In the small dance room at Green Space Arts Collective in Denton, fully wooded and mirrored for optimal practice, a group of women gathers to practice a routine based off the popular anime Love Live.
They all stare intently in the clear glass to hit the right steps and make their marks in time. Breathing heavily with a little bit of sweat on their pink faces, they end their practice and pay for the time. All nine women are dedicated and on the same page. This cosplay idol dance group is known as Project: StarLight.
Each member of the group has her own cosplay page, aesthetic and life outside of Project: StarLight, yet they all come together for the dance aspect of cosplay.
Co-captains Tapanga Gunter and Missy Gondolf joined Sydney Luna to form the group. But finding other members proved to be a challenge.
“We did a lot of recruiting,” Gunter says, “because none of my friends were into Love Live and didn’t want to dance in public.”
Through social media, the trio found their captain and treasurer Megan Trussell, Little Megan O’Shea and the member portraying the main character, Tristan Blodgett. Secretary Mae Shaver found out about Project: StarLight's audition through O'Shea.
“For the audition, you had to learn at least one minute of one of the dances, but I learned both dances all the way through,” Shaver says. “I had nine years of experience dancing trained en pointe ballet, and I’ve been through competitive dancing.”
Shaver was slowly pushed into taking over dance practices, thus becoming dance captain. Her functional responsibilities are managing emails and social media accounts.
Finally, last summer, Project: StarLight opened auditions again and found its final two members, Taylor Pearson and Frankie Cook, who were part of a smaller Love Live group. Since finding these two women, the group has been solid for a year.
The group chose the name Project: StarLight because its members like outer space.
“At that point, we wanted to go beyond Love Live,’” Luna says. “We were wanting to do other group dances that were in different idol anime. The project sort of encompasses not just Love Live; it’s a dancing project.”
When it’s time to perform at cons, Gunter's dad helps set up and sells buttons, T-shirts and prints at the merch table. But their merchandise doesn't pay the bills, so the women fund themselves.
“We don’t make a lot selling merch,” Shaver says. “The most we might make at a convention isn’t going to cover costumes, rehearsal time fees, etc., for nine girls. Any money we do make goes directly to an emergency fund, should we ever need it.”
Compatibility is key. The group members agree that luck allows them to work together so well. And they're adults.
“As adults, it’s easier to make compromises and realize that this person is this way and I’m this way,” Trussell says. “We might not see this one thing eye-to-eye, so it’s easier to have this conscious ability to figure out people instead of being dramatic.”
To ensure fairness in the group, it is run as a democracy. Members vote on each decision or conflict, and if a conflict remains, it is often resolved with mediated talks and patience.
“There was a specific dance me and [Little] Megan wanted to do,” Shaver says. “No one really voted for it, and another dance would get priority over it. We just had to wait, and over time we are doing the dance now.”
But the group is not just about dancing. Once they were established, the women wanted to set standards and conduct themselves professionally in public. Project: StarLight has a contract to keep everyone in check and let new members know the expectations set for them.
Project: StarLight members have found a way to be professional even in uncomfortable situations.
“Unfortunately, because of how many people follow us on Instagram, there are bound to be messages that we don’t like to get from time to time that can come across as unsavory,” Cook says. “As a group, we feel like we have been able to set boundaries between us and our fans/followers.”
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When Project: StarLight first started, dance practices were in Gondolf's garage with no central goal.
The women feel the DFW community has received them well. After performing at an Anime North Texas convention, they were invited to perform at A-Kon, racking up more than 4,500 Instagram followers.
Now that they feel they've mastered conventions, the group's focus is shifting to something new. The women are going back to some of their old routines to make full-length videos for their YouTube channel.
And as the women always say, "Stay bright, StarLight."