Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Former Saintsation now cheering on Hornets as Honeybee dancer 

Posted by Sasha at 9:10 PM ET

By Wade McIntyre, The Weekly Citizen
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The overachieving New Orleans Hornets and the greatest New Orleans Saints football team share a good luck charm from Gonzales.

In 2006-07, the Saints captured the hearts of America with a storybook season highlighting the city's struggle to rebound from Hurricane Katrina. Those Saints were cheered on by former East Ascension High School Spartanette Angele Abington performing her first and only season on the sidelines as a Saintsation.

After taking a year off from dancing, Abington, a 2005 graduate of East Ascension High, joined the current 22-member Hornet Honeybees dance team. Friday night, the Hornets beat the New York Knicks and became the first team in the Western Conference to make the playoffs.

"My mom says I'm a lucky charm because I was a Saintsation their best year, and now I'm a Honeybee and the Hornets are having a great season," Abington said Friday during a lunch stop at Starlite Espresso Cafe in Gonzales on her way to New Orleans. While she laughed at the thought of her mom calling her a good luck charm, the Gonzales Honeybee does not deny that it could be true.

Earlier Friday morning, she took finals at MedVance Institute in Baton Rouge, where she is studying to be a medical laboratory technician. She was on her way to New Orleans for the unveiling of a new Honeybee poster introduced during a Honeybee Night promotion at the Knicks game.

School is one of the top three things on Abington's daily agenda. Then come Honeybee activities and dancing and teaching at A Dancer's World, the Prairieville studio where she has worked out for much of her life.

Abington played point guard for the Central Middle School Mustang team until she gave basketball up to join the Mustang dance team in the ninth grade. That, she says, was a hard choice. She has carried a love for basketball with her ever since, and wanted to be a Honeybee since graduation. When the Hornets took a two-year hiatus to Oklahoma City after Katrina, she tried out for the Saintsations instead, and made that team. The Hornets returned this season and she tried out with a friend and made the Honeybees roster.

"I knew the Honeybees would be fun, and it is the best thing that ever happened to me," she said. "But I never dreamed it would be this much fun, that the team would have this kind of a year, that learning new dances, doing the promos and going to the games would be so much fun."

Honeybee Choreographer Ashley Deaton creates routines that have made the Honeybees one of the top dance teams in the NBA, Abington said. "The hip-hop dances are just awesome, you feel like you are dancing at a party. Then there are the jazz dances that you really have to have a feel for."

Abington prefers performing before a basketball crowd in intimate New Orleans Arena to football in the cavernous Superdome. "In a small arena the fans are right there. From the dome, when you dance on the sidelines the heads of the people look like pennies."

She confessed being a Honeybee is not always easy.

Last week, she had to practice until 12:30 a.m. on her birthday. And there is "The Drive," from Gonzales to Baton Rouge for classes, then back to Gonzales and New Orleans for the Honeybees. Abington sometimes carpools with two LSU Honeybees, but often the girls have conflicting agendas and end up going in different directions after Honeybee activities.

"If you don't have the heart for it, you can't do it," Abington said. "It is a lot of work. Dancing comes naturally to some people, but definitely not me. I definitely had to work at it."

She credits Tessa Johnson, owner of A Dancer's World, who recently teased her star pupil, "Oh, you're so famous now, Ms. Honeybee!" with helping turn her into a dancer. And, she still talks a couple of times a week with former dance coach Michelle Mayun, whom she says "really helped me a lot technique-wise."

Years ago, when Abington tried out for the Spartanettes, the young dancer grew flustered and stormed out of the dance tryouts, prompting Mayan to yell out after her.

"That's the only time she ever yelled a me," Abington remembers. "She said I was my own worst critic."

Though she makes time to spend with her boyfriend and family, including mother Dina Lejeune, step-father David Lejeune, father Ricky Abington and brother Thomas, the Gonzales Honeybee said a social life is pretty much out of the picture. "On weekends I have to study."

When Hornet game time comes, Abington is in her element, dancing in support of a team that has turned the NBA on its ear behind MVP candidate Chris "CP3" Paul and a crew of never-say-die teammates.

"Whether they are winning or trying to catch up, you can see them working together as a team," she said.

Other clubs like the Los Angeles Lakers are awesome to see play, she admits, but the Hornets are special. "They want to win so bad for the city and in order to be happy for themselves."

Honeybees are not allowed to socialize with the team, but talk is exchanged between players and members of the dance team during the games.

"When I am sitting on the court, I can see how Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul and Peja (Stojakovic) talk to themselves and how they really want to win the championship," Abington said. "Head Coach Byron Scott knows how to coach a good team, and he runs the plays so well. He has such confidence in his players he will even take Chris Paul out for a rest if they are behind."

Abington said she also feels the influence of the crowd as a sixth player when she is courtside with the Honeybees. She credits the fans with having a major hand in a recent game when the Hornets came from behind in spite of bad calls by the referees to win the game.

"The way they want it, I definitely think the team will make it to the finals," Abington predicts.

With screaming fans, teamwork to behold, the best record in the Western Division, and a Gonzales good luck charm on the sidelines, odds are they will.

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