They are considered a piece of the heart and soul of Purdue University.
As part of the All-American Marching Band which features the world’s largest bass drum, the Goldusters Dance Team are a part of a strong bond that brings music and dance to life.
No matter their upbringing and study background, when everyone comes together and puts on a show, all eyes and ears are on the ensemble, especially during the AES 500 Parade and the Indianapolis 500 pre-race festivities.
Going to Indy is a squad reunion as the 2022-23 team performed together for the final time as friends, family and Purdue alumni gather and bask in the moment.
As was the case for Indianapolis’ own Elena Eberwine, who will enter next season as co-student leader of the Goldusters. she is a legacy member as her grandfather, Rick Cooley, graduated from Purdue in 1979 with a degree in Chemistry.
Attending the Indy 500 as a fan several years ago, with a photo of her standing next to a Danica Patrick car, Eberwine knows the aura and pageantry the 500 brings to hundreds of thousands of folks each May. Additionally, she has been a part of it over the past few years.
“It just kind of opens your eyes to realize that I get to be a part of something that’s so much bigger than me that’s existed long before me and will continue to exist long after me,” said Eberwine, who’s majoring in brain and behavioral science.
“That connection with the Indianapolis 500 and the All-American Marching Band is so deep-rooted, and something that honestly a lot of Purdue grads are extremely proud of. Let alone to be a part of it is just unbelievable.”
In particular, Eberwine takes pride in continuing the legacy started by her grandfather in the late 1970s.
“My grandfather graduated from Purdue University and getting to experience his pride and seeing me be a part of it too is something that I take a lot of pride in,” she said. “It just really solidifies the point that I’m lucky to be here, and I’m thankful for the opportunities, and the deep connections that the All-American Marching Band has with the Indianapolis 500. It’s so unique.
“It’s so cool and I definitely just kind of wanna soak it all in because obviously my time on the team is limited. So yeah, just really appreciate that connection.”
Finding Their Dancing Spark
Through the performances, powerful music and seas of people roaming the 2.5-mile circuit, the Goldusters’ role at Indy symbolizes both a cultural experience and a bittersweet closure.
For Kaitlyn Murphy of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, a recent biomedical engineering graduate, this past weekend’s performances were her swan song after three seasons as a Golduster.
Coming to Purdue, an institutional staple for engineering, Murphy was a studio dancer who never tried pom dancing. In fact, when she went to high school, it was an engineering school, so a dance team was not a part of the equation.
One night at Ross-Ade Stadium, home of the Boilermaker football team, Murphy was in awe of the squad and joined the Goldusters as a sophomore. It was that moment where Murphy’s life transformed forever.
Murphy entered last weekend with the mindset of giving back to the team by giving it her all at Indianapolis.
“I’ve learned so much from so many different people on my team,” said Murphy, who will work at Lilly as a process engineer. “We’re a group of very strong independent women, who come from very different backgrounds, who have very different future goals.
“Having a dance team connection like that introduces me to so many different personalities, so many different aspirations, and makes me a more well-rounded person.”
From one studio dancer to another, Mosinee, Wisconsin’s Taylor Javoroski capped off her freshman year at Purdue, already making an impact as a Golduster.
Javoroski has familiarity with racing as her dad, Al, was a stock car pit crew member with his friends from elementary school.
Now, the younger Javoroski, majoring in marketing, led a tap dance routine last November when Purdue faced Iowa. It began when Coach Natalie Hess pulled Javoroski aside and recalled her having a background in tap dancing.
“I spent a couple years with the National Tap Company touring with them and being one of their apprentices,” said Javoroski. “(Coach Hess) was like, ‘If you wanna do this, I would love for you to choreograph this and take this on.’
“And I had a great time.”
Javoroski and Hess collaborated on the project that came into fruition during the American Celebration Halftime Show. There was a catch to the tap dance experiment.
“Not all of our girls have tap backgrounds,” Javoroski commented. “(Coach Hess) took what I did and made more of our Golduster steps for them.
“They did jazz while we did that tap portion at the same time. It just looked incredible from the bird’s eye view that they had of our show that weekend.”
Once In A Lifetime Ventures
Namely, Javoroski and the rest of the team performed in front of large crowds around the country, such as the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, but also the world.
Before Memorial Day Weekend, the entire ensemble last performed together in March during St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland.
This marked an unforgettable venture that was a year and a half in the making and a once in a lifetime moment. Certainly, this was an experience that is unlikely to happen again.
Hess, a former Indianapolis Colts cheerleader, performed in the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl and inherited the position previously held by Joy McEwan, who retired after the 2021 Indianapolis 500.
No stranger to exploring new venues, Hess explained how despite some culture shock and others who’ve never traveled abroad, everyone soaked up the Ireland adventure during Spring Break.
The entire crew knew this was one for the memory book they will cherish in their hearts forever.
“Everyone was super, it was so nice because everyone was super fortunate just to be there and to be able to experience, and really like taking it in,” Hess said. “Everyone was trying to make best of all the experiences we did. All the tourists and activities they kind of set up for us.
“Everyone was really engaged and learning about their culture and how they live. The parade that was like super, the parade itself I think was a big deal.”
In spite of the incredible opportunities and events that Hess and the Goldusters performed at in recent years, Ireland still stands out to this day.
“Like we’ve done parades obviously all the time with the marching band and they knew it was gonna be a big like huge parade, thousands of people, but I don’t think they were expecting it to be as big as it was. So that was super awesome to see. Like afterwards, so many people were like, ‘Oh my God! That was like the best thing I’ve ever done!’
“That’s gonna be a memory that stays with me like forever and ever and ever. It was super, super awesome to be there and experience that with them.”
Staying In The Zone
Memories are an enigma for people that are simply passionate about what they do. Preparations during long breaks between performances are second nature for the Goldusters.
In fact, performing during the parade and Indy 500 marked the first time that they performed since going to Dublin and after the school year had wrapped up.
On one hand, nailing routines and rehearsals have become second nature. When it is showtime, it is indeed showtime.
Timing is everything, making sure they are prepared to perform, even when practices go from daily during football season to extremely limited afterwards.
A saying among the Goldusters is trying to not “get lost in the sauce.”
“We all are awesome big performers, but we have to make sure that we dial it in and zone in, and make sure that we’re doing the right steps,” said Eberwine. “Making sure we’re where we need to be when we need to be. Just those little types of things.
“Obviously, we wanna really make sure to soak it all in. But we do really make sure to remind the girls like, this is a performance. Something we always mention too is this might be the first and last time that someone may ever see the All-American Marching Band or the Golduster dance team.”
Like race teams and drivers to first time attendees at Indianapolis, Eberwine and her squad mates want to execute with great, memorable performances.
“We can’t assume that people are gonna see us again or even know who we are,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to introduce ourselves and we wanna make a good first impression, and really just kind of put our best foot forward, I think. It’s always remembering that we’re constantly gonna be making first impressions.
“We’re really doing it for those people who this is like maybe their only impression of the Golduster dance team. We wanna make sure that we are giving them an accurate representation of our team.”
In a way, Hess’ explanation of having her team stay laser focused or in the zone also fits the mold of trying to avoid the phrase.
“I would say at the beginning of the year with like rookies, when we had our very first game in Ross-Ade, we kind of tried to prep them, it’s gonna be shocking,” said Hess. “You’re gonna be like in awe and you’re gonna wanna just like stare around like jaw drop, but you kind of have to reel it in and be like, ‘Okay, we’re here to do a job as well.’
“Since the beginning of the year, you kind of have like prepped for balancing and taking it all in. But also, we’re here to do a job and that’s why we practice for all year. I’d like to say that even though it is gonna be a different and new experience for all of our first-year members, this is something they’ve kind of prepped for all year.”
While planning proactively and rehearsing is meaningful a team like the Goldusters, sometimes, it is about being ready for the unexpected.
“Even before coming here as performers and as dancers, you kind of have to plan for anything and everything and stay on your toes because you never know what can happen,” Hess said.
Making Every Moment Count
As glorious as performing at IMS, the AES 500 Parade, Ross-Ade, or Mackey Arena, it is an honor and privilege.
Like several upperclassmen Goldusters, Eberwine’s first 500 experience as part of the pre-race traditions was in 2021, the year after the 500 was moved from May to August and had nobody in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The senior class did not get the proper four-year experience, including Malaya Atisso, an education graduate.
Unlike Murphy, Atisso will have a fourth Indy 500 as a Golduster as she made the squad as a fifth-year member. That is because Atisso will enter graduate school at Purdue to continue her ambitions of being involved in education.
During the pandemic, Atisso reflected on having to wait until 2021 to perform at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time, initially not realizing why it is a huge deal for the university despite coming from Indiana.
When she had the opportunity to witness and be a part of Indy 500 lore, her perspective changed. Considering what everyone dealt with during the pandemic, Atisso knew moments like Indy should not be taken for granted.
Who is to say what can happen next where many folks may only see them perform once or even be a part of mesmerizing events ever again?
“We didn’t take for granted anything because we knew that it could all end at any moment. I didn’t think that my freshman year season was just gonna end and I wasn’t really gonna get a sophomore season,” Atisso explained. “Going into my junior and my senior season, I think that all of us were just so thankful to be back and so thankful to be in front of crowds. Not just in front of our Purdue crowds, but in front of our Indy crowd.
“So honestly, I think that if you ask anybody who’s on the team right now, we are so thankful to be like getting to do this because we know it could be taken away at any time.”
Paighton Derrick, a native of Morton, Illinois, is studying in nursing. Moreover, she is the co-student leader with Eberwine. Likewise, she understands the importance of cherishing every moment.
This includes her mother, Amanda, who cheers for her daughter and made the trip to Dublin, Ireland. Derrick’s mother is the main reason why she is a Golduster.
Such family moments are an example of why Derrick capsulate her time as a Golduster so far, no matter where life takes her going for as she enters her junior year in the upcoming 2023-2024 school year.
“There’s been so many things that have happened, but I would say the biggest takeaway for me is to live in the moment,” said Derrick. “Not worrying about what’s gonna happen tomorrow, what you need to focus on your job for the day, and soak in those amazing memories because it’s never gonna happen again.
“You’re never gonna be in downtown Dublin performing in front of all these people in Ireland. You’re never gonna be on this racetrack for the rest of your life.”
By all means, Derrick makes sure to pause and reflect on what she does as a Golduster. With time being so linear, not taking the moment to bask in her opportunities would be foolhardy.
“Just really being able to soak in the memories and have it stick in your head the best you can is something that I’ve truly been trying to focus on my career as a Golduster,” she said. “Not so much worrying about, ‘Okay, what next? What are we gonna do next?’ Just focusing on the now and how I can make that memory last forever.”
Recognizing Their Impact
Being a Golduster also have the task of being a role model for the community. Dancing is part of Javoroski’s DNA as her mom was a former dancer and her younger sister currently is one.
That in mind, Javoroski recognizes how her upbringing can be utilized as an excellent tool for others to follow.
“I’m about six hours from campus, from where I live. Being from a small town, not a lot of people, get out and have that opportunity,” said Javoroski. “To be able to do these things and it’s giving back to the kids that I grew up with and showing them that this is possible. Like, you can do this, and you have the opportunity to continue dancing without being a professional dancer and that sort of aspect that most sports like take that path.
“If you continue into college, that’s the route that you go. But this is something that you can continue to do in college, and it helped with my transition immensely. So being able to show them that you can get out there and do these things is super cool.”
Similarly, much like Javoroski, Derrick could not believe her route in dancing continued. Before deciding to study at Purdue, she was in a compelling spot in terms of deciding on a local university to study at for her undergrad efforts.
Realizing that nursing and dancing can be done in a flexible manner, it became clear where her heart was leading her towards. As challenging it was as an only child to depart from her parents, Derrick has zero regrets on making the move.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna take a chance and I’m gonna audition for this team,’ Derrick exclaimed. “Looking on the website, they have all these amazing opportunities listed and I’m like, ‘Imagine getting to do that. Imagine getting to go to Ireland and imagine performing in front of that many people. It sounds all great!’
“Then you actually get that opportunity and get to do it in real life is insane. It is so amazing, and I am just so thankful that I was led in the right direction to Purdue University. Thankful that I have an opportunity to represent my university at the highest level and be able to dance for them as well.”
Now as a Boilermaker alumnus, Murphy summarized the significance of what the university meant to her. Without Purdue, she could not imagine how much of her life would have been different. Growth was made and passions blossomed.
A mantra synonymous in West Lafayette with their fight song “Hail Purdue,” is what is all about.
“Whether it be my academics, whether it be the fact that Purdue brought me my dance team or the people I’ve met here. Purdue to me, I see growth when I think of Purdue,” said Murphy. “I think that who I am or who I used to be and who I am now, Purdue was integral in that growth process.
“Our saying is, “ever grateful, ever true.” But I do truly believe that without Purdue, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’m very grateful that I did choose this school because it not only brought me my closest friends, but it also helped me discover my passions. Have the feel well equipped to continue my passions and it’s just “ever grateful, ever true” for choosing Purdue.”
For a senior class who have experienced and persevered through many hurdles. Hess has seen them flourish every step of the way. Above all else, it is why she sees the 2023 graduating class as a genuine example of what representing the Goldusters should be.
“They’ve kind of been through it all. They had COVID times and then after things got back to normal, they got a new coach,” said Hess. “Obviously when that happens, things like totally switch up and change, and they’ve been so good with like adapting and still being really great and positive representations of the Goldusters for all the underclassmen and what it really truly means to be a Golduster.
“Even though they, you know, had to adjust, and had to adapt to things year after year. They’ve stuck true to the true like definition of a Golduster, which I really do appreciate and love about this group.”
Purdue Pride Heartbeat
When the green flag was unfurled at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, all the focus was on the 33 drivers who aspired to become the 2023 Indy 500 champion. Josef Newgarden realized this quest on Sunday as his face will be on the Borg-Warner Trophy forever.
Ultimately, when it comes down to it, Purdue plays an integral role as to why Indy hits differently than any other place in the world. While the Goldusters are involved in the festivities, Atisso knows that without the other pieces, notably the All-American Marching Band, the heartbeat would become obsolete. “Back Home Again in Indiana” would feel different.
In other words, like the late Bob Jenkins said when ESPN closed out its NASCAR coverage with the 2000 NAPA 500, “There would be no magic.”
It takes more than 23 Goldusters. In fact, it takes over 400 people across all groups of the All-American Marching Band in terms of who dons the Purdue emblem in their uniforms.
“We are not just Goldusters, we are a part of the Purdue bands, which is 395 talented people. It is honestly so much more than just being a dancer and like just getting to wear Purdue’s signature logo,” said Atisso. “It is about performing with over 300 talented people who love performing and love Purdue, and love bringing Purdue spirit anywhere we go.
“Honestly, at the end of the day, it’s just about being a part of something that is so much bigger than yourself. So much bigger than just your team of over 20 ladies. They say that Purdue bands are the heart of Purdue. Without the bands, we wouldn’t have the same energy. We probably wouldn’t have the same crowd base.”
As for the greatest takeaways with being a Golduster, it proves as special as the Indianapolis 500 swigging a glass of milk and kissing the bricks. As Atisso attest, it is what being a part of the Goldusters team, regardless of the event being at Speedway, Indiana or Dublin, Ireland.
“I’m really living the dream as a college student, I have fully fulfilled my dream of dancing, being a performer, getting all these opportunities, and getting to represent Purdue wherever I go,” she said. “We as a dance team, we recognize that without Purdue bands, we probably wouldn’t be at the Indy 500, and we probably wouldn’t have gone to Ireland.
“We just know that the Purdue bands has like done a lot for us and we feel really thankful that we get to be a part of it.”
Special thanks to everyone for taking the time to speak throughout the week for TPF!
Look for more content about the Purdue Goldusters Dance Team and follow his social media channels on Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and Instagram! Also, if you are interested in following the Purdue Bands & Orchestras, give them a follow on their social media channels on Instagram, and YouTube!
Full interview with Purdue Goldusters Head Coach Natalie Hess