The Daily Gamecock

First male Carolina Coquette makes 'dream come true'

Most weekday evenings during football season, the Gamecock campus rings with the sounds of a metronome, drums and countless other instruments. But the Mighty Sound of the Southeast doesn't only contain musicians, but performers of several sorts. One of them is Jonathan Smith, a fourth-year music education student, drummer-turned-dancer and the first male member of the Carolina Coquette dance team.

The Coquettes perform alongside the marching band, color guard and baton twirlers at each home football game. After spending his first three years at USC on the drumline, Smith was allowed to join the dance team.

Smith has been a drummer longer than he's been a dancer, and much of his high school life was dedicated to marching band. He looks back fondly on his time with USC's drumline.

"There is this very, very true stereotype about the drumline, and it’s that they’re all a bunch of wild, crazy, loving people," he said. "The drumline here in the Carolina Band is very goofy, very wacky. They’re all a bunch of great people."

His dancing career started in his freshman year of high school, and as soon as he joined Carolina Band, he wanted to join the Coquettes. But each year, when he asked if he could audition for the team, he was told no — until this past spring, when current band director Cormac Cannon gave Smith the go-ahead.

Smith is particularly grateful for Cannon's support of his wish to be on the dance team.

"I’ve always asked to be a part of the Coquettes dance team and always got told no, just because of the fact that I’m a guy," Smith said. "And being in the South and everything that comes with that, we were prepared for the worst, expecting the best."

Even though there was a chance for some negative feedback about the decision to have a male member of the Coquettes, Smith said Cannon was "fully supportive." And as it turned out, no one seemed to mind that the Coquettes had their first guy.

Coquette instructor April Kaylor said that having Smith is not only fine, but also a great benefit, because he is able to perform some moves that female members of the team can't.

"Male dancers are super powerful, and he can do a lot of great things that some of the girls can’t do," Kaylor said. "I mean, he can leap over their head(s), so obviously we want to utilize some of his strengths."

In addition to being able to contribute his individual strengths, Smith has adapted easily to the Coquettes' style, Kaylor said. She hopes that Smith's presence on the team will encourage other men to audition.

For his part, Smith's biggest challenge in joining the team has been adjusting to the increased activity compared to drumline.

"When you’re dancing, there’s no relief," he said, "and you stop for a few minutes, but then you go back to constant motion, constant impact, cardio, jumping up and down and everything like that."

Smith, Kaylor and other members of the team said that little has changed since his joining the Coquettes. For second-year broadcast journalism student Adriana Ivkovic, who has danced with the team for both her years at USC, the best part of having Smith on the team is simply having him there.

She recalls a summer day at band camp when she was talking about how much more comfortable she is on the team in her second year. "And [Smith] was like," she said, "'I'm just so happy I get to be a coquette.'"

"I just thought that was so cute," Ivkovic said. "So I guess just his passion for dance and his willingness to be the only guy, and not a lot of guys would want to do that, so it’s pretty cool."

Kaylor said that Smith shows his passion by being dedicated and appreciating the opportunity to be a member of the team.

"He’s always wanted to be on the team, and so I think he really, really respects and admires the team as a whole," she said. "I mean, everybody comes in and they might’ve had a bad day and whatever, but he’s really good about leaving that at the door."

Despite some hesitation when he first joined the Coquettes, Smith said that, just like with drumline, the people he works with make it special.

"Obviously, I love dancing; it’s one of my biggest passions," he said. "But again, the team and the relationships I've been able to build and how friendly and welcoming and just wacky they are as well, has been a really great experience."

After eight years of dancing and three years of wishing to be a member of the Carolina Coquette dance team, Smith said it's oddly fitting that this is the year it happens.

"It makes me very, very happy. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for the past three years," Smith said, "and as poetic as it seems, finally getting to do it my senior year, it sounds cheesy again, but it’s like a dream come true."