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Just for Kix dancers to perform at Outback Bowl

The Park Rapids Outback Bowl Dancers, as the tour group is called, will join in a mass dance routine with other branches of the Just for Kix program and dance studios from across the country Jan. 1, 2019 in Tampa, Fla. (Submitted photo)

Members of a local dance program plan to perform pre-game and during halftime at the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2019 in Tampa, Fla.

According to dance director Katilin Popanda, approximately 12 to 14 members of the Just for Kix dance team of Park Rapids, ranging between seventh and 12th grade, are expected to travel between Dec. 27 and Jan. 3. Including adult chaperones, she said there are about 21 people interested in taking the trip.

The Park Rapids Outback Bowl Dancers, as the tour group is called, will join in a mass dance routine with other branches of the Brainerd-based Just for Kix program and dance studios from across the country.

Their routine will be themed "An American Celebration." Participating groups will receive costumes and choreography to learn on their own before coming together with other performers in what Popanda described as a "performance tour."

"They're obviously doing a lot of practicing," she said, "because they get to be part of this huge bowl game that has 60,000 fans coming to it."

The trip won't be all work and no play, however. "They get to be part of excursions, too," said Popanda. "They get to go to the beach, Disney World, Busch Gardens, and they get to be part of a New Year's Eve dinner cruise, a night to relax and enjoy each other."

She estimated that a total of 500 dancers will be involved in the performance.

"This was the first year that I thought it's time to take these kids for this experience," she said. "We decided in November that we were going to go. That's when we held our first meeting to see who would be interested. We committed just recently because things are starting to move in the process."

The process includes a variety of fundraising events and finding business sponsors for the team's T-shirts. Popanda expressed gratitude for the community's support.

She credited 16-year-old team member and dance assistant Jaime Eischens for inspiring her to join in the Outback Bowl performance tour. It will be a first for the Park Rapids team, though other branches of Just for Kix have been involved with the Outback Bowl for 30 years. (The annual college football game was known as the Hall of Fame Bowl until 1995, when it was renamed after its title sponsor, Outback Steakhouse.)

"I'm super-excited," said Eischens. "I've been pushing Kaitlin to do this for a couple years now, because I've seen it on Facebook — on the Just for Kix page — and I've really wanted to do it."

Popanda said it another thing that helped her decide to move forward was her decision, during the past year, to make dance directing her full-time job. She also directs a Just for Kix team in Walker.

"I think it's going to really bond our team," said Popanda, adding that she is excited for the group to have "the experience of a lifetime that not a lot of people get to do."

Kelli Hanson, mother of one of the Outback Bowl Dancers, said she plans to go on the trip with her daughter, Jasmae Goodman.

"I know she's really excited to be a part of this," said Hanson. "I think it will be great for all the girls."

Of all the experiences involved in the trip, Hanson said Goodman is especially looking forward to the performance itself. "She just loves to dance."

Park Rapids Just for Kix was started by Popanda's mother Laura MacPherson, who coached the team during the 14 years Popanda was a member. This is Popanda's fifth year as director of the group.

"This is a passion of mine," she said. "To be able to work for something I love has been incredible."