Pacemate Shea Wastes Little Time Adding a Little Memphis “Flava” to Indy’s Sports Scene

Shea prior to the March 8th Pacers-Sixers game

Shea prior to the March 8th Pacers-Sixers game

It takes a quite a bit of drive to become an NBA dancer. How much? About 41,000 miles. Last season, that is how many miles Shea of the Indiana Pacemates put on her new car, driving to and fro, cheering for the Indianapolis-based Pacers while still living in Ohio. See, Indianapolis is not exactly a couple miles from Ohio, so being a Pacemate from the Buckeye State not only meant extreme dedication, but miles and miles of, well, not exactly the most scenically scintillating drives one will ever encounter.

But her drive and dedication definitely paid off for both Shea and Indiana’s sports fans. As a rookie Pacemate, the broadcast journalism grad and PR grad student was also prominently visible as a Pacer game emcee, and this lead Shea to fill the same role for baseball’s Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Now in her second season as both a Pacemate and Indians emcee, Shea is like the Bo Jackson of game entertainment (could have said “the Michael Jordan,” but, sorry MJ, Shea is better in her baseball role than you were). How does a dancer from Ohio decide to try-out for the Pacemates, then become an NBA game host during her rookie season, which then turns into a baseball gig?  Shea shared with UltimateCheerleaders.com the steps in her journey, so far.

Shea and Pacemate captain Melanie greeted fans before the game at "Legends" within Conseco Fieldhouse

Shea is originally from Memphis, where she lived until she was 15. Memphis provided a foundation for Shea’s love of both dance and basketball. Shea recalls, “My parents started me in dance class at the age of three. Every Saturday morning I would take tap, jazz, and ballet, followed with a Happy Meal from McDonald’s and some time in the play area. I remember my mom and dad asking me after practice every week where I wanted to go, and it never failed, the answer was always McDonald’s. I was never a fan of ballet, too serious and boring for me, but I loved tap and the noise I could make with my feet. I love dance. Everywhere we went, and I do mean EVERYWHERE, I would practice the steps I learned that week. My mom’s favorite phrase to say to me in the grocery store, while getting me dressed, or in the mall, was always, ‘Shea, there is a time and a place.’ She eventually gave up and just let me practice.”

Of her first dance performances in Memphis, Shea remembers, “The one thing that stands out to me the most about any performance I have ever had, is my mom yelling, “SHAKE IT SHEA!” at the top of her lungs. I have to come to expect it and I giggle a little when I hear it.”

Dance has become such a love for Shea that she has a dream of opening a free dance studio for underprivileged children who maintain good grades. What does Shea think dance adds uniquely to young lives that can lead to future success? “Dance to me gave me something that no one could ever take away,” Shea responds, “There is this rush that happens every time I step out on that stage, field, or court. It’s the desire to learn the next routine or next step, and perfect it, and then throw a little of my ‘flava’ onto it. I think the number one thing kids are told when they are younger is that they can be and do anything they want, and around age 12, it’s like we stop telling them that and to think more ‘realistically’ and that everyone can’t be the next Oprah, Kobe Bryant or Tom Cruise. Dance is the only sport that one can be anything they want. It’s a world of make-believe through performance that can transform a child to be the next James Brown, Usher, Debbie Allen or Michael Jackson. To give that to a child, and watch them grow through dance and love every minute of it is something immeasurable.”

Memphis also provided Shea a fanaticism for hoops. Shea says, “I love basketball. Memphis is such a basketball city (Shea interjects a ‘GO TIGERS!’). I played as a young child, but always seemed to stare over at the cheerleaders. Let’s just say dance and cheer is my better sport.”

Mascot Boomer skates over to Shea before tip-off

So there is no taking the Memphis out of Shea and her family. Even her little brother’s beagle is named “Memphis” (after all, he ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog). When asked to fill in the blank, “What Indianapolis needs is ____ just like Memphis,” Shea immediately responds, “BARBEQUE! The North’s version of barbeque is everything that it is not. Neely’s and Interstate are the best places to get a taste of what real barbeque should taste like. I also hate when people refer to a ‘cookout’ as chicken and hamburgers. Chicken and hamburgers are a small piece of a cookout. A cookout in Memphis includes hamburgers, ribs, cole slaw, potato salad, smoked sausages, good music, and maybe some pig’s feet.” (insert Homer Simpson-ish drooling here)

But Shea’s Memphis life was uprooted when she learned her family was moving to Ohio when she was 15. Shea recounts, “I remember hearing the news like it was yesterday. A few months earlier I had just lost my granddad to cancer, and at the time was in a relationship that I thought would last ‘forever.’ I hated my dad, and couldn’t believe he would consider moving me from my family and friends. I left behind aunts, uncles, cousins and friends that I knew since I was little. The hardest times were the holidays. I was so used to getting dressed to go eat at my aunt’s house, or being able to visit them when I wanted to. It was hard to transition to another state knowing no one but the people I lived with.”

In addition to missing her Memphis extended family, the change was also compounded by a very different cultural atmosphere for Shea to adjust to. “To top it all off, I moved to a new state and was completely out of my comfort zone,” Shea explains, “Memphis is a diverse city. I had always attended schools that were 50/50 race-wise, and my new school was 95% white and 5% minority. I cried every day. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I remember my second day of school seeing the rebel flag on the outside of a boy’s planner. In Memphis, this was grounds for a fight, but I remember telling one of my black friends about the flag, and he had no clue why it was such a big deal. It wasn’t until after making the cheerleading squad my junior year that I started to open up and accept my new environment. If I could give advice to anyone who is new in a school it would be to be yourself and be open to change.”


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