Auditions are over and the Nuggets have selected 18 dancers to this year’s squad. Congratulations, ladies! Click here to see who made the team, and click here for audition pics, and individividual photos of the finalists in this wicked-cute little yellow number. Werk!
Over 100 Nuggets Dancers hopefuls were whittled down to 27 remaining finalists over the past three days at Pepsi Center. The grueling weekend included learning two sets of choreography, a day of interviews, a photo shoot and a Choreography Showcase.
She wanted them prepared. If George Karl’s boys were going to bring the playoffs back to the Pepsi Center, her girls were going to give a damn good show. By now the wound from the Nuggets early postseason exit has scabbed over, but when Denver Nuggets dance manager Amy Jo Wagner welcomed 303 Magazine to her team’s (then unknown) final practice, she had her girls rehearsing as if their performance was imminent.
The wood floor in the studio room at Forza Fitness rumbled with steps completely in-sync. Blonde, brown and black locks of hair whooshed through the air in the same direction, hands slapped thighs simultaneously and all to the perfect synchronization of Amy Jo’s counting. Well, perfect at least to a novice.
“I have a feeling we should do this on more time. So turn your brain on girls,I want to get home and watch the game” Amy Jo said as her team finished a routine that fell short of her approval.
I couldn’t spot a single flaw–perhaps because I was slightly mesmerized by the array of powder blue and yellow– but Amy Jo demands a great deal from her girls and knows exactly what she wants.
From the top- She turns the music on to cue game speed- her team snaps into formation and begins the routine. Crouched down with calculated concentration, her hands folded in front of her and somehow watching every move of every dancer, Amy Jo reminds me of a coach I had who terrified me. He saw everything. Nothing slips past Amy Jo either. After a routine she was finally happy with, Amy stepped away from practice for a moment to sit down with 303.
Dance wasn’t always in the cards. Amy Jo didn’t even start until she was 15 years old, and from her own recollection, had a bad attitude. At first she wouldn’t let coaches tell her anything without some sass. But she kept on dancing and soon fell in love with the performance aspect and dance and discipline became second nature.
She is everything you might come to expect from a dance manager in the NBA- precise, punctual and yes, very pretty. Though one thing that might catch you by surprise is her love for math. Algebra, trigonometry and calculus; nauseating terms for a writer, comforting words for Amy Jo Wagner.
“I have two passions in life. Music and math,” she said. “ I’ve just always liked having one right answer.”
Before moving to Denver to start this dream job with the Nuggets, Amy Jo was living out another fantasy as a high school math teacher in Arizona. I know, I know, I wish she was my math teacher too. She was in a comfy spot in life, albeit hectic. Dancing simultaneously for three different Arizona teams, (Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers) teaching high school math and having just bought a new home, Amy Jo thought her fairy-tale would play out in the desert. A job opening with the Denver Nuggets would change all that.
In 2008, on her birthday, Amy Jo quit her job as a math teacher and swapped it for dance life in the NBA. After a heartfelt goodbye from her school, she still gets emotional reminiscing about her time as a teacher. She received nothing but support from her staff and students, yet at times can’t help but feel that she ‘let them down.’ After turningdown the job initially, Amy Jo wasn’t going to let the Nuggets down.
With Denver as her adoptive home, this Kerkhoven, Minn. native has settled in quite nicely. Amy Jo has a 1 year old daughter with a loving boyfriend. Though coming from a small town, she admits there is some pressure from home to get married, which she says is not in the works any time soon. ”All that matters is we have a happy household,” she said with a smile.
Balancing out her busy schedule, Amy Jo spends her leisure practicing yoga and being with her daughter. And though free-time is not something in great abundance, she tries to make as much time as she can for each of her dancers and get to know them on a more personal level.
“I consider them a family, and building a personal relationship with them makes the season that much easier,” she said.
She makes it a point to sit down over coffee and just talk with each of her girls, and from an onlookers perspective her team is a very cohesive unit–her coffee dates must be working. Amy Jo is far from that terrifying coach I knew, her standards are high, but she is only there to help her team reach them. She leaves her ego at the door and explains that her job is not a “look at me” position. She is not there to run a tyrannical campaign either, she just wants to be a part of the team and earn the girls’ respect by being a good role model.
Sports Illustrated has posted a collection of NBA dance team photos from the last week. The gallery includes teams from the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic, and Dallas Mavericks. Click here to check it out!
be at least 18 years of age or 17 years of age with a parent or guardian present to sign a waiver on the participant’s behalf
hold a high school diploma or equivalent education
wear a cropped top, fitted shorts or dance skirt, and shoes with non-marking soles
submit non-returnable headshot (at least 5×7; does not need to be professional but must be clear and contain only the audition participant)
submit a dance resume including any previous dance teams, classes or workshops, current employment and training, educational background, and 3 references
complete and submit the 2012 DND Audition Registration Form and the 2012 Liability Waiver & Release.
professional looking hair and makeup are encouraged
live in the Denver area and have reliable transportation to and from all Nuggets home games and practices
2012 Audition Schedule*
Friday, August 3: Preliminary Auditions
Semi-Finalists Announced: 10:30pm
Saturday, August 4:Semi-Finalists Interviews & Photo Shoot
Individual Interview/Photo Shoot Times: 10am – 4pm (assigned at the conclusion of the Preliminary Auditions)
Sunday, August 5: Choreography Showcase / Semi-Finals
Finalists Announced: 3:30pm
Training Camp: August 7-16, 2012
Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7-10:30pm
* Audition schedule subject to change.
Chelsea Denver Nuggets Dancer – Ellwood
All participants are required to submit a headshot and resume and wear a half top and fitted shorts or skirt at the preliminary audition. The preliminary round will consist of multiple sets of choreography; including jazz, pom, and hip hop styles. Dancers will audition in small groups in front of a panel of judges before each around of cuts are made. Dancers making it through the preliminary auditions will be asked to return the next day for an individual interview and photo shoot in a DND uniform, and, on Sunday, for the Choreography Showcase / Semi-finals.
Individual Interviews & Photo Shoot:
Semi-finalists will be asked to attend an individual interview with a panel of judges on the second day of the audition process. Dancers are encouraged to wear business attire with professional hair and make-up to their 10-minute interview, which will be held at the Pepsi Center (location subject to change). Dancers are responsible for their own parking and should arrive 10 minutes prior to their interview time for check-in.
Immediately following the interview, each semi-finalist will have the opportunity to pose for photos in a Nuggets Dancers uniform with team photographer Garrett Ellwood. Uniform and boots will be provided at the photo shoot, but dancers are responsible for all personal articles including pantyhose.
Choreography Showcase & Semi-Finals:
On the third day of auditions, each dancer will each present their own 45-60 second piece of choreography in front of each other and a panel of judges. The music and style of choreography is left to the dancer’s discretion. Any costumes or props used in the choreography must have non-marking pads to protect the floor. The semi-final dance audition will consist of each dancer performing the material learned on the first day of auditions. The dancers who will be asked to attend training camp will be announced at the end of the day.
Training camp will be held August 7-16, 2012 on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7-10:30pm. Details of the training camp will be made available after the finalists are announced on Day 3 of the auditions. All dates of the training camp are mandatory.
Prep Classes: Attire left to dancer’s discretion (half tops and fitted bottoms are recommended). All dancers must wear non-marking soles.
Prelims: Cropped dance top / sports bra and fitted shorts or skirt. You will not be allowed to audition in jeans or dance pants. Dance sneakers or jazz shoes are recommended, but not required.
Semi-Finalist Interviews: Professional business attire.
Choreography Showcase: Any dance wear or costume appropriate for the choreography presented.
Semi-Finals: Same guidelines as prelims.
Training Camp: Black dance shorts and black sports bra. Dance sneakers or jazz shoes are recommended, but not required.
NBA dancers spend countless hours in the gym and perform difficult physical routines with impeccable timing.
The demands are more pronounced at Pepsi Center, where the Denver Nuggets Dancers must execute their routines at 5,280 feet and then return to the court a few minutes later looking as though they just took a leisurely stroll along the beach.
It raises the question: Are dancers athletes?
In the case of rookie Denver Nuggets Dancer Ashlee, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Her dad ran track and cross-country at New Mexico State University, her brother played football at the University of New Mexico and her sister ran cross-country for the Lobos.
As for the 22-year-old Ashlee, she has spent about half her life on the basketball court, the softball field, the volleyball court and the ski slopes. In her youth, she also dabbled in golf, gymnastics, swimming and racquetball.
“It’s a long list,” she said. “My parents were both very athletic, so they put us in sports at an early age.”
Despite standing just 5-foot-1, Ashlee has a vertical leap that enabled her to play the front row for her high school volleyball team, and she takes pride in the fact that she once dunked a basketball on an 8-foot rim. The skills transfer to her craft as a dancer.
“Being so athletic has helped with dance a lot,” she said. “My legs are superstrong from playing all those sports. In dance, that really helps me a lot.”
Ashlee grew up in Albuquerque but always wanted to live in Denver after visiting the city when she was about 11 years old. After spending three years dancing for the New Mexico Thunderbirds of the NBA Development League, she joined the Colorado Mammoth dance team – the Wild Bunch – for the 2011 National Lacrosse League season.
When the Nuggets held dance auditions in the summer, Ashlee made a smooth transition from the artificial turf back to the hardwood.
“Ashlee’s extensive dance and performance background were apparent throughout her season with the Wild Bunch and at the Nuggets Dancers auditions this summer,” Denver Nuggets Dancers coordinator and choreographer Amy Jo Wagner said. “She is very comfortable in front of a crowd and handling the rigorous schedule of the DND, which made her an excellent rookie candidate for the team.”
Ashlee’s professional success as a dancer was hardly foreshadowed when she joined the Duke City Stars studio in Albuquerque. As a gangly 10-year-old, she started later than most accomplished dancers and her own instructor was skeptical about her prospects.
“I was horrible,” Ashlee said. “My coach tells everyone, ‘If Ashlee can dance, anyone can,’ because I was so bad.”
Ashlee eventually found her rhythm and juggled a full schedule of school, sports and dance all the way through her high school graduation. She enrolled at the University of New Mexico and is currently taking on-line classes as she works toward a degree in communications.
Ashlee would like to attend nursing school, which is fitting considering the aches and pains she has endured as a result of her active lifestyle.
The injuries include multiple sprained ankles, a hyperextended, dislocated and broken right elbow, a separated left shoulder, sprained AC joints in both shoulders, wrist surgery and a torn calf muscle.
Talented and athletic, Ashlee has persevered through it all to reach her goal of becoming a Denver Nuggets Dancer.
The hardest part might be staying healthy enough to prove to everyone that dancers are indeed athletes.
The misperceptions of an NBA dancer are incalculable.
Few people know this better than Denver Nuggets Dancer Jessica. After all, when it comes to crunching numbers, she can calculate just about anything.
While talk of amortization, balance sheets and zero-based budgeting would make the average person’s head spin, it is a way of life for Jessica in her job as an accountant for Vail Resorts.
“I love accounting, which is so odd,” she said. “Ever since I was little, my dad and I have been doing math problems. All the numbers just always made sense to me.”
Jessica, 24, joined Vail Resorts almost immediately after graduating from the Metro State School of Business last spring. Working out of the company’s Broomfield office, she has found a nice balance with her practice schedule with the Nuggets dancers.
“I know how lucky I am to have two awesome jobs,” she said. “They are both things I love and they balance each other out.”
Jessica first joined the Nuggets dance team in 2008-09 but spent the following season focusing on earning her accounting degree. The year away from the team gave her a better appreciation for the thrill and excitement of being part of an NBA game.
“When the lights go down and we’re standing under the basket, I still get chills,” she said. “My eyes tear up. There are thousands of girls all over the country who want to do this, and I get to do it. That is still so unreal to me. I’m very blessed.”
There can be a fine line between blessed and embarrassed.
During her first season with team, Jessica felt like hiding when she looked into the Pepsi Center crowd and noticed four oversized cardboard signs spelling out J-E-S-S. Her teammates were puzzled, thinking the Nuggets had signed a new player. It turned out to be a proud father paying tribute to his daughter.
“My parents have never missed a game,” Jessica said. “It’s awesome.”
Though born in Colorado, Jessica grew up in the three-stoplight town of Newton, Kan. Her only experience on the basketball court was brief and forgettable. While playing on a YMCA girls basketball team in third grade, she walked off the court when the referee mistook her for a boy because of her short haircut.
“I never played basketball again,” she said. “I literally set the ball down and said, ‘I’m done.’ I was scarred forever.”
Jessica found comfort through dance, and there’s never a case of mistaken identity when she and her teammates make dozens of community appearances every season.
“It’s amazing to see how excited people get – kids and adults,” she said. “If I was to go in regular street clothes, nobody would care. To see the impact that the uniform has, it’s incredible. To have that power, it would be silly not to use it, so we do as many community events as we can. It’s so rewarding.”
The impact, you might say, is incalculable. Even for an accountant.