Friday, August 03, 2007

Trying Out for the Washington Wizards' Other Team 

Posted by James at 11:50 AM ET

Aspiring Dancers Make Their Moves In an Effort to Join the Starting Lineup

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Special to The Washington Post

Whether someone is a first-grade teacher, a mom, an advertising assistant or a biology major planning on medical school, everyone has a dream. For the more than 180 women who auditioned for the Washington Wizards, that dream is to dance.

"I have a career as well, but dance is first love," said Diana Ramsey, 23, a graduate student in information technology at Webster University, Bolling Air Force Base. Ramsey moved from Norfolk last year, just missing the 2006 Wizards' dance team auditions. "I waited for it all year," she said.

In front of nine judges, including Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas and dance team director Tara Perez, women 18 and older, leapt, shook, kicked and glided across the Verizon Center practice gym July 21.

For the first round of auditions, dancers told the judges, in 30 seconds or less, how old they were and why they wanted to be a Wizards dancer. The women, wearing bright pinks, oranges and yellows, with numbers pinned on their shorts, moved onto the court four at a time.

Joanna Ricker, 23, a first-grade teacher in Bowie with long blond hair, told the judges, "I have three brothers." Her voice quavered. Growing up, she loved sports, she said, especially watching basketball and football, but "I chose to dance."

Wizards Auditions

This was Ricker's second year auditioning. Last year, she made it to the final round before being cut. But, she decided, "Everything happens for a reason." As a first-year teacher, she wouldn't have had time last year for the nine hours of practice a week, plus about 40 home games and the numerous promotional appearances required of the dancers. (In 2002, a group of Wizards dancers traveled with some of the Washington Redskins cheerleaders to Afghanistan, Oman and Kuwait to visit U.S. soldiers.) The dancers receive a small stipend.

The group will start practicing this summer for its first November game. Throughout the season, the dancers will learn 60 to 80 routines and perform twice at every home game. They don't like to dance the same routine twice, said Perez, a dance teacher in Fairfax who was on the team two years before taking over as director.

Eighteen dancers will make the team, and eight returning dancers auditioned. Auditions are a three-day process consisting of four cuts. The final round July 23 included 28 dancers and was open to the public. The judges picked 17 women and asked the public to vote online for the final dancer.

"They're really nervous," Perez said before the auditions. "You never know who's going to come out. Competition scares them -- even the veterans."

After the dancers introduced themselves, they were given 23 seconds of music for a freestyle dance. Sara Hintosh, a junior at Mary Washington University who has been dancing since she was 3 , was nervous going into the first round. "I would prefer starting with choreography," she said while waiting outside the gym door. Niya Davis, 23, a mother and a full-time worker in the Georgetown University Hospital billing department, stood next to her, also nervous. "Freestyle is always nerve-racking to me. It's like, 'What do I do now?' " she said.

Teleza Tantin a biology major at Howard University, explained her audition strategy. "Energy. Positive attitude. Facial expression." Little silver stars lined the sides of her eyes. She has been a ballerina since she was 3, she said.

For Candra Johnson-Hardy, a mother of three from Upper Marlboro, making the dance team would be a way to "open doors," she said. An advertising assistant for Comcast, Johnson-Hardy hopes to someday open a roller rink in Upper Marlboro, "to give kids something to do," she said. She figured being a Wizard dancer might give her the exposure to help her achieve that goal. The audition, she said, was about "chasing your dreams."

After all the women danced in the first round, they waited in the lobby, chatting and stretching. When Perez appeared to read the names of the girls who would go on to the next round, the hallway became silent. Ramsey would go on, as would Ricker and Tantin. Hintosh, Johnson-Hardy and Davis would have to leave.

Lizandra Maria, a psychology major at George Mason University, was disappointed that her number was not called. Dancing for the Wizards, she thought, would have been a great opportunity. But then she decided, "It was a good experience just to come in here. I would have regretted it more if I hadn't come."

2007-08 Washington Wizards Dancers
2007-08 Washington Wizards Dancers

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