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.
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!