Being on NBA dance teams can be an amazingly rewarding part of a dancer's career. The competition for a spot in the pros is intense, but the benefits can be lifelong.
Making the NBA Dance Teams
Preparing and auditioning for a slot on the NBA dance teams is an intense process. It's really not enough to just be a dancer, or just be attractive or athletic. You have to combine all three of those qualities with a drive that will take you through not only the audition but also the work that comes with being a dance team member.
For example, in 2009 the Miami Heat dance team (which has won the NBA Dance competition all four years it's been held) had auditions for their "dance bootcamp." Over 200 dancers showed up for the audition - and they were slowly winnowed down to 25 finalists. Janine Thompson, the lead choreographer, explains some of the qualities necessary for a HEAT dancer: "They need more than just dance skills: public presence, attitude, sex appeal - they represent the Miami Heat."
The dancers on the NBA teams have serious training. Bianca, a dancer with the Toronto Raptors, has been dancing since she was seven years old. Her training is not only in the staples like jazz, tap, and ballet, but also in hip-hop and acrobatic dancing. Aside from her work with the Raptors, she is also a professional dancer and dance teacher. These are not just high school cheerleaders (who have their own impressive set of skills from routines, and who also go on to become dance team members). These are highly trained professionals.
Beyond the Dancing
The work of the NBA dance teams and cheerleading squads goes beyond the court or sidelines. They are also expected to be ambassadors for the franchise and the community, doing volunteer work at hospitals, community events, and more. They are also a publicity resource for the team, with the demands of photo and video shoots to go along with performances at games, exhibitions, and possibly competing to become part of the NBA all-star team.
The performance energy that comes out in this carries many dancers on to other dance careers - the Heat, for example, has sent members on to the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance and also to the world of pro wrestling. Paula Abdul, pop star, choreographer, and television personality is one good example. Paula's first gig after being a successful Laker Girl was to choreograph award-winning videos for Janet Jackson and dance sequences for the hit movie The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Other notable alums of NBA teams include:
- Jessica Sutta (Miami Heat) and Asia Nitoliano (NY Knicks) both of whom sang and danced with the pop music group The Pussycat Dolls.
- Dawn Angeliqué Richards (New Orleans Hornets) and Shannon Bex (Portland Trail Blazers) who were members of Danity Kane.
- Moon Bloodgood (LA Lakers) is an actress in movies such as Terminator Salvation and television series such as Day Break and Journeyman, joining the hit tv show Burn Notice in 2009.
- Bonnie-Jill Laflin (Dallas Cowboys) appeared on 'Baywatch and Ally McBeal'' as well as working as a model and news correspondent. Later she returned to her roots with the NBA as a talent scout and developmental manager for the Lakers.
Often the athleticism, professional dedication, and pure skill of these dancers are overlooked or denigrated because of the overt sexual nature of the dances. The fact is, sexy or not, the choreography requires hours of rehearsal, conditioning, technique and a positive attitude. At their core, however, the NBA dancers are there supporting the team, making sure that the fans are engaged. Their mission is to make sure that everyone has a positive experience, and they take it seriously. At one Atlanta Hawks game where the team actually lost, a blogger wrote "Hawks Lose, Fans Win - With Dance Team!"