When everything else came to a halt because of COVID-19, one group in the area found a way to keep marching on.

Lynnnette’s Twirlerettes are a state, regional and national championship group that has performed extensively across the United States and countries around the world. For 37 years, Lynnette Lepre-Van Deusen of Carbondale has been teaching twirling to children ages 3 – 18. She started twirling at age 4 and was competing by 6.

At 14, Lepre-Van Deusen had the idea to teach twirling to younger girls and took a test to be a junior licensed teacher.

“I thought I would get 10 kids so we would have a group for a parade,” Lepre-Van Deusen said. “Only one showed up.”

Not willing to give up, she stuck with it and one year later had 20 students. Before long, she had more than 100 kids taking lessons.

Now in her 37th year of teaching twirling, she has branched out from her home base of Carbondale to include two other locations, covering three counties.

Lepre-Van Deusen is married to Jesse Van Deusen and the couple has 11-year-old daughter Vanessa, who is also a twirler.

“There’s no getting out now,” Lepre-Van Deusen said with a laugh.

‘Performance sport’

Lepre-Van Deusen said she took one week off after the social distancing guidelines were put in place. But it was the only break she needed before marching on with her Twirlerettes.

“Running a business, you never think you’re going to be this type of situation,” Lepre-Van Deusen said. “Twirling is a performance sport. Every week we are down is practice or performance time lost.”

Lepre-Van Deusen quickly came up with a way to keep her students engaged and not lose precious training time by using Zoom to host 10 online classes during the week.

“I’m not that tech savvy, but in tough times, you do what you have to do,” she said. “It’s important to me to keep them engaged. Over the years with teaching children, I’ve seen that routine is a good thing for them. Connecting with their friends is so important, too. Especially for the little ones. They are so happy and excited just to see their friends on the screen.”

Lepre-Van Deusen gives time at the start of class for the children to talk and catch up and she has found creative ways to keep the lessons fun. Both the Easter Bunny and Scooby Doo have made appearances.

“My thoughts on teaching have totally changed,” Lepre-Van Deusen said. “You have to hold their attention in a way that is different than if we were in person. I have to make lessons conducive so that students can understand it through a computer.”

The biggest challenge about online classes? Teaching everything backwards so she is a mirror image to the students.

“I have assistant teachers who watch the screens and intervene when they see a student not executing a move properly as I am demonstrating it,” she said. “It’s a team effort!”

Tina McDonald said her daughter, 11-year-old Marina, has adjusted to the new way of taking lessons.

“Martina loves Lynette. She loves everything about it. She loves being with her friends, who also take lessons. She also loves the performing feature of it,” said McDonald, of Carbondale. “Even though they can’t perform right now, she understood. And doing the whole Zoom thing, they are still together. She can still see everyone face to face and interact. It’s so good for her. She looks forward to that weekly lesson.”

‘They’re family’

About 1,200 girls have come through Lynette’s Twirlerettes program since it began. Lepre-Van Deusen has attended student’s graduations, weddings and baby showers.

“To me, they are not just my students, they’re family,” she said. “I love to keep in touch with them. I have 22 second generation twirlers taking classes this year and one third generation twirler taking class.”

In the past year, Lynnette’s Twirlerettes have performed in Rome, Italy and Salem, Massachusetts. Over the years, performances took them to places like Costa Rica and the 2017 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans where Lepre-Van Deusen was the twirling halftime choreographer.

While the pandemic has put a halt on traveling and performing, the challenges haven’t stopped Lepre-Van Deusen or her twirlerettes who finished their parade routine for the summer. If there are any parades at the end of August or into the fall, Lepre-Van Deusen said her students will be ready.

Over the years, Lynnette’s Twirlerettes raised money through their recitals and events for causes and charities in the community. Last year money was raised for one of Lynnette’s Twirlerettes who had leukemia.

This year, money is being raised for St. Jude’s Center.

“It’s really important to me that we give and do what we can to make a difference,” Lepre-Van Deusen said.

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