Saturday, July 28, 2007

Three local young women hope to make it to the Big Dance 

Posted by Sasha at 5:35 PM ET

Final round of Sixers Dancers' auditions heats up

By Kaelin O'Connell
South Jersey News Online
July 22, 2007

By 6 o'clock Wednesday night, tension pulsed at Chickie's and Pete's in
South Philadelphia. Frustrated drivers circled the packed-tight parking lot,
stressed-out waitresses scurried from one overcrowded booth to another and 30 dancers, 16 of whom would become Sixers Dancers, tensely primped and paced.

Three women from Gloucester County number among them -- Danielle DeMatteo, 21, of Sewell; Erica Gaspari, 19, of Sewell; and Jennifer O'Leary, 23, of Gibbstown. Over 100 girls had tried out in the first audition. Even the dancers who were on the dance team last year, including Gaspari, had to try out again this year.

"There's so much pressure! I'm more nervous this year than I was last year," she said.

So how did Gaspari, a student at Camden County College and also a waitress at the Landmark in Glassboro, get ready for Wednesday's audition?

"I curled my hair and went tanning a couple times," she joked.

The other local women were new to the Sixers but certainly not new to
professional dance. DeMatteo danced for the Philadelphia Kixx last year, and O'Leary spent three years dancing for the Philadelphia Soul.

"I just love Philadelphia. I love the fans," said O'Leary, who works as a
multi-skilled technician for a family practice.

DeMatteo, who studies psychology and education at Stockton College and works part-time at a pharmacy, said she was "looking for a new experience" by coming to the Sixers.

The Philadelphia 76ers did not allow the girls to say their salaries, but Erica did say the dancers "definitely need a full-time job" in addition to being on the team.

First, though, they all had to get through Wednesday's final cuts.

At 7 o'clock, the music started, the judges (a panel of local personalities
and media notables) settled into seats, and emcee Matt Cord announced each finalist -- Gabrielle, Melanie, Ellie, Vanessa, Kimberly, Dana, Nina -- the roll call continued and each new name brought another beautiful, bendy
performer onto the dance floor. With only a tambourine as a prop, each woman made the most of her solo time in front of the judges, mixing things up with a blowed kiss or maybe a finger-twinkling wave. Once four dancers had been called out, the small group did a choreographed number then moved to the back of the dance floor as the next group was announced.

The dancers wore matching uniforms of a "Finalist" T-shirt, black shorts and sneakers. They did a large group dance, then ran off to change into their "athletic gear." They returned wearing sexy sports bras, skirts, shorts and sequins. Some creatively mixed the 76ers colors and logos onto their
outfits. Each finalist had to answer a question from the judges, who said
they were looking to see the girls' personalities and intelligence.

Who was your idol growing up? ("My grandma.") Who would you choose for a partner on "Dancing with the Stars?" ("Justin Timberlake.") What's your favorite Philadelphia hot spot? ("Chickie's and Pete's.")

DeMatteo talked about what she gained from dancing for the Kixx, Gaspari
told a funny story from dancing for the Sixers and O'Leary explained what
qualities she looked for when meeting someone.

Once the question portion was over the women performed a longer dance in groups of three. DeMatteo, Gaspari and O'Leary were the first trio to
perform. They made the fast steps and demanding routine look effortless and, when their faces peeked out from behind tousled hair, the crowd could see they sported big smiles the whole time.

Pete Ciarocchi, owner of Chickie's and Pete's and one of the judges, said he was watching the girls for "professionalism, how they smile, how they react when they mess up and how they'll look on the court."

He said the chosen girls needed to have pizzazz and enthusiasm.

"When the team's losing they've got to get them up," he said.

Michael Spain-Smith, a Philadelphia photographer and judge, had his own set of rubrics.

"I'm looking for someone who, when they're dancing they're entertaining you. How comfortable are they in their own skin? If they can hit my eye as
they're dancing, I'm sold," he said.

The judges final decisions, however, will remain a secret until the new team
of dancers is unveiled on Aug. 4 at the Sixers Beach Bash at LaCosta in Sea Isle City.

The three dancers from Gloucester County each said they felt confident about the night.

"I feel like everything went wonderfully," O'Leary said. "I was really
nervous, but I don't regret anything."

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