Kari Herrick Named New Director of Suns Dancers
Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Aug. 3, 2009
From the first moment that Kari Herrick represented the Suns, she managed to create entertainment.
When Herrick made her debut as a Suns Dancer at the Suns’ training camp in Flagstaff in 2000, she opened people’s eyes, just not in the way she would have preferred. As a freshman in college, making her very first appearance for the most popular dance team in Phoenix, Herrick made a dramatic entrance that she’ll never forget.
As she was heading down the stairs to perform her initial number, the grace and swiftness that epitomized Herrick’s dancing ability, managed to escape her a few memorable seconds. Herrick did what many people do when they embark on a new career, she tripped and fell… in front of everyone.
But what Herrick did next is what separates the successful from the unsuccessful: instead of crumbling into a heap, she dusted herself off and finished the job she came to do. And for the next five years, Herrick went on to help transform the Suns Dancers into one of the most popular dance squads in the NBA.
As the new Suns Dance Team Director, Herrick hopes to not only continue that tradition, but to raise the bar to the next level. For her, it’s a career that’s been long in the making.
Herrick, who was born and raised in Scottsdale, Ariz., first started dancing at the age of 2. She spent 12 years honing her skills at Bender’s Performing Arts School.
She took a myriad of classes in ballet, tap, jazz, modern and hip-hop from choreographer Kevin Bender, whose claim-to-fame was serving as a background dancer for the late Michael Jackson. After winning a bevy of honors and awards that included dance scholarships for classes in Los Angeles, Herrick was confronted with a life-decision.
As a 17 year-old that just graduated high school in 2000, she had to choose whether she was going to move to L.A. to pursue a dancing career, or remain in Phoenix and head off to college. She opted for enrolling at ASU.
But as serendipity would have it, Herrick would continue dancing. While moving into her dorm over the summer, she ran into April Morris, a friend and classmate from her former dance studio.
Morris, who was already a Suns Dancer, was on campus promoting the upcoming auditions for next season’s squad. Herrick knew she wanted in.
Herrick would end up being a fixture on the Suns Dancers for five years, finishing up her run at the end of the 2004-05 season. At that point, she had just received her BA in Communications and wanted to apply her degree to the real world.
“You have to really manage your time well with this dance team and it just worked well with school and with my other part-time jobs,” Herrick said. “You kind of have to work everything around the team. When you get out into the real world and you have a 9-to-5 job, it’s really hard to manage that.”
Suns Dancers arrive at the arena at 3 p.m. on game days, which worked superbly for Herrick when she was a student. She would attend class in the morning, hit the arena in the afternoons and then juggle a couple of part-time jobs on the side.
So as she accepted her first full-time job as the executive assistant to the Executive Director at Childhelp, a non-profit in Scottsdale that seeks to prevent child abuse, it just wasn’t feasible to keep dancing. The lifestyle change turned out to be much greater than Herrick had anticipated, as was the void created from abandoning dancing. But then serendipity knocked again.
While coordinating an event for Childhelp, she ran into a friend and former Suns employee, Bret Fishkind, who had moved over to the Phoenix Coyotes ice hockey team. It turns out that the Coyotes were looking into the idea of having a dance team on ice and they needed someone to put together a vision for a team.
Up until that point in the NHL, dance teams on ice only really existed in hockey’s minor leagues. Herrick, like many NHL front offices, was skeptical of the idea of performing on ice.
However, because she missed being involved with dance so much, Herrick decided to look at the situation as a challenge and construct a business plan. Soon after, the Coyotes gave Herrick the green light and she was off and running.
Herrick hired a consultant from Denver to help her find uniforms and broomball shoes, which were the shoes used specifically for dancing on the ice. Broomball shoes have two inches of rubber on their soles to create traction on the ice.
“It was a huge success,” she said. “We thought it would be difficult with hockey crowd that was used to old-school hockey, but because we’re not a hockey town I think it helped us integrate more things into the experience for the fans.”
Although it grew in popularity, after spending two years at the helm of The Pack dance team, the squad was eliminated for economic reasons. It was a disheartening blow to Herrick, whose life had become The Pack.
But it ended up being a blessing in disguise for her. After dabbling in interior design and then working in guest relations at a cosmetology school, opportunity not only knocked, but bulldozed Herrick over.
After 12 years, Director of the Suns Dancers Maggie Cloud resigned as the team’s coach to relocate to New York with her husband. Once her position became open, Herrick jumped at the chance.
“After my first season I fell in love with the Suns and the games,” she said. “I love watching the games, but half the time when I go to games I’m concentrating so much on the dancers because I’m a dancer at heart. I love watching what they do and where they go.”
Herrick has watched the Suns Dancers evolve a great deal over time. Not only has the style of dance changed, but so have the team’s uniforms and styles. In fact, when Herrick first started dancing for Phoenix, the team didn’t even use pom-poms.
“The first few years we were very sporty,” she recalled. “The costumes didn’t have a lot of rhinestones or sparkle. It was more like sports-bra tops and plain cotton pants that you’d wear working out in a gym.”
Herrick plans on carrying over many of the traditions fans expect from the Suns Dancers. She admired much of what Cloud accomplished during her time as the squad’s director.
“I’m going to carry on Maggie’s legacy but definitely add a lot of new elements,” she said. “I learned a lot from Maggie and I took a lot of the strengths that she had and that really prepared me when I started coaching my team.
“You don’t really understand what it’s like to be in her shoes until you’re actually in her shoes. You don’t see the stuff that the coach goes through and half of what it takes for the team to be what it is.”
Although Herrick plans on building on the foundation that Cloud already established, Herrick has her own vision for the team’s future. Since her time as a Suns Dancer, Herrick has watched the dance teams evolve during her time with the Suns.
Not only have the routines become more complicated, but the trend seems to be for dancers to wear more make-up and appear more feminine. Herrick is determined that the Suns Dancers be “eye-catching” in all that they do.
“I definitely want to diversify the choreography a little bit more,” she said. “I think we have such an amazing pool of talent in Arizona. With the amount of talent that we get at auditions and on the team I feel like that there’s so much more that we could do with that.”
Herrick’s goal is to challenge the dancers with their choreography. Ideally, she would like the choreography and the costumes to look different every game.
“It’s difficult for the audience to differentiate what the routine is if you’re wearing the same uniform for every dance,” she said.
When the news Suns Dance Director looks around at other dance teams in the NBA, she is influenced by the Heat Dancers’ style and the Knicks City Dancers’ flashy choreography.
“The East Coast has different uniforms than the West Coast,” she said. “We want to take New York’s and Miami’s styles and combine them with our own. We don’t want to copy them, we want to take an element from them and make it our own.”
When Herrick was interviewed for the position, it became clear to her that one of the most important aspects of the dancers’ job would be fulfilling their roles as ambassadors for the league. For the fifth season in a row, the Suns Dancers were invited overseas on behalf of the NBA.
Taryn, Lauren, Amanda R., Carla, Jaclyn and Brooke were the five Suns Dancers that went to Rome to perform at the events that the NBA had coordinated. Herrick, who traveled with the five dancers, believes that the dancers helped bolster their already immaculate reputations.
Due to the bar that the Suns Dancers have set, Herrick has created a more trying audition process for selecting the 16 dancers. Instead of the traditional two-day audition, Herrick added a two-day training camp to go along with prelims.
Since she will be spending a full year with the girls she chooses, she wanted to make sure she chose the best possible candidates. A longer interview process allows Herrick to find out who’s responsible, punctual, committed and sociable.
“To really get to know someone you really need more time,” she said. “They also need to get an idea of how involved the team is, because it’s a huge time commitment.”
The training camp was created so Herrick could see what the girls are like in an actual three-hour practice. She will work them out for an hour, put them through technique and then make them learn a routine.
“That’s what’s expected every week from them,” she said. “If they can’t have it perfected by the time they leave and if they can’t learn it as fast as the other girls, then they can’t be on the team.”
After the training camp, the My45 TV special titled “Making of the Suns Dancers” will air showing all of the finalists. Fans will be able to log onto Suns.com to vote for their favorites and find out who made this upcoming season’s squad.
“You want the fans’ input because that’s who’ll be seeing the girls the most,” Herrick said. “It’s good for the fans to feel like they’re a part of something. They’re investing in this team financially and in the love of the team. To have them give their two cents is every important.”
In the past, the Suns Dancers have had around 250 girls at the auditions. This year, Herrick’s goal is to land 300.
It’s all apart of her plan to involve fans and entertain them like she did when she wore a Suns Dancers uniform. Moreover, it’s a part of her plan to make the Suns Dancers the premiere dance team in the NBA.
“I want their uniforms and their routines to have a ‘wow’ factor,” she said. ‘“I want to wow the fans and bring it to the next level.”