The Clippers website has been updated with head shots of this year’s edition of the Spirit Dance Team. Hopefully individual profiles will follow. Click here for a little more about the ladies on the team!
A few summer shout-outs to some of my homies. Congrats to…
Good news all around!
Clippers Spirit Dancer Kellie at this year’s auditions
Welcome to the open call auditions for the 2012 Lob City Dancers! Er…I mean the Clippers Spirit! These auditions are always one of the highlights of my year, and this year was no exception. The 2011-12 NBA season was the best one Clippers fans have seen in years, and I was interested to see if all the excitement about the team would carry over into the dance team auditions.
In a word: Yep.
More than 260 dancers lined up on Saturday morning to audition for the Clippers Spirit. It was the biggest turnout in years. (Certainly the biggest I’ve seen since I began covering these auditions 6 years ago.) There were some familiar faces from other auditions, but also lots of new faces I’d never seen before, including some alumni of other NBA teams like the Rockets and the Mavs.
The auditions took place at Redondo Union High school for the second year in a row. I arrived about 30 minutes early on Saturday. The parking lot was almost full, so I knew there was going to be a good turnout. There’s always a sense of excitement that comes from seeing all the girls lined up outside, excited for a chance to be part of the Clippers family. When I got there, my first order of business was to hunker down with instruction manual for my new camera. (My old camera gave up the ghost a week earlier.) I hadn’t had much time to familiarize myself with all the bells and whistles on the new camera, so that was priority number one. Unfortunately that meant I didn’t have time to mix and mingle beforehand. I usually try to take some shots of all the girls before the audition starts, but hey, sacrifices must be made.
The auditions started promptly at 9 am. Spirit Director Audrea Harris was calm and in control as always. She runs a tight ship, Audrea does. She’s one of those people who plans things meticulously, which is a definite plus when trying to organize so many people at one time.
Last year, the prospect of a league lockout cast a bit of a pall over the event. The girls knew that even if they made the team, they might never have the chance to perform during a game. Thankfully there were no worries about that this time around. There was a lot of energy and excitement in the air.
The auditions followed the usual format. The dancers were expected to learn and perform three different combinations, with the judges making a cut after each one. The choreographers change from year to year. This time, John Peters choreographed the first two dances.
Most of the dancers know John, either by reputation or personal experience. There’s always a little sigh of relief when they see him at an audition. His choreography is terrific, his teaching style is fun, and it’s just a great experience all around. If not for the whole “judging” thing, it would be a real party.
The first dance was the technique portion of the auditions. It’s pretty standard stuff: a few high kicks (excuse me…battements, ahem), a couple pirouettes, and a leap or two. It’s the biggest cut of the day. Typically more than half of the women in the room are eliminated after this first round. It can be brutal. This year, the music for the combination was a remix of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin Something.”
Of course, the first thing John did was tell the girls that this may be L.A. but it isn’t Mtv, ok? Please, no sexy faces, no grabbing yourself, no throwing extra jiggle into the choreography. Video hos need not apply. (That’s not exactly what he said, but I know it’s what he meant.)
After learning the combination, the dancers performed it for the judges in groups of three. It took almost an hour for everyone to take a turn. I know this because I accidentally left my video camera running the whole time. Sure was glad I brought those extra batteries!
After the last group of three finished, the judges disappeared into another room to decide who was still in it, and who was going home. I don’t know what went on in that room, but it took them almost an hour and a half to make up their minds.
Meanwhile, last year’s veterans arrived. They’d been shamelessly spying on the first round from windows overlooking the gym. I know they don’t try to be intimidating, but when they come striding in together, dressed in their matching red and white warmups, with perfect hair and makeup, it makes everyone else a little nervous about their chances.
You can’t not notice when they enter the room. It was even scarier for some, considering how many members of last year’s team were back to fight for their spots. There are 16 dancers on the team. And this year, ten of the veterans are trying to keep their jobs: Katrina, Anasheh, Jacy, Brittany, Jessie, Shannon, Becca, Kellie, Sarah, and Michelle.
I have a theory that the more returning veterans there are, the less likely it is that all of them will make the team again.This isn’t based on fact or even experience, but it seems logical to me. It’s bumming me out a little. If I had to vote a few veterans off the island, I don’t know who I’d choose. I don’t want to lose any of them.
Speaking of veterans, there was a big crew of Spirit alumni on hand to help demonstrate the choreography: Bianca (2010-12), Rhea (2009-12), Justene (2010-11), Recee (2008-11), Lynae (2005-09), and Jessie (2008-10).
I had a little chat with Bianca before the auditions started. She was really really bummed about retiring but her job wouldn’t allow it anymore. She said one of her friends had called her up and laughed “Prepare to be replaced.”
Way to be supportive.
And I talked with Justene who only got to be on the team for a year before her agent but the kibosh on it. When your agent calls you for an audition, you have to go. You can’t be all “oh no, I have rehearsal.” Not if you want to make a career as an entertainer. Even though Justene was a year removed from the team, I think being at auditions again made her really miss the whole thing.
I’ve decided I’m going to stop giving dancers a hard time about retiring. Turns out they already feel awful enough. It’s got to be so hard knowing that no matter how much time, energy, sweat, and tears you put into the job, you can and will be replaced. Easily.
When the judges returned, they cut the number of dancers down to 110. By now, it was just before noon. When the dust settled, John called everyone to order and started teaching the second combination. This one was a fun jazz routine.
John is known for his “Peterisms.” I don’t know what other people call their moves, but John’s always have interesting – yet accurately descriptive – names. The ones that immediately come to mind are the “bunny,” the “Donald Trump,” the “monster truck,” the helicopter, and “butter the bread.” There was something about “putting the cigarette out,” and something else about sinking into the opening pose “like you have to pee.” The man sounds a little nutty, but the choreography stays with you.
Once again, the dancers lined up and performed for the judges in groups of three. When it was over, the judges went off to deliberate, promising they wouldn’t be gone as long as last time. So this time, it wasn’t 90 minutes. It was 60. And I bet it was more difficult than the first cut.
Part of me wants to know what the judges are talking about. The other part of me really doesn’t. I know quite a few of the dancers and I don’t have it in me to be impartial. I’d be in there lobbying for all my girls, and I would get mad if anyone said anything bad about them.
Waiting also has an interesting effect on the dancers. This is usually the time when the veterans start acting up. I don’t know if they’re coming off the adrenaline from the first round or what, but they start to bounce off the walls a little.
Of course, they sobered right up when the judges returned and cut the group down from 110 to 53. Another 50-something hearts broken. But none of them belonging to the vets.
I seriously hate the entertainment industry. If you want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or an astronaut, you apply yourself to learning the necessary skills, and then you go out and do the job. But the entertainment industry – ugh. You can be the most accomplished dancer, you can be drop dead gorgeous, you can have more pizzazz than anyone in the room, and still you might not get the job. It’s irritating, is what it is.
Times like this I’m glad that I went to school, got my degrees, and wound up with a regular job. Anyone tells me I’m not cute enough for my job, and I can sue them for like ten million dollars.
But I digress…
Round 3 was the hip hop round. Hip hop has the power to make or break a lot of girls in this competition. Unlike the previous rounds, it’s not about technique. In a way it’s harder. It’s about being clean, keeping up, and having a little swagger. The swagger can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. This is the round when a lot of “pretty” dancers with incredible technique get sent home.
Hip hop choreographer Loretta Alvillar took over for this round.
She does a lot of choreography for the team during the season. I was out of the room when Loretta first started teaching, and when I came back, my jaw dropped. Holy shizzle, these girls were in trouble. For one thing, it was freaking FAST. (If it doesn’t seem fast to you, try learning the first couple of 8 counts. You’ll see what I mean.) For another thing, it seemed like way more choreography than could possibly fit into a 30 second routine. It was one of those dances where if you blank out for even half a second, you are SO screwed.
I watched the smiles fade. Some of the dancers got that “eye of the tiger” look. Others looked like they wanted to cry. I knew it was real serious when they started putting their hair up. You’re never never supposed to do that. No pony tails, no half up, half down. It’s one of the things that separates the pros from collegiate teams. But in this case, the dancers collectively said “screw it.” They were hot, they were sweaty, time was short, and the routine was kicking their butts. They were not about to put up with sweaty hair smacking them in the face. It’s kind of like on Springer when the two idiots fighting over the baby daddy kick off their shoes and take off their earrings. That’s how you know it’s ON.
I went over and asked the DJ if the music was as fast as Loretta was teaching it. He just laughed. That was not a good sign. When they ran through the dance with music for the first time, it was like “oh HELL no.” All of the dancers were looking worried. Even the girls helping to teach the dance were messing up.
At one point, Audrea, who is a far crueller person than I ever imagined, freely admitted that she’d asked Loretta to “challenge” the dancers. Make it difficult. Make it fast. Let’s see if they’ll rise to the occasion.
I don’t use “wack” in my every day vocabulary, but in my opinion, that is WACK.
Loretta’s teaching style is to break the choreography into bite-sized chunks. Sometimes just four or five counts at a time. Then she has the girls do each chunk over and over, faster each time, until they’re up to the speed of the music. And just when they start to feel good about it, she adds the feet. So now your two hands and two feet are going in four different directions. It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time, but a million times worse.
I sidled over to John and asked him, when a Director has a choreographer to do a routine for auditions, is it or is it not true that in addition to the style and length of the dance, they also specify how much pain to inflict on the dancers? He wouldn’t admit it, but I know I’m right.
Meanwhile, Audrea was just beaming. That’s because the dancers were picking it up. They were doing it. Not just the veterans, but all of the dancers. I don’t know how. I wanted to shout “No, girls, NO! Don’t you understand that if you pull it off this year, it’ll be even worse next year? For the love of pete, hold back a little.”
To me, it was all a blur. I just watched the video again, and it’s still a blur. I don’t remember one thing of this dance. I don’t know how it starts, how it ends, or what the song is about. All I know is it goes “tick tick tick tick tock.”
All too soon, it was time to perform the dance for the judges. Time to blot your face, wring out your hair, and put on some lipstick. Time to gather your energy and put on your game face. Time to make it look easy. Not just easy – FUN.
Good luck with that.
When all the girls were lined up again, Marianne got on the mike and told everyone that by the way, before each group of three dances, they need to come up and stand in front of the judges so the panel can get a good look at them. Nobody wanted to do that. At this point in the day, nobody felt cute anymore. “Cute” went out the window hours ago.
But they did it. They lined up, and three by three danced their hearts out. And they did make it look like fun.
Marianne had to coax more than a few reluctant dancers closer to the judges table. She kept saying “Come closer. We know your hair is wet. Don’t worry about it.” You could tell they didn’t want to. You could tell some of them were thinking “Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever felt less attractive in my whole life.” You could tell they just really wanted a shower. And maybe a nap.
Because there were only 53 girls and the dance was only 30 seconds long, round 3 was quick. And you know what? Once you step back and take a look at it, this is a really cool dance. Dare I say “kickass?” I went over and shook Loretta’s hand.
At 4:30, the judges went off to caucus and the dancers, looking tired as hell, put up their hair, tugged on their sweats, and sagged to the floor. I’ve never seen such droopy dancers.
In the end, the judges cut 53 down to 27. (All of the veterans are still in it, thank goodness.) I kind of felt like everyone who’d managed to survive the ordeal should make it to finals, but that’s probably why I don’t get a vote.
They have Sunday to recover, then interviews on Monday and Tuesday. Finals are on Wednesday. They’ll have to perform both the jazz and hip hop routines, probably several times, and they’ll have to do solos. It’s like an intensely condensed and sped-up version of the open call, with the entire 8 hour day boiled down to approximately 90 minutes.
I hope everyone is eating their Wheaties. It’s not nearly over yet.
STAPLES Center was Sports-ageddon May 17th – May 20th, 2012, with 6 Playoff Games in 4 Days, but the amazing staff pulled off all the transitions and still made this video to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” showing that their fun side was still intact. The video includes appearances by the Los Angeles Kings Ice Crew and the Los Angeles Clippers Spirit dance team.
The only question is – where are the Laker Girls?
The Los Angeles Clippers recent run in the NBA playoffs have energized the city in ways that it has never been before. With the high flying dunks of Blake Griffin and the arrival of future hall of fame point guard Chris Paul, the Clippers have brought a new excitement that has been lacking with the Lakers recent play.
There’s a new sheriff in town and he wears red, white and blue.
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