Tuesday, July 17, 2007

PCB Field Trip: the 2007 LA Clippers Dance Team Audition (Part 1) 

Posted by Sasha at 8:37 PM ET

Warning: As hard as I will try, this will doubtless turn out
much longer than I intended. Consider yourself warned.

(Read part 2 and part 3)

A couple of months ago, I was feeling kind of bad. James is working his tail off tracking down every last dance team in the Mid Atlantic region, while I’m sitting back and blogging from the comfort of my own home. So I decided it was time to get out there and do my part. My first thought was to try to get into this year’s Clippers dance team audition. Unfortunately, through a variety of miscommunications, that plan collapsed.

How it all began
Sunday morning found me sitting on the bed, sipping on some apple juice, and reading a suspense novel. Some time around 7:30, I decided what the heck, why not check my email? And BAM, there it was. Email from Clippers Spirit Dance Team Director Jessie Christensen, saying that if I still wanted in, I should come on down.

My thought process at that point was something like this: EEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This was immediately followed by 30 minutes of chaos as I got myself together, threw everything in my bag and set out for the Spectrum health club in El Segundo. Registration was scheduled to start at 9 am. I wanted to be there before then.

I arrived just before 9. I walked in the door and noticed that there were a lot of girls in the lobby and they had a LOT of luggage with them. Rolly bags, make up cases, coolers, duffle bags, handbags – good grief! Are they moving in?

    Random observation: the Spectrum club is really nice. I mean reallllly nice. Even the ladies' locker room has big comfy chairs and a flat screen tv.
The next thing that happened was meeting Adrianne and Audrea Harris. Those of you who have been here for a while know that I am a card-carrying member of the Harris Sisters Fan Club. Fine, I don’t actually have a card, but I do think the two of them rock the casbah. I’d never met either one of them in person before, so this was an unexpected bonus!

After that, it was time to get to work. When I first got to the Spectrum, there were about 50 girls there. It seemed like a lot more, so I counted heads and came up with 47. I blinked, and the next thing I knew, there were dancers all over the place. They were out front, in the lobby, down the hall, and around the corner. They were everywhere. Standing in line. Stretching their hamstrings. Doing crunches. Talking to their friends. Listening to their iPods. Where to begin? It was a little overwhelming.

I cased the joint for a little while, working out my strategy. Here’s the thing: was I supposed to just go up to these people and start snapping away with my camera? What if they thought I was being creepy? I mean, I would think a strange person hanging around with a camera is kind of creepy. Especially one that clearly is not a member of the media. Were I in their shoes, I would be a bundle of nerves and not at all inclined to let a total stranger jump in front of me with a camera. But that’s just me.

I thought about it some more, and did a few more laps around the lobby area. Eventually, I decided that the only thing weirder than approaching all these people I don’t know is continuing to hover like I was doing. So I stiffened my spine, gave myself a little pep talk, and got my camera ready. As Shania Twain once said: Let’s go girls.

The first group of girls was easy. They were already taking photos, so I just butted in and asked if I could take one too. Then – please forgive me – I passed out a couple of business cards. Who does that? This is when I started to feel a bit creepy again. Kind of like those smarmy guys that hang out at Century City, claiming to be producers/talent scouts/agents, etc. (Honey, I can make you a star. Here's my card. Call me!)

I had to give myself a reality check. I am neither smarmy, nor a guy. Besides, I’m proud of those cards. I designed them myself and I totally dig them. And if I don’t pass out the cards, how are people going to find this website? Until James and I get it together and move the site to ProCheerleaderBlog.com, we’re stuck with this cumbersome (and seriously inaccurate) http://nflcheerleader.blogspot.com url. It is what it is.

Having convinced myself of the correctness of my behavior, I moved on to the next group of girls.

    Random observation: most of these people are very photogenic. I sort of get the whole point of professional models now. It’s so the photographer doesn’t have to work so hard...
It got easier from there, and pretty soon I was snapping photos left and right. Most girls were happy to stop for a moment to let me take their photo. (Only two said no, probably because they were totally stressed out, which is very understandable.) I met a girl who reads the blog regularly and got her outfit through the Pro Cheerleader Resource (see ad above.) How cool is that? I wish I’d asked her name.

A few of the girls were worried that they’d look weird in photos. Get real. If I may state the obvious, most of those girls could’ve walked in with paper bags over their heads, and they’d still have two-thirds of the population beat.

Doors Open
Pretty soon, it was time for everyone to go to the audition room, the Clippers’ practice court. It was a big room, and it was empty except for the judges’ table and DJ’s gear. Who knew there’d be a DJ? That was cool. The music was pumping and it felt kind of like a party. Or maybe I’m the only one who felt that way because I wasn’t auditioning for anything. The other girls probably had a different initial impression of the place. I liked it though.

I was sitting on the floor, scribbling down the judges’ names when Dance Team Manager Jessie Christensen came over and introduced herself. She is a SUPER nice lady. Jessie told me to consider myself one of the gang and help myself to water, snacks, etc.

She also introduced me to choreographer Andy Vaca, who turned out to be an equally cool human being. He’s very funny, and also wicked talented.
    Funniest Vaca-ism of the morning: “Please don’t grab yourself.”
    (Eh. Maybe you had to be there.)
At that point I decided that I didn’t need an actual strategy. I’d just take as many photos as possible, and to try to get at least one photo of every girl there. Easy peasy, right? So I went around the room and took photos of all the dancers. Most of them, anyway. It was much easier with everyone arranged around the room. I just went down the line, snapping photos.

There was another photographer there – a real one. I found out later his name was Mark. I was jealous. Not because his name is Mark, but because he had a better camera. I have a handy little Canon point-and-shoot. Mark had the real deal – a big honking piece of equipment with a huge lens and detachable flash. I knew he was getting way better photos than I was. (As you can see, some of these turned out a bit grainy.) I comforted myself with the knowledge that I don’t need a camera like that, because I lack the upper body strength necessary to lug it around.

Game on
At 10, Jessie got on the mike and explained the plan for the day. The girls assembled on the court to learn the first routine.

This is how it worked: There were three rounds of auditions. Each round was designed to show different aspects of the dancers’ talent and presence. Before each round, the choreographer taught 5 to 10 eight-counts of material. The first two rounds were choreographed by Andy Vaca, and the last round was choreographed by Mina Ortega. The girls had a little bit of time to practice, and then they lined up in groups of three to perform it for the judges. The judges deliberated, then made a cut.

Round 1: Across the Floor
Round #1 was an across-the-floor combination. I’ve never been to one of these auditions before, but I reckon the goal here was to see if you have the basic technical skills and flexibility required for this kind of job. Can you take direction? Do you have good form? Do you wobble when you pirouette? Do you land your jumps with the grace of a stampeding buffalo?

Andy taught the choreography, and all I can say is, if you ever plan to audition for a pro dance team, I hope you’ve had at least some ballet training. If you haven’t, well I won’t lie to you. The minute Andy starts throwing around the Ronds de Jambe, Pas de Bourrées, and Jetés, you’re pretty much hosed. That is, unless you are some kind of dance savant. Which is possible, I suppose.
    Random observation: several former Spirit dancers were on hand to help demonstrate the moves. One of them was Chellana and I’m glad she was there, because – did you know it’s pronounced Cheh-LAY-nuh? Me neither. That's cool!

Andy and the dancers ran through the routine a few times without music, marked it to the music, and then danced full out with the music. It was only a 15-20 second dance, but I soon realized that’s all it really takes to find out if a girl’s got the goods or not. I also think part of this process was to see how the girls handled mistakes and distractions. If you screw up in front of the judges, can you recover quickly, and with a smile on your face? They don’t want someone on the team who might burst into tears and run off the court in the middle of a performance.

There was one thing that wigged me out a little bit. The judges were there the whole time. I expected them to show up when it was time for the judging, but it soon became clear that they were there for the duration. They watched while the dancers learned the choreography. That’s both a plus and a minus.

On the plus side, the judges became very familiar with the dance, so they knew what to expect from the get go. (Translation: no advantage for the girls who go first.) They also had an opportunity to observe all the girls for a little bit. If a girl completely flubbed her audition, the judges might give her a pass because they saw her totally nail it in rehearsal. (I don’t know if that actually happens, I’m just supposing.)

On the minus side, you have to have your game face on. All. Day. Long.

Try this: smile.
Now hold it for 30 seconds.
Feels weird, doesn’t it? See, it’s not easy.

Next, I took some time to check out the audition outfits. Hello, I’m a girl, so of course I have to see what everyone’s wearing.

Here’s what stood out for me:
  1. Patterns. One girl was wearing a zebra print top. That may sound kind of crazy, but it totally worked.

  2. A bit of bling on the outfit. I’m not saying go crazy with the bedazzler like that one scene in Selena where JLo is wearing that rhinestone studded bra top, but crystals do help. The sparkle is eye catching. (Or maybe that’s just my inner two year old reacting to all things shiny and pretty.) Sequins are good too - if applied with restraint.

  3. Long sleeves or a top with an unusual cut.

  4. Girls with red hair. Girls with curly hair. Girls with short hair. Mostly everyone in the room had long straight blonde or brown hair, which is pretty, but anyone who didn’t have that kind of hair automatically stood out.

  5. Anything fluorescent. Just because only a few girls did that.

Here’s what was less successful:
  1. The plain black sports bra/black trunks combo. Booooring. This is showbiz, people. Make yourself stand out.

  2. Hopefully the girl who did this doesn't know about this website, because I’m totally not trying to hurt her feelings. However, I feel compelled to warn everyone else. Please do not wear flesh-colored trunks. For a second I thought the girl had no bottoms on and my eyeballs nearly fell out of my head.
All I’m saying is that you can really tell which girls did their homework before choosing their outfit.

Round 1 Auditions
Shortly before 11, it was time to start the audition. Jessie explained the process and the dancers lined up numerically around the room. There were about 220 girls auditioning. Right about here was when I realized that everyone – and I do mean everyone - stays in the room for the entire audition. The girls get to watch each other audition. Even the judges who weren’t judging this particular round of competition were in the room.

I’m telling you, you have to have nerves of steel to get through a day like this.
    Random observation: the floor in here is extraordinarily shiny. And yet it’s not slippery. I don't understand how this is possible.

    See what I mean? You can see your face in that floor.
I did mention that there were upwards of 200 girls there, right? Divide that by three, and oh my goodness. We were about to see the same routine performed about 70 times. Wow. Luckily, there was no set music for this first dance. The DJ changed it up, which kept it fun and interesting. Nobody knew what song they were going to get, so they had to be able to jump in and go. It was a good test of the dancers’ musicality.

For the actual audition, the girls in each group of three lined up at one end of the room, one behind the other. The combination took them across the floor and at the end they had the chance to freestyle their way off the court. Unfortunately, by the time they got to the freestyle, the next group had lined up on the other side of the room, so I missed quite a bit of that.

Let me tell you, there was a lot of talent in the room. If I hadn’t been there earlier, I would’ve had no idea that they’d just learned the routine. However, in some cases it was clear who would not make it past the first cut due to lack of technique, inability to retain the choreography, wrong body type, etc.

Unfortunately, one unlucky girl fell down right in the middle of her audition. I missed it, so I can’t say what happened to her, but I think she did something to her knee. All I know is she was down on the floor and all the Clippers people sprung into action. Two of them helped her up. One got a chair for her to sit on. Another one ran to get a bag of ice. Someone else got another chair for her to rest her leg on. Two others were talking to her. They didn’t call an ambulance, so I don’t think she was in any danger health-wise, but she wound up sitting out the rest of the audition. Later that day, I spotted her in the lobby. She was lying on a couch with an ice pack on her knee and a pair of crutches propped against the wall. What rotten luck.

Round 1 went pretty fast. It was over in about 45 minutes. The judges headed off to deliberate, the girls sat down to wait, and the music kept on going.

Adrianne came over and pointed out a few of the girls to me. #75’s name was Cassie and she was a pretty 19 year old girl with long dark hair. She was also hearing impaired and her interpreter Josh was on hand to translate. That was pretty amazing to watch. I wish I’d paid closer attention to the interpreter. How do you say “passé on five” or “chaine turn” in sign language? #13 was a former Clippers dancer, hoping to return to the team. Another dancer, a blonde dressed in blue was a former member of the 49ers Gold Rush. She’d since had a baby, but you sure couldn’t tell by looking at her! Go #58, go!

To be continued tomorrow...

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