Building for the future

by Frank Jolley, Sports Editor
Daily Commercial
March 12, 2009

LEESBURG — Deanna Clover has been a performer for as long as she can remember.

She has performed in dinner theaters, danced on cruise ships and as a member of the dance teams for the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League and the NBA’s Orlando Magic.

Clover’s lifetime on stage has allowed her to travel the world as a promotional tool for the NBA and the Magic, and reached a peak this year when she was chosen to represent the team in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit edition.

Feeling the aches and pains from years of performing and realizing she had likely accomplished as much as she could as a dancer, Clover decided that this year, her fifth with the Magic, would be her final season.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Clover is leaving a business she has devoted most of her life to. Instead of dancing in the limelight, Clover is looking to move into the wings as the dance-team coordinator for the fledgling Leesburg Thundercats professional basketball team.

Clover accepted an offer from Thundercats’ owner Kevin Simmons in December to become the franchise’s first dance-team coordinator. She held tryouts throughout the county and the seven-dancer team was unveiled recently during Eustis’ Georgefest parade.

“Part of my job is to get the Thundercats name out in the public and let them know we’re bringing professional basketball to Lake County,” Clover said. “We’re going to do that by performing at games and by giving dance clinics in the community. We want to be an active part of the community and become a positive influence for young people.

“This team is going to help develop the image people have of the Thundercats, so we want to make a very good impression and be a staple in the community.”

Clover said she decided to make this season her final year as a Magic dancer after suffering a torn labrum and assessing the amount of wear and tear her body has endured over the years. She recently turned 30, and while there is no age limit to be a Magic dancer, the grueling annual auditions to make the team were taking their toll.

Also, because of her commitments to the Magic, Clover was not spending as much time with her family. She has been married for nine years to her husband, Cliff, who she met when she danced on a cruise ship.

In addition to her dancing duties, Clover works part-time at her husband’s real estate business in Kissimmee and she also has taught dance classes at a studio in in Kissimmee.

“The commitment with the Thundercats will not be as big at the Magic,” Clover said. “Outside of the public relations functions, such as giving clinics or taking part in parades, there will be only 15 home games with the Thundercats as opposed to the 41 home games for the Magic. I’m really excited about the possibility of being able to spend more time with my family.”

Simmons said he when he learned about Clover’s availability, he spoke with the Magic’s dance team manager Jeanine Thomas, who recommended that Simmons hire Clover. Simmons said Clover went to work immediately to form a dance team, juggling that with her commitments to the Magic.

“Deanna’s done a great job helping to put a face on this franchise,” Simmons said. “When I started this project, I wanted to move slowly and do things right. Our goal right now is to get the word out about the Thundercats and what better way to that than with a professionally organized dance team.

“Now we have a way to let people know we’re here and I can get down to the job of signing players and putting a product on the floor.”

Simmons said he currently is exploring his options for finding a home for the Thundercats. He has signed three players to contracts, including former Eustis High School standout Jimmy Hudson, and hopes to fill out his roster after the NCAA Tournament and the NBA Draft.

One of the biggest selling points for the Thundercats, Simmons said, will be the cost of attending a game. Whereas a family of four can expect to spend in excess of $100 — and oftentimes more — to watch a Magic game, he believes families will be able to go to a Thundercats game for less than $40.

“We’ll be affordable entertainment,” Simmons said. “I’m hoping to get area businesses on board as sponsors and work together with community leaders to make this Lake and Sumter County’s team. It may take a year or so to get completely established, but I can see the Thundercats becoming something everyone can rally around and take pride in.

“I’m here for the long haul and so are the Thundercats.”

The Thundercats will host the Orlando Kings at 7 p.m. March 21 at the Everett Kelly Convocation Center at Lake-Sumter Community College. A charity game will begin at 5 p.m.

A portion of proceeds from the game, according to Simmons, will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

NJ Nets Dancers & More

Nets DancersSasha likes to bestow the title of “Cool Chick” on deserving individuals. I’m not sure if I am comfortable calling anyone a “chick”, but one of the coolest people I’ve met while blogging is New Jersey Nets Entertainment Director Kimberlee Garris.

Kim is a Harvard Grad (BS in Cognitive Neuroscience), a dancer (Captain of the Harvard Dance Team and a two-time Knicks City Dancer) and in charge of the 80 or so entertainers at the Nets Games. The Dazzling Nets Dancers, the stunting Team Hype, the energetic Nets Kids, the Nets Mascot Sly, and more are all her responsibility.

So it was very cool of Kimberlee to arrange for me to get a pass to the March 1st Nets game. It was also Sly’s birthday, so Mascots from around the NBA came to help celebrate (and dunk). But even with that bit of madness going on, Kim made sure I was in the right place to get the best photos.

I had an Entertainment Pass, so I could shoot the performers, but not the game action, which was fine by me. But it meant I had to stay in the tunnel until it was time for performers hit the court. As the lined up I would kneel in front of the dancers (so as not to block the view of any fans). And as soon as the whistle blew, I’d race on to the court, trying to avoid the video camera guys their cables and the players (they are huge). I also didn’t want to trip and go face first on the floor in front of 15,00 fans. Fortunately, there were no incidents.

The next time I do a Wings Angels post, I’ll tell the story of how I almost was stuck out on the lacrosse field (court?) during play.

Let’s see some photos!

Nets Dancers
There are 16 Nets dancers, but there is a rotation system in place and only 12 perform at each game. But we will see a 13th dancer a little later.

Nets Dancers
Nets Entertainers all in a circle before the game. That’s Kimberlee on the far right with the headset.

Nets Dancers
Nets Dancers rehearsing before the game

Nets Dancers
Team Hype

Nets Dancers
Deb is the new coach of the Nets Dancers and is a former Nets Dancer herself. Prior to this season Kimberlee coached the team in addition to all her other responsibilities.

Nets Dancers
Jaclyn is four-year veteran of the Nets Dancers and has a BA in Journalism from rutgers. While she’s not dancing, she doesn’t have the night off. Tonight she’s wokring as ‘Jac of All Nets’ a web show, that she’s co-producing. Check out her show here.

Nets Dancers
This was quite a production/performance with dancers dancing and tumblers tumbling.

Nets Dancers
Getting ready to perform to a re-mix of Beat It. Notice the dancers are wearing just one glove.

Nets Dancers
At halftime the mascots were dunking. Here’s Grizz, the Memphis Mascot flying high.

Nets Dancers
Performances are scheduled to take place at certain time outs. One was scheduled for the first time out with 3 or less minutes to go in the first half. The problem was there were no stoppages of play! The clock counted all the way down to 54 seconds before a whistle. So what happens if there’s is no stoppage? Kim says it has never happened, but if it did, they’d just go on at the next timeout in the following quarter.

Nets Dancers
What keeps the Dancers and the rest powered through game day? Gatorade

Nets Dancers
If the game goes into the overtime, the Dancers have on additional performance at the end of regulation. Here they are rehearsing the routine in the tunnel.

More photos here.

[New Jersey Nets Dancers]

Clarkston grad takes dance career to California

Phil Custodio
The Clarkston News
February 25, 2009

With seven years of NBA dance team experience and a huge photo spread in Muscle and Fitness magazine, Clarkston graduate Harmony Hunt’s years of hard work is paying off.

“I’m not looking to get famous, but I want to do these things when I’m young and able,” said Hunt, Clarkston High School class of 1996. “I’m blessed to have these opportunities.”

“I think it’s fabulous, a Clarkston girl goes out there to California and does good,” said Rick Hunt of Independence Township, her father.

Growing up in Independence Township with her parents, Rick and Theresa, brother, Rudy, and sister, Jessie, she started dancing when she was 3-4 years old at Roxana’s Dance Expressions studio.

“My mom started me out young,” Harmony said. “I loved it. I’ve stuck with it all my life. It’s a passion of mine.”

“She really enjoyed performing, ever since she was little,” Rick said. “She’s excelled in it ever since.”

She was recruited by Clarkston pom-pon coaches Mary Jean Cox and Gina Cox to teach dance at Clarkston High School, and coached junior varsity and varsity pom pon for about four years.

“I really enjoyed teaching the girls,” she said. “We were very competitive, always placing in the top three at competitions. It was a good opportunity to learn leadership and teach girls to do their best.”

In 1998, she tried out for the Detroit Piston Dance Team Automotion at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

“It was an open audition,” she said. “Out of more than 200 girls, they picked 13.”

She danced with Automotion for three years.

“I’ve always loved NBA basketball,” she said. “It was really exciting, dancing for thousands of people, seeing the game up close.”

“It was pretty overwhelming to see her out there performing,” Rick said.

She was visiting friends in Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles County, when she got the urge to head west.

“I fell in love with the ocean and everything around it,” she said. “I was working as a cosmetologist, and I thought, if I can do that in Michigan, I can do it here.”

She moved to Los Angeles in 2005, joined Hush Hush Hair Salon on Manhattan Beach, and auditioned for the NBA’s LA Clippers Spirit Dance Team.

“The Clippers also had open auditions, and I got through,” she said. “We dance a lot more. I didn’t know anybody when I got here, and it helped me meet people all over the place.”

In addition to her salon and dance jobs, she also works as a model. She is representing herself to start, but already landed a photo feature in the national fitness magazine Muscle and Fitness’ April edition, sharing the cover with martial artist Bruce Lee.

“I’m always dancing. I’m in good, healthy shape, so I thought I’d try fitness modeling,” she said. “I’ve been getting really good feedback from it.”

She doesn’t miss Michigan’s cold winters – “one of my main reasons for moving to California,” she said – but does enjoy seeing downtown Clarkston when she visits.

“I enjoy Clarkston sporting events and downtown parades. I enjoy going back, and visiting friends and going to the local restaurants,” she said. “I want to thank my friends and family in Clarkston for their support and love. I never could have made it out here without them.”

Bowl Off: Sixers Dancers vs. Wings Angels

Sixers Dancers vs Wings Angels

Like the poster says, the Sixers Dancers battled the Wings Angels in a Bowl Off last Friday at Pinsetter Bar & Bowl in Pennsauken, NJ. The winning team would donate tickets for a future Philadelphia 76ers or Wings game to local womens’ charities in the Philadelphia region. A team of fans/bowlers would also get the chance to face off against the winners.

Sixers Dancers vs Wings Angels
Both Dance Teams pose for a photo before the competition begins.

Sixers Dancers vs Wings Angels
Janeen in introduced

Sixers Dancers vs Wings Angels
Jessica

Sixers Dancers vs Wings Angels
Lauren concentrates

Sixers Dancers vs Wings Angels
Lanes 17 & 18 were the center of attraction for the evening.

Sixers Dancers vs Wings Angels
The Sixers win the Bowl-Off, 531-389. This prompted Sixers Head Coach Christian Naven to suggest that her dancers should take on the Phillies Ball Girls on the bowling lanes instead of the softball field in the future.

Sixers Dancers vs Wings Angels
Another shot of Janeen

The rest of the photos here.

[Sixers Dancers]

[Wings Angels]

Pistons Automotion Dancer Chelsey Buhler Splashes into Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition

By Patricia Montemurri
Detroit Free Press

ChelseyShe’s not the cover girl of the vaunted Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, but Oakland University student and Detroit Pistons Automotion dancer Chelsey Buhler holds her own on Page 160. Buhler, 21, was one of 10 women chosen from NBA dance squads to model in itsy-bitsy teenie-weenie bikinis in the annual issue, now on newsstands.

Page views: Since Buhler’s profile was featured in SI — and in 36 different poses on its Web site — she’s become a fan favorite at Pistons games. She also got 800 unsolicited requests, nearly all of them from strangers, to be friends on Facebook.

Curriculum Vitae: Buhler, an Ortonville-Brandon High graduate, is majoring in communications at Oakland University and is thinking of going to law school or getting an MBA. She was on the dance team for the WNBA Shock for two years before trying out for the Pistons squad three years ago.

Gotta dance: She took lessons — ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop — starting at age 3 at Creative Dance Center in Ortonville. “I used to obsess about learning a dance routine and knowing it. I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about a dance routine. It wasn’t enough to do it in my head. I had to get up and dance around at 3 a.m.”

Shoutout: At Pistons games, fans who recognize her shout out “Hey, Sports Illustrated.”

Big Apple Photo Shoot: SI flew her out to New York City for three days in September. They gave her a bikini in the Pistons’ red, white and blue colors. During the one-day photo shoot, she also posed with women from other dance teams, and shot a video.

Career opportunity or cheesecake?
Buhler says she doesn’t view the exposure as being treated like a sex object.

“I think they did a good job of portraying us as professional dancers,” she says. “This is something that every girl wants. You look at the girls in the Sports Illustrated edition and how pretty they are, and you never think you’re going to be in it. And when you are, it’s like a dream come true.”

Bottom line: Some 68 million people eyeballed the swimsuit issue last year, according to SI, and the Web site drew 8.2 million unique visitors. Buhler says she got a small fee plus expenses while in New York City.

“Nobody has said I’m their screen saver yet,” she says. “But I’ve gotten at least 400 text messages saying I look great in the magazine.”

[Automotion]

[Chelsey at SportsIllustrated.com]