OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The original Chiefettes Drill Team started in 1965 thanks to an Overland Park woman with a passion for teaching dance.
Shirley Marley is 84 years old and is still turning out professional performers from her studio, The Miller-Marley School of Dance and Voice, in Overland Park.
Marley and her husband, Johnny Miller, founded the Chiefettes team by pitching the idea to Jack Steadman.
"It was before the big stadium or anything," Marley said.
The couple got the green light and held an audition.
"We had hundreds of girls come, I don't know how many, but from everywhere — even Lawrence, Kansas, and from north of the river and Raytown and Lee's Summit and all over," Marley said.
Marley led the team for twenty years. Her hard work would shape the lives of Chiefettes for years to come, like Kansas City native Erin Robertson.
Robertson made the team when she was 19 years old. She had been dancing at the Miller-Marley School of Dance and Voice since she was a little girl, not knowing her teacher founded the team.
"She doesn't brag or talk about what she did, you kind of find it out through the grapevine and you're like 'Holy cow, this woman is amazing.' She's done everything," Robertson said.
Head shots of Marley's former students cover the walls at her studio. Many of them went on to become professional performers, such as Kansas City native and Radio City Rockette Mindy Moeller.
"All of the training that I did here in Kansas City, I could not have made it to be a Radio City Rockette without Shirley Marley," Moeller said.
Kansas City native Eric Huffman is another one of Marley's former students. He will play the role of Damian in the Broadway production of Mean Girls.
Like Moeller, Huffman credits Shirley with his success on the stage.
"I had to understudy or play a role that had a five-minute tap number and that was literally the portion of the audition that got me the jobs so thank you Shirley," Huffman said.
Marley said it's a thrill to watch her students live their dreams.
With Broadway productions on pause currently due to the pandemic, a group of Marley's former students are back in the Kansas City area. They get together for a pro-tap class once a week at Miller-Marley, back where it all began.
"Getting them back together with this class was something I thought would be fun, and more than teaching them I just thought they'd like to get together," Marley said.
Marley has been taking some time off from teaching in-person to take precautions against COVID-19. However, she said she recently received her first dose of the vaccine and is looking forward to getting her second dose.