October 30, 2013
AUBURN HILLS, MI – Professional basketball players aren’t the only athletes who arrive at the Palace of Auburn Hills on game nights to perform. A day in the life of a Detroit Pistons dancer can be just as stressful as those of the NBA guys.
It’s a career choice in which glamor matches talent, with the women constantly under scrutiny for their appearance and for their ability to rock a crowd by busting dope moves. It’s lights, camera, action when these 21 women arrive early for rehearsals to dance in front of up to 22,076 fans in one of the NBA’s largest arenas.
Sasha Cole, Kylee Visser and Nichole Josey are three Pistons dancers from the Flint area.
They balance the tough dancer lifestyle with normal, day-to-day activities such as going to school but most people don’t recognize that. A successful NBA dancer possesses more than good looks. The same regimen and execution that is required of the Pistons to compete on the hardwood is also expected of the dancers to entertain ticket holders at halftimes and through timeouts.
“It makes me mad when people say that we’re not athletes, because we have to stretch and I’ve been to the chiropractor because I have arthritis in my knee,” said Flint native Sasha Cole, captain of the Pistons Dance Team. “We have to work out, we train hard and we put in just as much practice and time as the basketball players. We’re good at what we’re good at and they’re good at what they’re good at. There’s some things that we do that they could never do and vice versa. I consider the dance team a sport, for sure.”
Cole, 22, lives in Flint and is heading into her third season with the Pistons, her fifth in the NBA.
She worked in California with the Sacramento Kings for two years before returning to Michigan to dance for the Pistons in 2011. As team captain, Cole is the leader who bears the bulk of responsibility, but likes to keep the mood light. She also keeps a flexible enough schedule to mentor any girls that may need advice, including Visser and Josey, both rookies this season.
“Sasha came from the Kings, so she already had that little flavor from Cali. Definitely since she’s came on our team we do have a lot of different ways of putting things,” said Detroit Pistons dance director Natalie Miramontes. “I know she’s advanced and she’s one of my best dancers, for sure. She gives 100 percent every single time she’s at practice and she’s my role model as a dancer to everybody. I kind of compare everybody to her, which is hard when she’s out there because she’s very powerful and that’s why her nickname’s ‘Fierce.’”
A typical work week for Cole, Visser, Josey and the other girls is different.
Visser and Josey are both senior college students, but Cole dedicates the majority of her time to dancing and chilling with her dog, when she’s not serving at a sports bar.
Visser, 22, graduated from Kearsley High School in 2009 and now attends Oakland University where she’s working toward a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in public relations. Josey, 21, is a 2010 Flint Powers grad who is expected to graduate from the University of Michigan-Flint in May with a communication degree and a focus in media. Although the NBA season is in its early stages, both rookies have been taken aback by the amount of time that this job requires. The job description didn’t do it any justice.
“The most surprising thing for me is just really how much work really goes into it,” said Josey. “A lot of the fans probably just see us on the court and see us making it look effortless but really we’re practicing a lot and they aren’t aware of all of the back work.”
The pay isn’t enormous but the girls don’t mind grinding it out in the long rehearsals at least three times per week to perfect dance routines for Pistons home games, with maximum exposure. On game days, the girls sit on the sidelines and never stop moving. They’re constantly smiling, tossing gifts, performing at least twice during timeouts and at halftime on some nights with the Palace’s celebrity guests.
Visser doesn’t mind sacrificing study time to fulfill her lifelong dream and makes the short commute from her spot in Rochester to Auburn Hills. She began learning a variety of different dance styles at a young age in the Academy Day La Danse studio in Davison and has always dreamed of working with the Pistons ever since.
“I actually was on the (Detroit) Shock’s dance team, the Shock Wave, back in the day when I was in high school in the year they won the WNBA championship,” Visser said. “(Flint native) Deanna Nolan was my favorite player. We used to practice with the Pistons dance team then and I’ve always came to their clinics as a child, so I’ve been dancing since I was 3 and after going to the clinics and practices it was always a dream for me to do this.”
With so much access to the NBA players on a regular basis, it’s hard to imagine that the girls are able to resist the opportunity to date some of the league’s top stars but Cole, Visser and Josey don’t get star-struck by the ballers. They never mix business with pleasure. In the dance world, that’s a complete no-no – plus it’s in their contracts to refrain from going out with the fellas.
“They’re like coworkers and almost like brothers because we know so much about them,” Cole explained. “We see them and we even know what shoes they wear. It’s just like any job. You don’t mingle with your work and it’s the same here. We’re so busy that we don’t even have regular boyfriends, period.”
The local Flint-area dancers are a piece of the big puzzle composed of 18- to 25-year old women that’s becoming one of the NBA’s most exciting young squads. The future looks bright.
“This team is a lot different style than any other NBA team,” Miramontes said. “We get away with a lot more. We get to do the hip-hop and the diversity of things and other teams aren’t as versatile. This team is free to do whatever we want and that’s why I love this team.”