January 24, 2020
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- It's pretty rare for husbands and wives to get inducted into the same Wall of Fame, let alone in the same year.
But then again, Kari and Doug Miller are a rare couple. Kari is the choreographer of the Lancer Dancers, who performed at every Rochester Lancers game, indoor and out, and Doug is the coach of the Lancers' men sides, indoor and out.
They both will be inducted into the Lancers indoor Wall of Fame during halftime of the team's Jan. 31 game against the Baltimore Blast at the Dome Arena.
When learning of the honor, Kari said she "was very surprised and excited, especially because of the fact that Doug and I have been given this award at the same time. It's pretty exciting to do things with your husband like this."
Doug said: “She's been in my life for 23 years now and we met when she was a dancer for the rhinos and 21 years of marriage. She has been with me through thick and thin in the journey of soccer. I can't tell you how blessed I am.”
Rochester soccer has been a family affair for the Millers. Both their daughters, Kayla, now 19, and Kalista, 17, were members of the Junior Lancer Dancers before becoming full-fledged members of the Lancer Dancers ensemble.
Kari said that Lancers owner Salvatore "SoccerSam Fantauzzo" took both daughters aside at the most recent home game and said, "Don't think I forgot about you. I do want you to be a part of it, but it'll probably next year."
"There were 20 slots and he wanted Doug and I to be in this 20," Kari added. "The girls have been there since day one as well. The Lancers for them are like family. We've had the entire team at our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We've done New Year's Eve with them. We've spent a lot of family time with them. It's been nice throughout the years. They have had a lot of big brothers."
The Millers met while working for the Rochester Rhinos in 1976. Doug was a player, Kari a member of the club's dance team. Some 21 years later, the Miller just be considered the first couple of Rochester soccer given the number of years and teams they have been together. When Doug played with the Buffalo Blizzard, Kari was a dancer and choreographer for that indoor team. She also had similar responsibilities with a roller hockey team in Buffalo.
When the Lancers went dormant in 2015, Kari and her daughters went east to the Syracuse Knights junior dance team for a couple of years. When the Lancers return as an outdoor side in 2017, the Lancer Dancers entertained at games.
Now, if you think the Lancer Dancers or any dancer just go out on the floor and just dance any old routine, then guess again. Each dance is choreographed. Dancers are athletes, given what they must do. They need to hit their mark, sometimes accomplish some difficult dance steps, twists and turns and keep in sync with the other women.
"It is just like being on a team and I tell the girls that every time. You're team players," Kari said. "I even tell them on the field" 'If you see somebody that's lost -- because it is a lot of choreography thrown that's at them - communicate with them, help one another out because you are a team and at the end of the day you don't want one person standing out.' Everyone is supposed to be in sync and perfectly together."
The Lancer Dancers' responsibilities also include walking around the Dome Arena throwing around freebies to the supporters, "getting the crowd going," Kari said.
"Little kids are so cute," she added. "They want to come over to the girls when they're doing sidelines, so they try to make everybody a part of everything."
The Lancer Dancers are holding a camp for Junior Lancer Dancers for kids from five to 15, two hours prior to a Lancers game. They will learn a routine and can perform with the big squad at halftime. "We make them feel they're part of the entire Lancer Dancers," Kari said. "They get to line up in the tunnel where the guys run through. They get to do sidelines with them. They get to do promos. So, it's a real fun experience. I'm hoping for a real good turnout again."
The group's preparation begins months prior to the season. During the season, the dancers practice once a week for 90 minutes or two hours.
"A lot of times I'll send videos to the girls where they can practice things," Kari said. "It's just really hard with everybody's schedules. A lot of the girls are in college or have jobs. So, the less time for them is easier. Obviously, I would love to meet with them more. I'll send them videos and they'll pick things up. They'll come to practice, they have to walk in, walk through that door and know what they're doing, be prepared to learn more."
During games, Kari will have someone record the routines, which are viewed at the next practice. Certainly sounds like what a sports team does, doesn't it?
"It’s a good way for us to work on this, to improve on this," she said. "It's beneficial in many ways and even pictures that we get, too. You can tell someone's out of sync here. Let’s go over this part. But it's fun. I love it. I love entertaining. I love dancing. It's always been in my blood since I was three."
And, there are costume changes for the women.
"I love to do that to keep things different and interesting," Kari said. "We have our main uniform, which is brand new this season, which I am excited about. They are custom made. They're royal blue velvet. They have white and yellow in them. I rhinestoned all of them. They're a little glittery. That's the girls' main costume. Then we have our casual ones, pants with a sports bra. They have shorts. They have t-shirts. At Christmas we did the ugly sweat t-shirts that the Lancers gave out and Santa hats. We keep it interesting, too. If you are maybe seeing the same dance, it looks fresh and different with a new costume on."
A native of Greece, N.Y. Kari graduated from Spencerport High School before earning a bachelor’s degree in dance at Brockport State.
"I had the opportunity to dance for a lot of amazing choreographers like Garth Fagan who was one of my teachers at Brockport," she said about the Tony Award winning for choreographer of the hit Broadway show, "The Lion King."
"I had the opportunity to dance with a lot of great people."
Kari admitted she never dreamt she would have a life like this with a well-known soccer player turned coach.
"I'm not your typical athlete kind of girl," she said with a laugh. "So, for me to marry an athlete and then this everyday life was probably not was expected. I love it. I wouldn't change. It is overwhelming at times because it consumes your life mostly and in all great ways. I feel like a lot of these people have become family now, which is the best part of it. My husband is super happy. I always tease him -- he'll be mad that I said this -- but I always say soccer is your first love."
Fans can watch the Millers and the entire 2020 class of 20 Wall of Famers be inducted at the Dome Arena in Henrietta, N.Y. on Jan. 31. Tickets can be purchased at RLancers.com or at the dome box office on game day. The Lancers host the St. Louis Ambush on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m.