The Post-Game Buzz from Honeybees Ashlie and Amy

When you need to provide the best people in a moments notice, you call on your “A-Team.”  So on March 22nd, after the New Orleans Hornets hosted the Dallas Mavericks, Honeybee Director Ashley Deaton gave me the wonderful opportunity to speak to two Honeybees.  She called on her own personal “A-Team,” Honeybees Ashlie and Amy, to fill the bill.  Director Ashley is a big fan of these two members of her squad, and for good reason.

Ashlie is in her second season on the squad and Amy is a rookie.  I wondered what was more nerve-wracking, their first try-out or their first game.   Amy immediately replied it was the first try-out, because “No one knew who I was.  It is your first impression.”  Amy made the squad on her first time trying-out, and, rather than nerve-wracking, found her first game to be really exciting.

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Rookie Honeybee Amy

Rather than first try-out or first game, Ashlie wanted to add a third option to my multiple choice question.  “The second try-out was more nerve wracking,” explained Ashlie. “We had a lot of good girls come in this past year.  So there were so many good girls to choose from, it was scary.”  Ashlie’s second year anxiety was escalated by an unexpected change in the selection process compared to the previous season’s selection of twenty Honeybees.  “They announced the twenty girls, and they hadn’t said that they had chosen twenty-four,” recalled Ashlie. “Well, I was one of the girls not called yet, so I thought I was going home.”  But as the announcements continued, Ashlie found out she made it!

Second Year Honeybee Ashlie

Second Year Honeybee Ashlie

I asked the veteran and the rookie what advice they would give to someone trying out for a pro dance squad for the first time.  Amy advised, “Just be confident,” and Ashlie added, “Have a lot of personality.  Have fun.  That’s the main thing, you have to enjoy it.”  Amy added “That is what they are looking for.  We are entertainers.   If you miss a step, make up for that with personality.“

Amy is a native Georgian, but still caught Saints fever

Amy is a native Georgian, but still caught Saints fever

Even though they work hard to make it look easy on the court, with thousands of pairs of eyes watching them during games, there must be embarrassing moments that might arise during Honeybee careers.  For rookie Amy, her moments occurred before she was officially a Honeybee.  “At each audition, I missed a few steps,” volunteered Amy, “I was so nervous!”   So far for Amy, nothing embarrassing during the games, “Not yet, thank goodness.  I am glad I got it out of the way during the auditions.”

Ashlie’s longer tenure has provided more memories.  Ashlie noted, “I’ve had a few embarrassing moments at the games,” to which Amy laughingly interjected, “You’ve had some good ones.”  Ashlie recalled one event that stood out, “During Honeybee Olympics, we did the wheelbarrow race across the court.”  Ashlie played the role of wheelbarrow, and “my partner was going too fast for my hands because I was crawling.  I slid across the court on my face.  That was real nice.”

Certainly, these two “got game” when it comes to dancing, but how about their hoops prowess?  I am a big UCLA fan, so I am very glad to see Hornets rookie point guard Darren Collision emerge during Chris Paul’s absence.  I asked Ashlie and Amy what part of their game is most like Darren’s (speed, shooting, steals?).  Both ponder, and Ashlie contributes, “My ability to steal the ball, and to do an alley oop.”  Amy offers, “I don’t know how accurate I am in the shooting, but I am pretty fast.  He has quick feet.”  Come to think of it, I think Darren and his quick feet might me a nice addition to some of the Honeybee routines, when the Hornets have the game in hand, of course.

Ashley for President!  She thinks the day after the Super Bowl should be a holiday

Ashlie for President! She thinks the day after the Super Bowl should be a holiday

Amy has lived in New Orleans for two years, moving from Georgia when her boyfriend moved to the area.  Amy added, “New Orleans has always been a fun place for me.  I have friends here, so it wasn’t a hard move.”  Ashlie was born and raised in New Orleans.  I asked about how Katrina affected her, and Ashlie recounted, “We had three feet of water in my house, and we moved from New Orleans to the other side of the lake.  It was tough, but we made it.”

As an Indianapolis resident, this trip to New Orleans reminded me of the recent Super Bowl that made my city a different shade of blue for some days afterward, but justifiably electrified the home city of the Saints.  Super Bowl Sunday for Amy “was awesome.”  She added, “I was in the (French) Quarter.  I thought, I can’t be at home, I want to be in the middle of it.  It was overwhelming!  We were high fiving people we didn’t know, younger people, older people.  High fiving down the street, it was awesome!”  Ashlie remembered the throngs of people, “I was with every New Orleans Saints fan on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.”   For Ashlie, the Monday after the Super Bowl was “unreal.” Amy added, “Nobody went to work.  Nobody went to school.  Actually, people started Thursday and Friday; I think some missed a lot of days, not just the Monday, in ‘preparation.’”

So, on this third day of my first trip to New Orleans, I had one personal challenge left.  The city had won me over: the friendliest people from the minute I stepped off the plane, food that can make your knees buckle in ecstasy, and enough fun that I went right to monster.com to look for local jobs.  But I wanted to pronounce the city’s name like a local, not like the lifelong Midwesterner I am.  I asked Ashlie to rate my pronunciation of “New Orleans” from one to ten.    Ashlie graded me, “I’ll give you about a seven.  You’re a little off on the Orleans part.  It needs to be one big word.  It’s all jumbled together.”  Amy advised, “Just spit it out.”  Unlike the often written ‘N’awlins,’ I sensed more ‘New’ than ‘Nuh’ in Ashlie’s pronunciation.  On about my attempt number six, Ashlie exclaimed, “Yes! That was it! That was perfect, that was a ten!”

amyashlie1b

Amy and Ashlie after the Hornets victory over the Mavs

Well, for me, the opportunity to speak with Ashlie and Amy definitely went to “eleven.”  They are beautiful, talented, personable, and as sweet as a Honeybee should be.  I asked to take some photos, and they apologized that their post-game look may not be optimal.  I think most of us would spend 48 hours straight prepping for photos and still come way short of a Honeybee after a couple hours of dancing.  Best of luck Ashlie and Amy on the remainder of the season, and many thanks for your time and dedication!

amyashlie2b

A personal favorite; My struggles with my flash provided me a photo that demonstrates their fun, sweet personalities

Passion, Persistence, and Pride: Honeybees Director Ashley Deaton Reflects on Dance, Her Squad, and Her City

I’ve seen basketball announcer Dick Vitale name his college basketball “All-Thomas Edison Team” for point guards.  In his keyed up voice, he’ll say, “This is my All-Thomas Edison Team! They’re creators, innovators, pioneers!!”  Well, if I had to name my UltimateCheerleaders.com All-Thomas Edison Team for creativity, innovation, and pioneering spirit, Ashley Deaton would be among the top of my list.

Ashley is director and choreographer for the excellent dance squad for the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, the Honeybees.  A native of Louisiana, Ashley graduated from LSU, where she was also a member of a national championship-winning dance team.  She then was a member of the Honeybees for three seasons when the Hornets moved to New Orleans.  After this, Ashley became the Honeybees’ director and choreographer. 

Two months into her new role, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and the Hornets needed to relocate for two seasons to Oklahoma City.  Half of the pre-storm Honeybees had to stay in Louisiana and rebuild, so Ashley had to hold tryouts for ten new dancers from Oklahoma City to fill out the squad.

Since then, the city is back, the Hornets are back, and Ashley leads a squad known for innovative dance routines, cutting edge apparel, and high visibility at the games and in the community.  It is immediately recognizable after meeting Ashley, that she LOVES her job and has a passion to excel in all of its diverse challenges.  Recently, Ashley graciously participated in an interview with UltimateCheerleaders.com.

 

 

Director of the Honeybees Ashley Deaton during a recent Hornets-Mavericks game

Director of the Honeybees Ashley Deaton during a recent Hornets-Mavericks game

UC.com –Ashley, tell me about the genesis of your love of dance

Ashley – I’ve loved to dance as long as I can remember.  My mom would often find me off by myself dancing up a storm.  I would even dance down the aisles of the grocery store…and we all know how lame the music is that they play in the grocery store. That’s passion!  I actually grew up with two older brothers so I played a lot of sports with them.  I always danced as a hobby with my friends.  I even forced my little brother to learn some choreography and perform with us.  Poor kid! But now that he’s in his mid 20’s the ladies love his dance moves.  I LOVED to choreograph dances and had a lot of musicality at a young age.  I became more serious about it when I was in high school and continued on from their working as an instructor for summer dance camps.

 

UC.com – I assume dancing on the LSU squad were some of your first performances on a “big stage.”  What was that experience like?

Ashley – In the summer of 1997, I was heading into my junior year in college and heard the news that LSU was holding tryouts for a new dance team that would perform for the basketball games. I made the inaugural team and we even won UDA’s National College dance team championship in our second year in existence.  Performing on that level was such an amazing experience.  It challenged me and made me such a better dancer.

 

UC.com – At LSU, what was it like preparing and performing in a competitive setting versus preparing and performing at home games?

Ashley – Competition preparation was definitely more intense than game preparation.  Competition routines are obviously more difficult and longer than an average performance.  Typical rehearsals were 2-3 hours long.  But I remember have three practices a day for two weeks preparing for competition.  We’d start in the morning, break for lunch, have an afternoon practice, break for dinner, and then finish with a rehearsal that night. Needless to say, we were in great shape and not a hair was out of place in our routine.  When the competition is fierce it takes inspiring creativity and absolute perfection to be the best.  When I watch competitions now, it amazes me how far dance has come.  The talent and skill level is unbelievable and the bar is raised year after year.

 

UC.com – What aspects do you find dancers who were successful at the college level still need to concentrate upon to move up to the professional level?

Ashley – In my experience the college level focuses more on technical skills.  Although NBA dancers need technical ability as well, there’s a much higher concentration on the glamour of it all.  NBA dancers do more than just perform.  They are spokes-models for the organization.  They are required to be at peak physical condition.  They must look beautiful and glamorous in photos and on the court. With so many appearances in-game and out in the community, they also have to be outgoing and approachable to really connect with fans. 

 

UC.com – At what point did you think you might be interested in moving from dancer to director/choreographer, and what is the best way to prepare for that position?

Ashley – For me the transition was very natural.  I started my NBA dance career as the choreographer and a team leader.  After three years on the team our manager decided to leave, and it was an ideal opportunity to take over.  It was perfect timing as I was ready to move on from being a dancer to playing a bigger role in the whole operation.  I worked closely with our manager the three years before and had gained invaluable experience as a dance instructor for seven years before that. Managing people is never easy, but being passionate about what you do helps a lot.  Just like any other job it’s important to learn from your mistakes, strive to constantly be better, and truly value and respect those who work so hard for you.

 

UC.com – It seems like the Honeybees have always been fashion forward in their apparel.  What role do you have in the ideas and designs?  Have you always been interested in clothing design?

Ashley – Well thank you!  It’s funny that you ask because I remember when I was in 4th grade my dream job was to be a fashion designer.  At some point, dance became more important, but I still love costume/clothing design.  I come up with all of our costumes with the help of a few different seamstresses.  I pull ideas from different trends and adjust them to work in the appropriate capacity.  It can be a bit of a challenge to come up with creative concepts that are figure flattering yet supportive enough for the style of athletic choreography that we like to do. But I like a challenge.  It’s so fun!

 

UC.com – Are there things you hear coming out of your mouth as director to the squad you’d never thought you would say?

Ashley – Once in a while I’ll surprise myself with the words that come out of my mouth, but what surprises me more is the way the girls react to me.  I have an awesome group of talented ladies, and they work really hard.  They hear my voice so much though that I think I become like the squeaky fan who’s steady rhythm puts you to sleep at night…after a while you don’t even hear it any more.  It often reminds me of how good I was at tuning out my mother when she spoke to me.  It’s an interesting feeling to be the “mother” of the group.  I know how dedicated these girls are and how much they have on their plates, and I can totally relate having been in their shoes myself.  I know that they do respect me and care about what I have to say.  It’s just part of the job.

 

UC.com – Two months after you were named director of the Honeybees, Hurricane Katrina affected your city like no other has been in years.  Describe the process of the decisions that were made to deal with how to provide a dance squad for two seasons away from New Orleans?

Ashley – Well, that situation definitely threw me into the fire so to speak.  I was new at the job, we just had our auditions to select our new squad, and then Hurricane Katrina hit.  The whole organization fully relocated to Oklahoma City full time and brought as many full time employees along.  With the start of our season being weeks away, we decided to take 10 of our dancers with us.  Several of them were completely flooded out of their homes and really had no home of their own to go to, so it was a great opportunity.  Oklahoma City welcomed us with open arms and really made us all feel at home.  We had a quick audition in Oklahoma City to select the rest of our squad. We felt that it was very important for us to have dancers on our squad who were from the city that embraced us.  It was such a unique combination of ladies and a great representation of both New Orleans and Oklahoma City. We lost all of our costumes when the New Orleans Arena was flooded so I had to be very resourceful.  We were cutting up jerseys, putting rhinestones on t-shirts, and raiding all of the local dance shops to get it all pulled together in two weeks. We managed to pull it off and continue to grow each year. 

 

UC.com – Did any of the Oklahoma City Honeybees go on to dance for the Thunder?

Ashley – Yes. I think there have been about five girls that were on my Honeybee squad that have (or still do) dance for the Thunder.  I’m proud of those girls and really glad that they decided to continue their professional dance careers.

 

UC.com – What surprised you most about the New Orleans ability to recover?  On the flipside, is there something about pre-Katrina New Orleans life that hasn’t returned that you miss? 

Ashley – From my perspective New Orleans is bigger and better than before.  There is such an interesting and unique culture here that you just can’t find anywhere else. True New Orleanians won’t just give that up and walk away.  It feels good to be involved in an organization that does so much to give back to the community, and I do believe that we’ve been a significant part of the rebuilding of this city.  

 

UC.com – What were New Orleans and its people like the day after the Super Bowl? 

Ashley – The Saints’ Super Bowl win has energized this city in a whole new way.  New Orleans has been down for so long and battling against some major odds to thrive, to be taken seriously. That win means so much to this community and pride is running rampant through a town that’s been kicked down quite a bit.  The odds that the Saints have faced throughout the years are a good representation of the city of New Orleans, and now there’s a new hope across the board…a sense of importance with a real value to offer the world. The party is still going on and I’m not sure that it’s going to end any time soon.  

 

 

 

Thanks so much Ashley for your cooperation, and continued success with your excellent squad!

 

SI Gallery Update – NBA

This week, the New Orleans Hornets dance team, the Honeybees, are featured on Sports Illustrated. Go see the photos.

Local Woman Enjoying Time with New Orleans Hornets Honeybees

By Thad Angelloz
The Daily Comet

You wouldn’t think cheerleading would bring an already close family closer.

But according to Krista Neal, that’s exactly what happened after she was chosen to become a New Orleans Hornets Honeybee in July of 2007.

Neal, who has four sisters and one brother, said her family loves to watch her perform at games.

“My mom has always supported me, but because of work my dad missed a lot of my recitals and dances when I was younger,” Neal said. “Since I’ve become a Honeybee he’s had more opportunities to see me dance. My brother and sisters also like to see me dance. It’s a blast for me to have my own fan club.”

KristaStrangely enough, the 20-year-old Honeybee never thought of herself as an NBA cheerleader when she graduated from Hahnville High School.

Despite dancing since the age of 5 and attending American All-Stars dance camp in high school, Neal didn’t give cheerleading much thought as she prepared to enter her freshman year at Nicholls State University.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be doing this right now,” she said.

But after hearing about a Honeybee audition through the Internet, Neal decided to give it a shot.

Surprisingly, Neal soon became a finalist after making her way through two cuts and a thorough interview.

She estimates more than 100 women attended the tryouts.

The dance team ended up keeping 21 women.

“My first plan was to try and be a Saintsation,” Neal said. “After I found out I had missed the tryouts I decided to go to the Honeybee tryouts. I’m a big basketball fan so I thought it would be a good fit for me.”

Former Honeybee and current manager and dance team choreographer, Ashley Deaton, said she knew Neal was right for the job the moment she met her.

“Krista may look like the girl next door off the court, but she really turns it on when she performs,” Deaton said. “You can tell she loves it and that she’s having the time of her life. Because of that you can’t take your eyes off her. She’s the kind of girl we need on the court. This was obvious to us at auditions, so we had to select her for our team.”

Neal doesn’t believe there’s any down side to being a Honeybee.

Her favorite things about being a representative of an NBA franchise are getting to meet different people and having the chance to be a role model for younger girls.

“I know they (young girls) look up to me,” Neal said. “I always think about that in everything that I do.”

After holding down an outside job, dancing and attending Nicholls last year, Neal decided to take a semester off this spring to manage her schedule better.

“It got to be where it was too much,” the elementary education major said. “I’m going to go back to school this summer, but with the way things were for me I thought I needed to drop something for now.”

Although she calls Luling home, Neal’s originally from Houma and still has family members who live in Terrebonne Parish.

Her love of dancing and her so-called “Honeybee family” has made her strongly consider a future beyond the Honeybees.

“I could see myself starting up a dance studio or something,” Neal said. “I really enjoy dancing, and getting the chance to share that with others would be nice.”

Neal credits the New Orleans Hornets organization for making her feel at ease whenever she steps on the court to perform.

“They (team’s administration) genuinely care about us,” Neal said. “They don’t ever put us in an uncomfortable situation and this opportunity has allowed me to do a lot of things out in the community.”

[New Orleans Honeybees]