The Golden Age – The thrill and competition of dancing for the Tigers

The first time Hilary Buras performed at halftime with the Golden Girls dance team, the weather was awful.

The rain kept pouring.

During pre-game, she stood in heels in the mud for 15 minutes. Her older sister Blair was the captain.

They were covered in grass, water and dirt. They could barely see a thing.

“I loved every minute of it,” Hilary says.

From 2000 to 2009, the Buras sisters were the anchors of the dance team, the Golden Girls, a now iconic squad of performers that began in 1959. Their time on the team overlapped for just one season in 2004.

Both sisters grew up watching LSU football. Their father Leon, a.k.a. Buddy, was an offensive lineman for the Tigers in the early 1970s.

But forget whatever was happening on the field—the defensive stops, the drives, the guts, the glory—halftime was always the sisters’ favorite part of LSU football.

“We lived for halftime,” Blair says. “I always wanted to be a Golden Girl.”

When talking to the sisters, dedication is a word that comes to mind.

“I grew up watching the Golden Girls from the time I was 3 years old,” Hilary says. “That was my favorite part of the game. Being a Golden Girl was our ultimate goal. It was what we were working towards in high school.”

The sisters danced in junior high, high school and competitively, eventually earning their coveted spots on the official LSU dance team.

“We weren’t forced to go to LSU, but my dad would have been disappointed if we hadn’t,” Blair says.

When Hilary was a junior in high school, she started training more intensely for the task.

They took trips from Covington to Baton Rouge and trained at Tari’s School of Dance several times a week.

“That was what you did,” Hilary says. “That’s how bad I wanted to make the team.”

Those trips were just the beginning of a lengthy tryout process. The competition begins every spring, and roughly 100 young women come to LSU with the same intent—to be a Golden Girl.

The search for those dancers is an all-day affair.

“You perform a one-and-a-half minute routine of your choice, then they cut from 100 to the top 30,” Hilary recalls. “Then, they teach you a dance on the spot. They do that because during the season, you’re learning a new dance every week. You perform that dance, and they’re looking at the way you perform and that you’re able to pick things up quickly.”

Though the sisters were lucky to make the team multiple times in a row, a Golden Girl spot is never guaranteed to carry over. Once the season is done, the girls go back to training, taking classes at LSU and keep training to try out again.

“Every single year, we had girls not make the team a second time,” Hilary says. “As soon as the season was over, you took classes to keep up because you had new freshmen coming—young girls ready to knock you off the team. It keeps everyone on their toes.”

All the stress was worth it for these sisters, though. The weeks of practice before the first game when the girls learned to march with the band; the summer practices; the Friday nights when they thought all the moves would be lost and the choreography would crumble on the field—there isn’t a day the Buras sisters regret.

“Saturday morning, it just always would come together,” Hilary says. “Right before halftime starts, everyone’s on the sidelines, and the drum major walks out and counts it off. From the time you start walking on the field, it’s three minutes. It’s a good blur. You walk off the field, and you’re like, ‘That was great.’ It was always an adrenaline rush.”

The fact that 90,000 people were watching never affected them either.

“It’s surreal,” Blair says. “I didn’t get wrapped up in the fact that so many people were watching. It was just exciting and loud, just something great to be a part of.”

As the Buras sisters carried the torch for the Golden Girls in those years, it was always in Death Valley where they felt at home.

“Nothing is as exciting as Tiger Stadium,” Hilary says. “We would go to one away game each year. I went to Florida, Auburn, Alabama. We’d go to bowl games. You think it would be the opposite. You think it would be more thrilling to dance in the Superdome for the national championship. But the actual exciting part of dancing is when you’re on your home turf.”

Today, dancing is still an integral part of both sisters’ lives.

Blair teaches dance at LSU and Tari’s, and she choreographs performances for the New Orleans Saints’ Saintsations dance and cheerleading squad.

“Teaching’s in my blood,” Blair says. “I love it. I have a niche for choreographing for football games. When I was a choreographer for LSU, it was 14 girls. Now, I have 36 girls. It’s fun to see my choreography on an NFL stage. I’m not officially connected with the Golden Girls, but every year, they take my classes at Tari’s or LSU, and I end up helping a lot of them prepare for auditions.”

For Hilary, it’s a bit different. Though she is working in merchandising, she still goes to every LSU football game.

She remembers all the songs and traditional routines.

“I could get up and do any of the school songs right now,” Hilary says. “I’ll always know those.”