Sabrina joined the team last year for her first season as a 2015-16 Denver Nuggets Dancer.
As the youngest of six children, she has a variety of nicknames; Sab, Sabs, Sabrinas, Sabe, Sabey, Sabre, Sabretooth, Brina, Sabribri, but to her Dad, she’s known as Orange.
The Temecula, California native made her way to the Rocky Mountains to attend Colorado State University in Fort Collins where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Sociology.
“I have always been really adventurous and love going out of my comfort zone,” said Sabrina. “I am extremely close to my family and relied on them, but I knew I needed to grow as a person and be independent. After high school, I decided I wanted to go to college out of state, I ended up attending Colorado State University. After I visited the school, it automatically felt like home.”
Sabrina, or Orange, was a member of the CSU Golden Poms team for four years. As an undergraduate, her leadership and positive energy earned her the honorable “Mood Changer Award” her sophomore year and the team captain title her senior year.
“The coach recognizes a team member who brightens the mood of the team when times can get stressful, or discouraging. I love being positive and encouraging my teammates, it’s always been normal for me to do, so when I received the award it was a sweet surprise,” Sabrina said. “Knowing that my coach and teammates saw me as a leader on the team meant a lot to me.”
Her ambitious spirit has been dancing since she was barely able to walk (even dancing down grocery store aisles with her Mom!), but performing in front of a large crowd wasn’t always as seamless as it is now.
“I have been dancing since the age of two. All my older sisters did it so my mom stuck me in it, too! My earliest memory of dance is actually my first dance recital when I was three.” Sabrina jokingly recalled, “I cried for my mom the entire time I was on stage.”
Sabrina is an incredibly well-rounded dancer. She is not only trained in hip-hop and tap, but also in jazz, contemporary, modern, ballet, lyrical and even musical theater. Her diverse set of footwork matched by her adept leadership skills makes this performer an integral member of the DND.
“I love so many things about being a DND!” She exclaims. “I love the opportunity to learn from my teammates and to have the ability to push myself to not only be a better dancer, but to be a better person. I also love that I am able to fulfill my dreams of becoming a professional dancer and the opportunity to dance for the best fans in the NBA! Lastly, I love the friendships and individual relationships I’ve built with each one of my beautiful teammates!”
Although she has been dancing for nearly her entire life, she will never forget performing in front of the Denver Nuggets fans for the first time.
“My favorite memory thus far being a DND is without a doubt the Home Opener, which was my first game representing the Denver Nuggets. I just remember standing there with my hand over my heart during the National Anthem thinking, I can’t believe I’m here, my dream has come true. I felt very emotional, but was in front of thousands of fans so I had to keep it together!”
[Sabrina on Twitter]
[Sabrina’s Photo Gallery]
The Knicks City Dancers wow the crowd with performances of “Dear Future Husband” and “Manhattan Dolls” at MSG.
This Salt Lake City, UT native has made Denver, Colorado her home for the second year in a row as a Denver Nuggets Dancer.
Alisha, or Lecie Bug, has been dancing since a very young age, showcasing her natural talent since she was a mere 8-years old.
“My first day of dance class my teacher asked if I could do the splits, I remember being so excited because I could! I dropped right down into my center splits with a giant smile on my face.”
Her life has revolved around dance, earning her many impressive awards and recognitions over the years. Several of her outstanding achievements include Utah Valley University Dance and Leadership Scholarship, Utah Valley University- 2nd place at NDA Nationals 2011, Urban Talents best dancer award at Miss Utah Pageant 2011, Several Queen titles, Stars Regional and National Champion 2000-2010, AFL Dream Team Finalist 2012, Angela King Designs Model Search top 10 finalist 2015, Duke of Edinburgh Life Style Award 2015, and Miss Colorado 2nd runner up 2015.
Outside of her skills during Nuggets home games, you can find this accomplished performer teaching jazz, jazz funk, a sassy heels class for adults, hip hop to ages 10-12 year olds and even assisting Coloradans to find new homes as a leasing agent.
Although Alisha’s days are jam-packed with activities, she still saves time to spend with her comical kitty, Prince Reginald.
“Prince Reginald (my cat) used to sit on my shoulder like a parrot when he was a kitten. I could walk around with him just sitting up there; he is much, much bigger now.”
Through thick and thin, this dancer stays true to her passions and lives by the quote, “Remember who you are and what you stand for!”
[Alisha on Twitter]
Dancing in the NBA…and the NFL
by Mike Trudell
Los Angeles Lakers
January 24, 2016
What’s the difference between dancing for an NBA team, and cheering for an NFL squad?
Well, Nick Young doesn’t really know, but that didn’t stop him from speculating extensively and randomly on the topic!
To balance things out with some actual insight, we enlisted first year Laker Girl Lauren, who used to cheer for the New Orleans Saints.
Below is a transcription of separate interviews with Swaggy P and Lauren:
Q: How does the audition process compare for NBA team vs. NFL teams?
Swaggy: I think they all find fliers and stuff on Instagram and Twitter to find out. It’s probably harder to be a Laker Girl because there’s more variety in L.A. and it’s a different stage. There are just more ladies, you know what I’m saying!
Lauren: The auditions were actually very similar, I must say, with some slight differences. There were a lot more girls auditioning for the Lakers Girls, which made it more competitive. With the Saints, it was a little longer of a process, lasting a full week, but it still had the preliminary round, with cuts through the day. We had to take a football test to make sure we knew the game, including naming all 32 teams. I did get all of them (after studying), but I’d known nothing about football before I cheered for the Saints. That did make me gain a love for it.
Q: How did you find out you made both teams?
Swaggy: I always wanted them to put it up on a sign, and be able to see my name on a list somewhere. Probably outside the arena on a wall or something. You know?
Lauren: One sweet touch with the Lakers that was nice is that (Lakers Director, Game Operations and Entertainment) Lisa (Estrada) calls each girl individually to let them know if they made the team or not. I was at the beach at the time – because that’s my happy place – just hoping for the best. Lisa called, and she thanked me for my time and coming out and told me she had a position for me. I was very, very happy. The Saints posted it online. I was in school at the time, in class, refreshing the Saints website until I found out. I think I got a text from my dad letting me know that they’d updated it and I’d made it.
Q: Is there a difference between dancing and cheering?
Swaggy: Yes. Big difference. With cheering they have the permanent smile. It’s more nice. Make me happy, make you all happy. Dancing sometimes you just get your groove on. I can dance. I’m kinda like Michael Jackson. I’m the king of the dancing video games, actually. I’m good.
Lauren: They’re both dance teams that require technical training. I was a cheerleader in high school, where you have the tumbling and stunting and all that. We don’t do that here, where it’s more high-energy routines. One thing that’s completely different about the NFL is dancing with pom poms. I’m had to get used to my hand placement here with the Lakers, because you don’t think about it like that (with pom poms). The pom poms probably made us look more like cheerleaders, but since there are so many people in the dome, it was a visual for people especially sitting up high. But yes, you have choreographed routines for both the NFL and the NBA, though we dance more with the Lakers.
Q: What is the game day experience like in the respective sports?
Swaggy: They probably listen to some crunk music to get fired up to dance. But for cheering maybe it’s make up and hair first. But the dancers may have to get more, like, ready for game day. But the Laker Girls are also classy. They’re doing their thing!
Lauren: It’s a much longer season in the NBA, and a lot smaller of a team. There are 22 of us Laker Girls, and we had 36 on the Saints, which made it really, really different. I know when I first made the Lakers, it felt so much smaller and more close knit. You’re able to build relationships a little easier, being that it’s a smaller team. You get to know every girl on the team. Game day experience wise, Staples Center is also smaller and more intimate than the Superdome, because you’re much closer. In the Superdome, we were standing far away from the fans, and I could barely make out any faces in the crowd.
Q: Why did you want to become a Laker Girl?
Swaggy: (Editor’s note: Swag was not asked this question, but his response probably would have been: “I’m not a Laker Girl tho.”)
Lauren: I always wanted to move to L.A. and audition for the Laker Girls, and (current Laker Girl) Karla and I used to dance together in Atlanta, and I reached out to her and asked her about it. She told me about her experience, and it just seemed like a really good fit for me. There can be an image tied to a lot of professional teams, and it can be hard to find a team with class. There are very few teams I’d actually go out for, and the Saints and Lakers are two of them. There is something very traditional about the Laker Girls that hasn’t changed, and it’s very refreshing to have that class, and have girls that are so smart. All these girls are very driven and very smart with lives outside of this.* You’d be amazed: these girls have substance. I’m probably going to do it until I can’t do it anymore, because I love it and you only live once. *Lauren is an entertainment coordinator for L.A. Fashion Week.
Q: How do the practices to get ready for games go?
Swaggy: I think there’s a difference … don’t the NFL cheerleaders have to practice on the field so maybe they need cleats? It’s kinda tough to dance in cleats, so, yeah. But the NBA can be in the gym … but also, they probably practice more hours and they have more games.
Lauren: It’s very similar, as we actually practiced Tuesday and Thursday in New Orleans, and Tuesday and Thursday for the Lakers if we don’t have a game. They last around the same amount of time.
Q: What athletes are more impressive?
Swaggy: Basketball players obviously. You really have to be an athlete … football you just have to get buff and run. I think it’s harder to be in the NBA than the NFL … but I like people to see me. Faces out! In football, you’re covered by a helmet.
Lauren: Now that I’m getting more comfortable I’m able to watch a bit more of the action. In my first few games, I was thinking more about the next routine: the formation, the counts and everything. I was a nervous wreck my first few games. But now I’m able to actually watch and relax and enjoy it more.
Q: Difference in the fans?
Swaggy: Well, L.A. is L.A. They’re the best, obviously. I don’t know the Saints fans or NFL fans as much.
Lauren: The fans are equally as loyal. Lakers fans are great, and they really get into the game. If there’s a little girl, I can actually make eye contact with her and wave, and that’s a special kind of interaction that you don’t get as much in football.
Taylor Clark, Washburn Rural High School graduate, moved to LA in 2013
(Photo by Juan Ocampo/LA Clippers via Bernstein Associates, Inc.)
By Katie Moore
The Topeka Capital-Journal
January 17, 2016
A native Topekan will be featured on a new docuseries premiering on E! network this spring.
Taylor Clark, a dancer for the Los Angeles Clippers, will be part of the show titled “L.A. Clippers Dance Squad.”
“I’m excited to see how (the show) will come out and how it will all be put together,” she said.
Clark graduated from Washburn Rural High School in 2012 and attended Kansas State University for a year. Though college was a positive experience, she opted to put school on hold and pursue her dancing dream. Her parents, Bruce and Cindy Clark, were supportive of the decision.
In July 2013, Clark headed to Los Angeles. Moving was “one of the greatest risks I’ve ever taken,” she said. However it’s been rewarding, Clark said, as she has gotten to learn a lot about herself and make new friends.
In California, she began seeking out opportunities, going on auditions and castings and finding some success in getting booked. Additionally, a dance agency picked her up.
In July 2015, she auditioned for the L.A. Clippers’ Spirit Dance Team. Filming for the docuseries began at the audition. The cameras followed the prospective dancers as they progressed through the process — from auditions, interviews, selection, practices and performances at games.
Clark said the show is an inside look of what it is like to be an NBA dancer, from the hard work that goes into the job to some of the members’ personal lives.
At first, Clark said, it was weird to have cameras around so much and to always be hooked up to a microphone. But it is something she has gotten more used to.
Being a dancer on the team has presented some challenges and special opportunities. The coach of the team has changed up the style of dancing — in the past, there were cheerleader-type routines. They now are incorporating “industrial dance,” which has more of an urban and hip-hop approach. Clark said the change hopefully will let fans see that they are “not just pretty cheerleaders,” but athletes.
The dancers practice on Sundays and Mondays and before each game, arriving before the basketball players on game day. It is more commitment than people assume, she said.
At times, extra rehearsals are necessary to ensure the team has the choreography down.
“There’s a great team atmosphere,” she said.
Clark has had the opportunity to travel on the squad, performing in many parts of the U.S. and in China and Taiwan.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” Clark said. “It’s so much fun.”
In February, Clark — who was named a co-captain — will travel to Toronto for the NBA All-Star Game. Only one dancer from each of the NBA’s basketball teams was chosen to participate.
A date for the debut of the eight-episode series hasn’t been set, but Clark said she expects it will be sometime in March.
A couple of months old, but still worth posting…sasha
By Jay Betsill
Special to DFW.com
Nov. 2, 2015
DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks Dancers held their squad photo and cameo shoot at a studio near the 2011 NBA champion’s headquarters in the shadows of downtown in Deep Ellum.
[Video and Photo Gallery]
This is an important day for the team as the squad photo is the picture that Mavs fans from around the world will see and the photo that the dancers will sign at all of their appearances throughout the NBA season and the next calendar year.
In addition to the squad photo, each of the 20 dancers did their individual cameo photos that will be used in promos on the video board at American Airlines Center and in printed materials including the official game day programs in the Inside Dish section.
Another significant part of the day comes when many of the rookies don their Mavs Dancers uniform for the very first time.
“Squad photo shoot day was an awesome experience,” said rookie Mavs Dancer Meredith. “When I put the uniform on for the first time, it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had and I definitely felt like I was a part of the team. I had that ‘wow’ feeling that I really had accomplished my dream.”
There is also the subliminal bonding that goes on as veterans helped out the rookies, many of whom have never experienced a full-scale photo shoot. Whether it is lending a helpful suggestion while working on a pose or simply calming nerves prior to the individual shoots where all of the attention is focused solely on the particular dancer who was out on the seamless background.
“We have a good group of girls this year and I think the best part about squad photo shoot day was that we all got to know each a little more,” said six-year veteran Mavs Dancer Emily M. “My first year, I was definitely more nervous, wondering how my hair and makeup looked because I knew how many people were going to see the photo, but throughout the years, I have become much more accustomed to how things go on the photo shoot days.
“Part of being a veteran is actually making sure the rookies feel comfortable and if they need anything, I am here for them,” she continued. “We actually had former Mavs Dancer Sequel on hand to help with makeup and uniform fitting and it basically lets the new girls see that team is one big family.”
The Mavs Dancers first full team performance for the 2015-16 season took place at the Mavs Fan Jam on the court at American Airlines Center.
The 2015-16 Dallas Mavericks Dancers are: Veterans Emily M., Lauren, Ashley W., Kathryn, Alexis, Amber, Kassandra, Elise, Hayley, Emily V., and Hunter and rookies Ansley, Karielle, Janae, Katelyn, Raegan, Meredith, Lexie, Ashley H. and Sydney.
For more information on the Mavs Dancers, visit mavs.com.
by Alyssa Romeo
January 14, 2016
Becca, who is in her fifth season with the Denver Nuggets Dancers, has been selected as one of the elite members of the 2016 NBA All-Star Dance Team in Toronto.
“I’m just super honored and very excited to be able to represent our team,” Becca said.
The All-Star Dance Team is determined through a peer nomination and voting process. With over 600 girls across the nation currently holding a position on an NBA dance team roster, one dancer is selected from each of the teams, leaving just 30 spots for the best-of-the-best from each city.
“Becca was the Nuggets Dancers’ top choice for the All-Star Dance Team position,” said Amy Jo Wagner, Manager of the Denver Nuggets Dance Team. “The dancers each voted for their top three candidates to recommend to the NBA for the position. Becca was nominated over and over again because she is such a great representation for our team.”
Becca will be the face of the Denver Nuggets Dance team during one of the most highly viewed professional sporting events of the year. Her advanced dance techniques and uncanny ability to master and perform choreography during a short period of time will be some of her biggest assets during all-star training, but they won’t be the only strengths this DND will bring to Toronto.
Amy Jo stresses the importance of both Becca’s skill and attitude when approaching the annual mid-season exhibition game.
“Dancers selected for the All-Star Dance Team will need to learn several routines in a short period of time. They will have limited time to receive feedback from the coach and to rehearse with their teammates. The pressure and stress will no doubt get to the ladies throughout the week. Becca is calm in stressful situations; she doesn’t take things too seriously and will probably be the teammate that keeps the mood light during the All-Star events, just like she does here at home.”
Becca will take her talent and positive attitude to Toronto alongside her interim teammates who will all be representing their NBA affiliates at various functions throughout the week leading up to the All-Star game. Activities will include charity appearances, in-game routines, autograph signings, and the opportunity to be a back-up dancer for several of the nominated recording artists.
The All-Star weekend is Feb. 12-14, with the All-Star Celebrity Game on Friday; the skills challenge, the slam dunk contest and three-point contest on Saturday; and the official NBA All-Star game on Sunday.
By Diana Turner-Hurn
Journal & Topics Reporter
Each year, women from around the U.S. try out to be a Chicago Luvabull. Only 25 are selected to cheer on and represent the city’s one NBA team.
This year, one of the 25 selected was Rosemont native Nicole Cargola, daughter of Dianne and Frank Cargola of Rosemont.
“I love being able to represent the Chicago Bulls not only at the games, but during charity events such as recently helping the children’s hospital with the Santa flights helping ill children and their families,” Nicole Cargola, 24, told the Journal.
Cargola is not only a dancer working part-time for the Luvabulls, but also a physical therapist assistant. She says she really enjoys her work at The Admiral at the Lake skilled nursing facility in Chicago where she works full-time.
“Everyday I work with people that put a smile on my face,” Cargola said. “It is very rewarding work. The only bad thing is that when a patient gets better, they move on and I don’t get to see them as often. A few of them truly touch my heart.
“But although you will miss them, you know you’re doing your job when you are able to send them home,” Cargola said of the patients she works with.
This is the first year Cargola has been a Luvabull. Without disclosing what the job pays, Bulls officials said to become a Luvabull, one must be 21 and have training in jazz and hip hop dance with an emphasis on synchronized dance team choreography, tumbling skills, cheer stunts and pom experience. Those selected must attend evening rehearsals during the week and perform at Bulls home games until the end of the NBA season including the playoffs.
Asked who her favorite Bulls are, Cargola said, “They are all great, but my favorite is Benny the Bull. On a serious note, Jimmy Butler works hard, is very good and seems to be carrying the weight of the team on his back.”
The Luvabulls also appear at corporate and international events. Recently, Cargola appeared with the group on “Good Morning America” for an NBA event.
Cargola is well qualified to be a Luvabull. The 2009 East Leyden High School graduate was a member of the 2011 Adrenaline Rush Dance Team for the now-defunct Arena Football League’s Chicago Rush that played at Allstate Arena.
Cargola began dancing at the age of 3 and participating with cheer and dance teams when she was 7 through Rosemont Park District programs. She was a Rosemont School cheerleader while continuing to take dance lessons.
At East Leyden, Cargola tried out and was accepted for the Leydenettes poms team, and later on, the dance team at Elmhurst College before trying out for the Rush.
“I owe a lot to my Leyden dance coach and neighbor Brenda Drehobl,” Cargola told the Journal. “She coached and inspired me for years and continues to do so.”
After attending Elmhurst and earning a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Management Science, Cargola attended Fox College where she received a physical therapist assistant associate’s degree.
“My parents have been super supportive of everything from my dancing to my work. They are terrific,” Cargola said. “As has been my younger sister Amanda.”
When asked what the future holds, Cargola said someday she’d like to be a dance coach.
“The toughest thing for me in the beginning was at the games, and being in front of 20,000 fans, having all those eyes on you,” she said. “You’re just out there. But I’m used to it now and enjoy being part of the Bulls.”
[Nicole at the Bulls Website]
By Ethan Stacks
New York Daily News
Time nearly ran out before the Brooklynettes’ captain could capture that timeless sunset photo that is one of the stunning highlights in the first swimsuit calendar from the Nets’ official dance squad.
Amanda, the captain of the Brooklynettes, and her photographer were forced to race into the Barbadian surf to get the picture-perfect moment with just seconds to spare.
“Because hair and makeup ran very late, our shot that we had planned for 30 minutes was down suddenly down to six minutes,” recalled Amanda, 26.
“But within that six minutes we got it. And I felt like an out of body experience, it was so surreal to be in the midst of this tropical environment. It was just such a different feeling from being in Brooklyn.”
It’s a different feeling all around for the squad, which partnered with the official tourism company of Barbados for the 2016 calendar. They traveled together as a whole team abroad for the first time for the photo shoot.
Proceeds for the $10 calendar will go to the Nets’ philanthropic arm, the Nets Foundation.
Brooklynette Anna improvised her photo on horseback after a chance encounter with a man and his horse.
The NYU graduate student, who competed in equestrian events during her teenage years in Poland, got the chance to improvise a photo on horseback.
“A man walked down the beach with a horse and asked if we wanted to take a picture with him,” said the dancer. “It’s a funny coincidence because on the plane ride earlier I had said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to take a photo on a horse?’
A Charlotte LadyCat
By Jay Betsill
Special to DFW.com
The Dallas Mavericks Dancers held their 2016 Swimsuit Calendar Release Party at The Owner’s Box sports bar inside the massive Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas.
A capacity crowd estimated between 375-400 fans packed the place for the opportunity to meet the dancers. All 20 of the Mavs Dancers were on hand to sign copies of the calendar and pose for pictures with the fans during the event that ran from 6-8 p.m.
The swimsuit calendar, which was shot on location at the luxurious Branded T Ranch in Kendalia, TX with swimsuits provided by Bask Boutique, is 28 pages and features all 20 of the Mavs Dancers. The calendars were sold for half price as a special for those who attended the party.
“I was so excited when I saw the final calendar,” said rookie Mavs Dancer Sydney. “It was revealed to us and I had no idea that I was January, so when I opened it up and it was the first thing I saw, it was very special.
“Everybody’s pictures look amazing,” she continued. “They’re flawless, the way the photographers captured the images and when you see the final product, there is so much thought and creativity that went into it that it really is an honor to be a part of it.”
There was food and drink specials going on during the party and they raffled off prizes including tickets to Mavs home games at American Airlines Center, team merchandise at The Hangar and workout packages from D1 Sports Training and Therapy in Dallas. Entertainment for the party was provided by DJ EJ.
“I am taking care of several Christmas presents tonight,” said 32-year old Mavs fan Jake, who purchased eight copies of the calendar. “I had planned on getting four calendars, but after I posted on Facebook that I was here at the party, several texts came in and I ended up having to go back and buy a few more.”
As the evening was about the wrap up, the Mavs Dancers all took the stage in front of the huge crowd to present the owner of Branded T Ranch with a framed No. 16 Dallas Mavericks jersey as a special thank you for hosting their calendar photo shoot.
“Tonight was a very special night,” said third year veteran Mavs Dancer Kathryn. “It was really cool that we had such a great turnout of Mavericks fans that care about the dancers. They wanted to meet us and get our autographs and we feel very loved tonight.”
Lots more photos ” target=”_blank”>here.
Greetings from NOLA. I had attended the New Orleans Pelicans home opener at the Smoothie King Center. Truly an experience for some NBA with a lil Cajun flavor, and we even got a free t-shirt. Unfortunately with the inclement weather, the pregame party was cancelled, so I’ll hope that I will eventually meet the world’s most frightening mascot Pierre the Pelican another day.
[New Orleans Pelicans Dancers]
By Michael Kinney
Even though Brooke Watkins has been part of the Thunder Girls dance team, it was still a surprise to her. When she arrived at the annual calendar release party Saturday at Riverwind Casino and saw she was this year’s cover girl, the Prague native was overjoyed.
“I was shocked,” Watkins said. “I had no idea. It’s such an honor to represent on the cover. A lot of hard work and dedication that we put in before we take those photos.”
Every season the calendar seems to get bigger and bigger and more anticipated. According to Westmoore alum, Kayle Marshall, the Thunder sold more calendars this year than in any season in the past. That was evident by the amount of people who attended the release party.
“We don’t get to see the calendar until right before we go out and sign it,” said Marshall, who is featured in the November issue. “When Paige, our coach, showed us, we were all screaming, clapping. Just seeing the turnout and how many people come. So many fans came out there.”
The event ran from 5 to 7 p.m. as the team members autographed calendars and took photos with fans.
“It’s such an honor to be part of that calendar,” Moore native Sarah Jackson said. “The legacy that the Thunder girls have and to be part of that is just incredible. I am really honored to be a part of it. And to be part of it for the last three years. I actually thought I was done dancing after high school. I tried out for the Thunder girls on a whim and it ended up being the best blessing I ever had. Never imagined this would happen to me.”
As Watkins signed her autograph on various calendars and saw herself on the cover, she still couldn’t believe the position she was in.
“It is so special and such an honor that I just value so much,” Watkins said. “I just, thinking about it (Saturday) that, I never pictured myself on the cover of any type of calendar. So, to see where I’ve started and where I’ve come, it’s such an honor.
[OKC Thunder Girls]
The Mavs Dancers Calendar is a 28-page, Americana-themed swimsuit calendar featuring the newest dance team for the 2015-16 season. The 11X11 calendar highlights a different dancer each month, and was shot over two days at the Branded T Ranch.
[Mavs Dancers Calendar]
By Deirdre Kelly
The Globe and Mail
Onto the brightly lit basketball court the 22 members of the Raptors Dance Pak shimmy into formation, shaking their miniskirts for 20,000 screaming fans crammed inside Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
It’s early November, just three weeks into the season, and the home team is trying to bounce back from a two-game losing streak. After three quarters, the New York Knicks are proving an even match for the Raptors and the dancers are moving fast to hype up the crowd.
An NBA basketball game is the funhouse of the modern sporting world: For every stoppage in play, there’s a prize giveaway or a call for the crowd to get LOUD. The DJ fills nearly every silence with booming rock and hip hop. The Dance Pak is the pulsating human embodiment of that choreographed chaos.
The dancers’ two-minute bursts of dancing are the equivalent of an 800-metre run, done with a smile that belies the fitness, talent and dedication required to earn a coveted spot on the squad. (Photos by Mark Blinch for The Globe and Mail)
The dancers’ two-minute bursts of dancing are the equivalent of an 800-metre run, done with a smile that belies the fitness, talent and dedication required to earn a coveted spot on the squad. “We are a key element of the in-game entertainment and so all our performances need to be full of energy,” choreographer Amberley Waddell explains.
A Waterloo, Ont., native, Ms. Waddell started with the Dance Pak at 19. She learned first-hand that for dance to succeed on a 94-by-50-foot basketball court, it needs to be big, bold and bootilicious. No pom-poms, though, just bump-and-grind hip hop and big-kicks jazz dance.
New York choreographer Texie Waterman is credited with having created sports-stadium dance when he was recruited to generate explosive on-field routines for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders in the 1970s. Ms. Waddell has taken that style and modernized it: The introduction of lunges and squats and the heightened emphasis on muscularity are moves she learned while performing with Beyoncé and Gladys Knight in Los Angeles, and Bette Midler in Las Vegas. Her 40 routines also focus on the little details, such as hand claps over the head, finger snaps and flicks of the wrist and hair.
Since auditions in July, the dancers have been meeting three times a week to prepare for 41 game performances.
Each routine is drilled into the pack in a downtown Toronto gym lined with mirrors that grow steamy during the three-hour practices. The dancers have been meeting there thrice weekly since passing the audition in July. Throughout the season (which runs from late October to mid-April – and that doesn’t include a playoff run), they will clock between 45 and 50 three-hour rehearsals to prepare for at least 41 game performances plus community appearances – this year, there is even a game in London. The sessions start with a 30-minute warm-up that includes planks, push-ups and ab-crunching sit-ups by the hundreds. The rest is given over to cardio training and figuring out how to dance in the round, a challenge to dancers used to facing front and trained to watch themselves in a mirror.
The talent needed to be a part of the Dance Pak isn’t lost on Kenny Pearl, a former dancer with the famed Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham dance companies who was artistic director of Toronto Dance Theatre in the 1980s. Now a senior dance faculty member at Ryerson University, Mr. Pearl has had several Dance Pak members in his classes. “Their bodies can take a beating with the short, high-voltage bursts of energy required of them,” he observes. That they can recover so quickly is another reason Mr. Pearl admires their work.
“I see the Dance Pak as a group of smart, talented, beautiful and powerful women,” says Tamara, a 23-year-old rookie, of why she desperately wanted to join. (Dance Pak members do not disclose their surnames so as to keep overzealous fans at bay.) She is a former competitive dancer who runs her own photography studio. “It is very empowering.”
Even off the court the dancers are tossing giveaways or clapping from the sidelines.
It is also highly remunerative, an attractive prospect for dancers who often make much less in their industry. The Dance Pak are employees of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the company that manages the Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and are prohibited from disclosing their salaries. But “it’s one of the best and most rewarding dance contracts in the city,” says Kalina, an office worker by day who teaches at a dance studio on nights when not performing.
This season, there were 250 applicants and fewer than two dozen made the final cut. Even dancers from last season must reaudition.
“There’s so much talent present,” says Monique, a first-year member who trained as a ballerina. “You have this one opportunity to put it all on the floor for the judges to see or else that’s it, you’re cut.”
For this 24-year-old, the payoff is maintaining a strong connection to dance while engaged in other pursuits such as, say, pre-med studies at the University of Toronto, where Monique is doing a master’s degree in neuroscience.
Game days – usually a 7:30 p.m. start time – mean a 3:30 on-court rehearsal to work out line formations, which are especially important for crowds watching performances from the upper tiers of the ACC. Next, the dancers proceed to the dressing room to do hair and makeup. Then, it’s showtime.
There are 22 members in the group, who all auditioned from a field of 250 applicants. Even returning dancers must reaudition each season.
The dancers are on even when they are off the court: running into the stands, tossing giveaways, clapping from the sidelines when the ball is in play. Which is what they are doing right now. The Knicks are leading the Raptors by only a few points as the game enters its final minutes. Tensions in the arena run high. The dancers watch nervously on the edges.
They have divided themselves into two squads of 11 dancers in adjacent corridors leading to team dressing rooms. They clap rhythmically, and enthusiastically, urging the crowd to stand and clap along.
If the Raptors can overcome the deficit, the dancers will rush back onto the court to do a victory dance. But in the final seconds, the Knicks hit a succession of free throws and hang on to defeat the Raptors 111-109.
The crowd shuffles home disappointed. The team will regroup. The Dance Pak will strut their stuff at other games.
[Toronto Raptors Dance Pak]