When Emma Rome was named to this year’s Destrehan Desty Darlings, it was like dance team royalty donning the uniform as the fourth generation in her family.
“It’s actually really exciting,” Emma said. “Being a Desty is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life because I wanted to be involved at school. I’ve been dancing with the same friends for about 10 years and I get to continue dancing with them.”
That’s exactly what her grandmother, Rita Varvaro, and mother, Missy Rome, both say they wish for her because they knew firsthand what the experience meant to them.
It’s a great story that’s evolved from their enthusiasm for dancing, as well as for the many girls who fight yearly for those slots on a team recognized nationally for its high-stepping routines. The Destys have won state titles along with numerous awards and recognitions.
Back in the late 1940s, Lena Mae Varvaro served on the Destrehan Drill Squad. But the family didn’t know about it until after her death when a friend produced photographs of her on the team, because she had not mentioned it to them.
From 1966 to 1970, Rita Varvaro became the second generation on the squad, then called the Destrehan Dance Team.Rita recounted how the uniforms evolved from the long skirt with the shirt and little boots to her own sequined leotards with short boots, and Missy’s sequined leotards with long boots. Emma will still wear sequined leotards but it’s more like a short A-lined dress with long boots.
Even the number of team members has changed.
Rita and her mother danced on a team with about 30 people while Missy’s team had about 40 people. Emma’s team got smaller with 20 to 24 dancers.
From 1989 to 1993, Missy was on the team when it was called the Destrehan Desty Darlings.
This year, Emma, a freshman, will dance as the Destrehan Destys.
“It’s something that I’m proud of,” Rita said of her granddaughter. “I’m proud of doing something my mother did, I did, my daughter did and now my granddaughter is doing. It’s just a sense of pride.”
There have been times when Missy wondered why her grandmother didn’t mention being on the team, but she has no doubt they shared the same interests.
“I think all of us like to be in the middle of everything,” she said. “We like to be involved and I think it’s unique that we all had the same interest, as far as dancing goes. It makes me proud we stuck around the area and, who knows, there might be a fifth generation.”
For Rita, being on the team expanded her world.
“You were either a cheerleader, on the dance team or in band,” she said of her time at DHS. “They didn’t have all those clubs when I was in school. I couldn’t play an instrument or couldn’t do cheerleading, so dance team was it.”
Rita made the team as a freshman, an accomplishment she reveled in because she wanted something to do when she went to her twin brother’s football games. But it became much more to her when she made friends for life.
“It was being part of a team, learning to get along with new people and I was from Destrehan and this brought a whole new world of people from Norco, St. Rose and New Sarpy,” Rita said.
Because she had been named team captain in her senior year, she was invited to be a “Saintsation,” a major honor for dancing. But Rita opted to attend Nicholls State University, where she got her degree in math education. She taught school 38 years, including DHS where she served as director of the Desty Darlings for 1987 – 96.
“We did pretty well,” Rita said. “We always came home with a trophy in first or second place in something.”
Missy said her mother insisted on them being involved and, for her, dancing was the perfect choice.
“When we would go to camp, that was my first stay away from home,” she said. “The camp experience is something every kid should experience. They teach you routines in a short amount of time and, at the end of the week, you’re evaluated. It’s like a big slumber party, but you work extremely hard.”
Bonding as a team is what she considers one of the most important aspects of being with this group, as well as learning team building, responsibility and helping other people. There are also the lifelong friendships made on the team, according to Varvaro and Missy Rome.
Missy knew one of her three daughters would become a Desty, but there were some uncertain moments with Emma loving dance and softball.
“I hope she does find the friendships and learns work ethic,” Missy said of her daughter. “If you want something, you have to work for it. I hope she makes fabulous memories.”
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