting first place, I think, and I got an award for the best style.”
Pirpich used to teach at Angie’s, and she still takes class there — eight classes, to be precise. She said tap is her favorite dance style.
“You can talk through your feet,” Pirpich said of tap. “You just go out there, and the feeling is just crazy, being out there and being able to move your feet so fast.”
Though Pirpich did cheer her first year, many members of the pom squad have taken class at Angie’s. She said those classmates eventually recruited her to switch squads.
“I started tumbling like December of my eighth-grade year,” Pirpich said. “So it was like a quick process to learn how to tumble (for cheer) and get everything together.”
The switch allowed Pirpich to take advantage of her dance background while still performing Friday nights. As a senior this year, Pirpich has at most two more Friday night games left in this final football season.
“I love the feeling on Friday nights, of being out there in front of all the fans, with the boys behind us,” Pirpich said. “I feel like the pom squad and the cheerleaders, we both have a big role to play. We’re the ones who have to pump up our boys and pump our fans. Friday nights are the thing we all look forward to.”
After football season comes the Oklahoma State Dance Team Directors’ Association championships in December. The Lady Buffs won a state title Pirpich’s sophomore year, but they couldn’t defend their title last year, giving them extra motivation heading into this competition.
“We have more experience, and I think that helps the underclassmen — the juniors and the other girls — a lot, because we know what it feels like,” Pirpich said.
The Lady Buffs have also qualified for the National Dance Team Championship in February. They qualified at a University of Tulsa pom camp during the summer, where Pirpich was named a Universal Dance Association All-American and earned a tryout to the UDA staff.
“We had a lot of team-bonding, that’s what we needed, and it was a success,” Pirpich said of the TU camp.
“It’s just all going by so fast. Honestly, I’m probably going to miss the sisterhood that we have. I know we’re always going to be there, but we’re going to be at different colleges, and we’re not going to get to see each other as much as we do all the time.”
Though this senior year is flying by, graduation may not mean the end of Pirpich’s pom career. She said she’s already been accepted to Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, where she intends to try out for the pom squad.
Pirpich said she plans to major in criminal justice, then work as a criminologist or forensic scientist. She said shows such as "CSI" and "Criminal Minds" in part inspired her.
“My brother, he majored in criminal justice when he first went to NSU, and he said that the classes were really interesting,” Pirpich said.
Between school, pom and Angie’s, Pirpich doesn’t have much free time. When she does have a spare minute, she said she most enjoys spending time with her mother.
“She’s at every football game, whether it’s rain or shine,” Pirpich said of her mother. “She sits there shivering just to watch me dance, and she hasn’t ever missed a recital or a competition.”
Dance has already taken Pirpich to places as far away as Orlando, Fla. And though her time at MHS is quickly drawing to a close, her adventures with dance are far from over.
“I don’t really ever see myself without dance,” Pirpich said. “I always want to have dance to run to.”
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.