Friday, August 01, 2008

Blogging the Houston Rockets Power Dancer Auditions 

Posted by Sasha at 6:32 AM ET

Living the dream: A day in the life of a Rockets Power Dancer judge

Jason Friedman, Staff Writer
July 28, 2008
[photo gallery]

HOUSTON - I write about sports for a living.

For myriad reasons, that makes me insufferable to a large portion of the population. Some find what I do to be irrelevant, while others think it’s just plain annoying. Then there are those who instinctively dislike me because I have what they want. What sports nut hasn’t spent countless hours contemplating a career which allows them to earn a living following the sports they love? Heck, I not only understand that sentiment, I spent a good portion of my youth feeling the exact same way.

Unfortunately, while I can completely empathize with that latter group, I fear I’m also about to pour a little more salt in their wound. That’s because I recently spent most of my Sunday moonlighting as a guest judge for the Rockets Power Dancer auditions. I know, I know; I’m the luckiest human on the planet. Trust me, not a moment goes by when I don’t thank my lucky stars (and my boss) for giving me this opportunity. I mean, how many times does one’s job description suggest, nay, demand that you studiously stare at hundreds of beautiful, scantily-clad women? If it’s any consolation, I kept a running diary of the proceedings so you can experience the day’s highlights through the power of my words.

Ummm, I’m probably not getting any less insufferable right now, am I? Let’s just move on.

10:30 AM – I stroll into the Toyota Center practice court as nearly 300 wannabe Power Dancers are learning the day’s first routine. So what’s the first thing I do? Naturally, I strike up a conversation with the Rockets’ brilliant broadcast editor, Jonathan Mazzapica, who’s here to shoot footage for a behind the scenes look at this glorious day. For those who don’t know, Jonathan is a film buff so he seems like the perfect sounding board for my rant about how the new Batman movie is one of the most overrated films of the decade. Don’t get me wrong; Dark Knight isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not nearly as good as the hype would indicate – it’s too long, too preachy and too short on quality dialogue and character development.

Meanwhile, nearly ten minutes have passed and the beautiful women shimmying in the background have not even once entered the conversation. I think I’m on the verge of having my male membership card permanently revoked.

10:38 AM – The round one routine is being performed to the dulcet tones of the Pussycat Dolls’ smash hit “When I Grow Up.” This is the first of the approximately 18,263 times I will hear this song today. It’s not really my kind of tune, yet I have a sneaky suspicion it’s going to rate pretty positively on my memory association meter when everything is said and done.

10:50 AM – It’s amazing how your senses respond to overwhelming stimuli. Somehow I’m already growing immune to the song which is being played on a continuous loop while the girls practice. Far more shocking however is the fact that being surrounded by hundreds of lovely ladies dressed in little more than short-shorts and sports bras is starting to seem strangely normal. I suspect this is the closest I’ll ever get to knowing what it feels like to be Hugh Hefner. All I’m missing is a billion dollars in my bank account and a sweet red velvet smoking jacket. Sounds like the makings of a Christmas list to me.

11:23 AM – Round one begins. The first group of eight dancers hits the floor, hoping to impress the judges (there are about a dozen of us) enough to make it through to the second round. Meanwhile, I’m already stricken by an extreme amount of guilt over my role – however small it may be – in all this. These women had a mere thirty minutes to master a surprisingly complex routine before strutting their stuff in front of the judges. Who am I -- the love child of Steve Urkel and Elaine Benes when it comes to dancing -- to determine their fate?

11:29 AM – I feel like I’m more self conscious than the dancers right now. Many of them are savvy enough to initiate eye contact in an effort to “connect” with the judges. Can they see the fear and insecurity in my eyes? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? I feel like the entire male population is shaking its head in disgust at me right now.

11:33 AM – Against all odds, this Pussycat Dolls’ tune is starting to grow on me. Even the lyrics, which I’m sure they didn’t write, are beginning to reveal a shocking amount of subtle complexity. Are the band members happy they achieved the success they always wanted, or do they lament the nefarious trappings of fame? By the end of the day, I’ll probably be ready to declare this the “Citizen Kane” of pop songs.

11:36 AM – I’m finally beginning to feel a wee bit more comfortable in the judge’s chair. That said, it’s still hard for me to fathom what it’s like to be judged by a 60 second performance; especially when you consider that there are eight girls out on the floor at once, which means each only receives about 7 seconds of attention during the entirety of her routine. If this column were being graded under similar circumstances, I’d only have about two words on the screen. In other words, fail.

11:42 AM – I’ve discovered a key element of the dancers’ routine which has taken on more significance – to me, at least – than it probably deserves. About halfway though the song, the girls are supposed to rhythmically pound their fists on the ground for a moment. While some do so with gusto, others are extremely timid, almost as if they’re afraid of hurting the court (or their fists; I guess that could be it).

I’m sure you can guess which action most appeals to me. I want to see passion in my Power Dancers! All hail the ground pound! I feel like Jon Lovitz right now. That’s probably not a good thing. I much preferred the time I spent summoning the spirit of Heff.

12:10 PM – Less than an hour after feeling like the most incompetent, ill-equipped dance judge in the history of mankind, I’m now making my decisions with the confidence and authority of an expert. Forget needing six seconds to determine the cream of the crop, I can now make the call in three, no problem. But just when it seems as if the power might be going to my head, I take a moment to imagine myself attempting this dance routine. Half a millisecond later, I’m internally weeping like a baby. Crisis averted.

12:32 PM – During a break in the action, the judges are provided Kit Kats and Reece’s peanut butter cups. If Alanis Morissette were a judge today, I bet she’d be feverishly writing a new lyric for her song “Ironic”, a tune which isn’t really about irony at all. Which, in and of itself, is sort of ironic now that I think about it. Never mind. The point is, I’m taking a stand and abstaining from the delicious candy on behalf of the dancers who have worked their butts off to make the most of their opportunity today.

12:35 PM – My heroic stand is over. Unofficial time of abstention: two minutes and thirty-five seconds. Let’s just say that when it comes to discipline and restraint, I’m apparently more Tom Arnold than Tom Coughlin.

12:46 PM – Round one comes to a close. Dance team coach and choreographer Susie Boudwin tells the judges that she found us to be fair and “discriminating.” Tellingly, she did not look at me while making this statement. On the bright side, at least the right dancers made it through to the next round.

4:05 PM – Before the second round begins, I excuse myself from the judges’ panel. I figure I’ll let the real experts handle it from here; turns out to be a good call, since the quality of competition has definitely been turned up a notch. Nearly all of these women are in fantastic shape and can really dance. I don’t envy those who will be forced to make the final call.

4:10 PM – Here’s a question which provides a small glimpse into the type of person you are: When a superior dancer is right next to someone who’s clearly outclassed, who most commands your attention and elicits the stronger emotional response? I would argue that your answer to that question says a lot about the way you view life. Then again, I recently put the Pussycat Dolls on a similar creative plane to Orson Welles, so I might not be in a position to make philosophical judgment calls right now.

5:06 PM – Freestyling in team sports rarely works out well. Just for the record, the same holds true for dance team competitions. I wish I had words to properly describe what I just witnessed. Memo to future audition participants: Please, for the love of God, stick to the routine.

5:55 PM – The proceedings come to a close as the finalists are brought in to receive their instructions for the grueling week and a half which awaits them. About fifty dancers made the cut, and they’ll now face an interview, background check and drug screening, in addition to learning yet another routine within a training camp environment. Put aside those preconceptions; being a Power Dancer is no joke.

And just for record, neither is being a judge.

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