Hours before the crowds arrive on game night of November 10th, insight into the success of the Orlando Magic Dancers can be gained by watching their afternoon practice. On this day, prior to the Magic Dancers’ practice, Manager Jeanine Klem-Thomas started the afternoon sessions with half an hour with her senior squad, the Silver Stars. As expected, being only her third time with the Silver Stars to work on this particular routine, the thirty minutes included a lot of coaching by Jeanine to make sure all of the details were covered. After the Silver Stars’ court time ended, it was time for the Magic Dancers half hour of rehearsal to begin. The change in tempo, both literally and figuratively, was immediately apparent. The Dancers seemed to magically transform from fourteen individuals stretching and casually talking on the sidelines during the Silver Stars practice, immediately into a single unit of motion once they hit center court. As the Magic Dancers took the hardwood, they worked in a way that was efficient like a smoothly running engine. Vocal instructions were minimal, and one had the sense that Jeanine, assistant Cherie LaRosa, and the fourteen Dancers acted with a single mind, so that the thirty minutes would be used for their maximum preparation with minimal stress.
The genesis of the collective personality of this talented squad stretches back to try-outs. Over 150 candidates tried out for the Magic Dancers, and the high talent level was noted by rookies and veterans alike. Rookie Lyndsay says auditions were “a lot harder than I expected,” to which veteran Krizia adds, “SO much talent.”
The motivation to try-out for the squad varies from family and friend connections, to being inspired by seeing a game. Fourth-year veteran and Team Leader Tara said, “I went to my first Magic game with my now husband, he was my boyfriend then, and I saw the Dancers, and didn’t realize how intense and awesome the dancing was. I had no idea! So I decided the next year that I would audition and try it out, became a big sports fan, and now I can’t stop doing it.”
Three-year veteran Ashley recalls knowing a Magic Dancer “that I previously danced with, and saw what she was doing, and saw her pictures, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is awesome, I want to be part of it.'” In the circle of dance life, now Ashley’s photos are featured in Kia advertisements, so that she is prominently seen by Magic fans and young dancers alike.
For rookie Heather G, trying out to be part of the Magic Dancers is part of a real sisterhood, as she says, “My sister was on the team for three seasons, so it has kind of been in the family. So I wanted to follow her, and I LOVE basketball.” Meanwhile, it was friends who were the connection for rookie Priya, who says, “I lived away for a year, and I wanted to audition. So when I had the chance to move back, I knew I wanted to do it. I had a lot of friends on the team in previous years, so they just kept telling me how wonderful it was, and I thought, ‘I am definitely going to do it’!”
Rookie Jessica’s path to try-outs began in college, because, “I went to Florida State, and I danced for the basketball team and the football team there, and we also competed. This is the next step in the same arena, staying in sports. I had never done sports before college; I competed and done things like that. It really opened my eyes, and I really wanted to stay with it.” The importance of dance squads was even a consideration of rookie Emmy’s college choice. Emmy graduated summa cum laude with a degree in communications from Tennessee, and for choosing a college, Emmy remembers fondly, “The dance team was actually a big part of it, and I wanted a big SEC school, big football, and school spirit. It was wonderful, oh my gosh, I loved it!” Emmy’s UT dance team won nationals while she was there. After college graduation, Emmy returned home to Florida and tried out for the Magic Dancers.
With so many motivated dancers in an entertainment hotbed, the Orlando try-outs were quite competitive for the twenty slots available. Rookie Lyndsay remembers, “The audition process was really hard. I had been preparing a long time. I was going to school at Florida State and hadn’t danced for four years, and in January started busting my butt, and I knew it was going to be hard, but then, it even blew my expectations.”
At auditions, Lyndsay recalls, “We learned the routines so much faster than I expected, because that is one thing I knew I needed to work on, being out of it for four years, picking up choreography, and we learned it so fast!” Veteran Krizia interjects, “It was difficult. I’m in my third year, and that was THE most difficult audition yet.” Seeing some anxiousness even among the veterans, Lyndsay explains, “I looked back at the vets, and that is what made me nervous.” Krizia explains, “But the veterans were even more terrified because we see all these new girls who are absolutely amazing, we were all like (nervous breathing), we might get kicked off.”
But the talent level and the achievement of being among the select few who made the cut has produced a strong, cohesive squad. As Lyndsay explains, “We have a team that is really technically strong. We have girls who are awesome at hip hop, and Latin, and all this booty shaking stuff; and then we’ve got girls who can put their legs up in the air, and girls who can tumble. It is a really good mix. Our personalities, our talents; it’s the best team I could ever ask for. And I was really surprised with the level of camaraderie, on the team. I was not expecting it. I have three brothers and I have grown up around boys. Dancing at studio, I’m used to being around girls, but just the level of camaraderie and everybody gets along. And we all go out together, and we have fun together. All this time we spend together and we don’t get tired of each other, and that’s what I really like about it.
Krizia adds, “And you get scared, a team of twenty women, sometimes is not going to be like that, (laughs) but there is no drama at all.”
And if there is no drama, there has to be comedy, and Jeanine says Lyndsay is a big source for fun on the team. Lyndsay appreciates the benefits beyond the time together on the court, explaining, “It’s only been three or four months since I have been on the team, and I already have tons of new best friends that I hang out with every single day. I moved here from Tallahassee and I have no family here. I moved here with a girl that is also on the team, Jessica. But I had nobody here, and now I have all these people that are like my extended family. They’ve all taken me under their wing, and any time, if we are going to be here for Christmas or Thanksgiving, they say, ‘Come over to my house,’ and that was just not what I expected at all. It is such a good, refreshing squad.”
The highly competitive auditions resulted in a squad with quite a few rookies. When asked what advice she has for the squad newcomers, veteran Tara’s insight is, “Soak it all in, because the season goes by so fast! Even though there are so many games, I can’t even believe it’s November already. I just tell them to enjoy every second of it, because you can’t get it back.”
For the rookies, their first pre-season game was a memorable event. Rather than feeling anxious, Heather G felt, “It was more exciting! We were really nervous, but we went out there, and it was just a rush. The adrenaline was pumping and it was just really fun.” Emmy adds about her opening night, “Phenomenal! We get the new arena! Everything is new to us, it is awesome.” Jessica describes her first Magic game as, “Overwhelming, really exciting! I was extremely nervous right before the game, but it was awesome, indescribable.”
Within the Magic Dancers, there is a sub-team, the Dunking Dancers team, which was the first in the NBA. This team within a team, the Dunking Dancers take their talents from dancing on the court to soaring ten feet above the hardwood, and participate in select games as part of the dunking entertainment that also features mascot Stuff, bouncing off trampolines and slamming the rock home. At this point in the season, the rookies were learning the basics at Dunking Dancer practices.
Some of the rookies are uncertain as to whether they have the Dunking Dancer skills, but all are willing to give it their best. Jessica laughs, “I am not that coordinated, to be honest. Dance is the only athletic thing that I am skilled in. My parents tried a lot of other things for me when I was younger. Dance was the only thing that I really liked and was good it.” Regarding the Dunking Dancer opportunity, Jessica says in her lovely, breathy voice, “I’ve tried a little bit. I’ll put some effort into it, but I don’t really think it is going to be my thing. I think I am better off dancing on the court. I think Jeanine would prefer that.”
So the Dunking Dancers began after the squad’s director had completed her time as a Dancer. Asked whether she would have wanted to be a Dunking Dancer if it was an option in her own Magic Dancers tenure, Director Jeanine responds “I would have, absolutely! One hundred percent!” Though she did not have the opportunity for dunking, Jeanine was one of the first six Magic Dancers to rappel from the rafters during a “Mission Impossible” routine. Jeanine recalls, “I remember as we were coming down, when we were eye level with the upper bowl, you could see the fans’ faces, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the Dancers!’ And it was that sense of ‘We did it!’ It was a hit! We did it at the opening of every playoff game of that 1997 series because they loved it so much.” For Jeanine, “The only scary part about rappelling was that you would have to go into the rafters backwards. So that moment was scary, but once you had your bearings and were upright again, it was cool.” Based on this experience, Jeanine says, “That is why I say yes, I would have absolutely welcomed the dunking.”
Heather G, on whether she is interested in being part of the dunking troupe, says, “I am, but I don’t think I am cut out for it. When I was doing it, I just couldn’t seem to grasp it. Maybe next season, if I make it again.”
Emmy adds, “I’ve been going to all of the practices. I’m not a gymnast and I’ve learned it comes very naturally for the gymnasts on the team. Not so natural for me, but I’m determined.”
So for rookie Jazmin, who teaches ballet and also works with gymnasts, the enthusiasm shows, “Oh, I would love to be a Dunking Dancer! That would definitely be a very cool thing to do. Right now, actually, some of the rookies are just getting their feet wet and trying it out.”
Veteran Ashley has been on the Dunking Dancers, but is taking time off after an injury. Ashley explains, “I used to be (a Dunking Dancer) but I tore my ACL last season, dunking during a practice. We were in practice for the first dunk show last year, and just landed wrong, twisted it, tore my ACL. I had knee surgery so I was pretty much out the whole season. I came back for playoffs so that was good; I was here for the best part! So I LOVED dunking, but I am not ready to go back to it.” Ashley’s proclivity for being a Dunking Dancer goes back to her youth, when “I grew up competing in dance and gymnastics, so I was kind of used to that. But I loved (being a Dunking Dancer), it was exciting, fun.”
Sixth year veteran Danielle was dealing with some dance related knee problems, too. In fact, she had just seen that day a good friend who is a foot and ankle surgeon, who advised Danielle on a knee brace. So, with the occasional injuries sustained through the athleticism of dance and dunking, wouldn’t having some physical therapy expertise make this squad absolutely perfect? Voila! Enter Priya who says, “I am currently studying to take my boards for physical therapist assisting.” Emmy injects, “Every time one of us hurts ourselves, we ask her, ‘What should we do?!’ It’s wonderful having her handy.” “I try to help out as much as I can actually,” Priya laughs, “That’s what I do!”
After practice, the Magic Dancers returned to their specious new locker room to get ready for the opening of the arena’s gates at 5:30. As the Dancers stood ready for their pre-game assignments, assistant Cherie, who also danced for the Nets, reminded them to make sure they had their name tags and Sharpies, and Jeanine read off their locations. As they headed to the door out of the locker room, the call to “grab your partner” lead to some impromptu “do-si-do” square dance calls. Also with the Dancers was that night’s junior Dancer Lana, who had recently lost her two front teeth, and we learned that the Tooth Fairy’s exchange rate is now $20 per tooth.
The Magic Dancers met fans in the concourses and in the kids play area, “Stuff’s Magic Castle.” After meeting with fans, it was time to get ready for tip-off. The Magic Dancers were prominently featured in two routines, as part of other time-out activities, and with Danielle as game host. With so many games and routines, there is a lot of the choreography needed over the course of a season. To keep it fresh, Jeanine says, “Forty-five games, two feature routines every night. We kind of have a big formula. We go to ProDance, we go to Pro Action Dance, Cherie and I do some, the girls do some, and I have guest choreographers locally.”
Sometimes if a routine can live on multiple seasons and become a bit of a legacy for the Dancers. In addition, Jeanine says, “Our Magic Dancers logo has a silhouette of a former Dancer, and she thinks that is the greatest thing because that is her legacy that she left behind.”
On this night, of the twenty on the squad, fourteen Magic Dancers took the court; four were scheduled to be off that night, and two, Virgilia and Kendra, dressed in uniform but spent the night circulating amongst fans. After the game as she stood at center court, when asked if she missed dancing that night, and Virgilia, a state high school gymnastics champion on the uneven bars, laughs and replies, “I would prefer to be down here.” Kendra, a biology degree graduate from Georgia Tech, said, “I have a lot of extra energy, so I have to find something else to do with it. At least I am here (at the game), so that is good.”
Since that game in November, the Dunking Dancers have their new squad within the OMD squad, and they performed for the November 30th and December 30th. Rookie Abby is the newest member of the Dunking Dancers. Though she did not soar upwards as a Dunking Dancer back on November 11th, she seemed quite comfortable descending while spinning at a good clip pre-game while having fun with the kids at the Stuff’s Magic Castle play area. Congratulations Abby on making the Dunking Dancers!
We SO appreciate Director Jeanine Klem-Thomas, assistant Cherie LaRosa, and all of the Orlando Magic Dancers, who define the words “gracious” and “hospitable,” even on a crazy busy game night! Here are some more of the images of an Orlando Magic Dancer game night. Go to Orlando, take the kids, grab some sun during the day, and enjoy a Magic game at night.