Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bobbing and Weaving? 

Posted by James at 7:30 AM ET

By Mike Trudel

T'wolves DancersAny time you mix a T.I. verse, Kanye West's solo in "American Boy" and the chorus from Estelle into a dance beat, good things are bound to happen.

So was the case Monday evening at Target Center's practice facility for Prep Class No. 2, as 60 dancers bobbed and weaved* while hoping to impress the Wolves' Dance brass.
*OK those aren't dance terms, but you get my drift. Right?

Sure, actual auditions aren't until Monday the 25th, when tryouts for the 15 spots on the 2008-09 Wolves Dance Team take place. But as former Wolves Dancer Shannon taught a funky hip-hop routine on the 18th, Director Erica Lentsch and some helpers were paying full attention.

"It's really like a mini-tryout, because you're being seen for the first time and they're seeing how quickly you picked up the dance," said Bianca, who spent her first year with the Wolves last season. "They're all making mental notes even if nothing is said."

Mental and written notes, in fact.

"It's still an audition in a way," said Lentsch. "I'm constantly making notes and putting a name with a face, so when I go back to my desk tomorrow and go through the girls I'll remember who I liked, who needs to work on specific things and who has the whole package already."

Having that whole package is the goal of any dancer, be it a former Wolves Dancer (Bianca), a former Vikings' cheerleader trying something different (Michelle) or even a dancer from Australia (Ashley).
T'wolves Dancers

"I'm coming in with the same mindset I had last year because I wasn't on the team yet, and I wanted to do my best and set my standards really high," said Bianca. "I can't sit back and think it's going to be any easier this year than it was last year."


"The Vikings have more girls try out, but the ratio that make it is about the same, because the Vikings take 35 girls," she explained. "But I'm really enjoying this so far and the routine is great."

And Ashley...

"I wasn't really getting anywhere in Adelaide, Australia, with my dancing because my city was kind of small so I thought I'd come to America," she said. "It's been terrific so far."

Meanwhile, as the girls learned Shannon's routine, Lentsch sat alongside Wolves Game Presentation Manager Chad Folkestad and Coordinator Andrew Young.

"We've had a chance to see what dance teams are like in 13 different markets around the NBA, which gives us a better perspective to give second opinions as the process continues," explained Folkestad. "But it's Erica's team."

So, what does Erica want?

"I'm looking for the whole package right now," she said. "I want someone who catches my eye that's a great dancer who also embodies the look of the Timberwolves brand."

Towards that end, Lentsch wants girls who look like they are having a great time and have a positive attitude, and she also pays attention to subtleties such as who interacts with other girls and who keeps to themselves. The point of the careful critique is, of course, to ensure that the best 15 girls (well more than 60 are expected at auditions) end up in Wolves blue, green and white.

In the two prep classes, just as in tryouts, a guest choreographer (Shannon in this case) spends the hour and change teaching the ladies a routine she designed. From where does the routine come?

"First of all, I listen to the song probably 45 times on my computer and it just comes into my head what I envision happening where," Shannon said. "I choreograph literally in my room - which is not big at all - into a mirror. From there I take it to a studio where there is more room and mirrors and I can try it full out to see if it works."

Fair enough. What's her style?

"I love hip hop - that's totally my thing," she continued. "I like strong, sharp movements and a little bit of sass."

T'wolves Dancers
OK, not a great dance mind here, but still following. How about a specific move? How did she teach the back roll bit?

"If we're going to do a back roll, for example, I'd put you up against a wall, let your head touch, let your shoulders touch and butt touch, and that's the roll," Shannon said. "Some people roll easier than others, but that's basically it."

Uh, yeah. It doesn't look that easy.

"Everyone learns at a different pace, so I try and keep an eye on them to see how they're doing. If you see looks of fear, it's time to slow down and keep doing it until I feel like enough people have it."

I, for example, would need about 32 times the explanation time than most of the girls on the floor. The feedback from those participating was quite good.

"I've loved the prep classes so far," explained Australian Ashley. "The dancing is pretty similar to what I'm used to in the (Australian League), so it was great for me."

While Ashley and the rest of the girls must surely be feeling the pressure that comes with tryouts, things seem to change a bit once the music starts. It's like a basketball player's nerves calming down quite a bit once the ball is in the air.

Indeed, once T.I.'s voice comes in through the speakers and the beat hits, the ladies are simply doing what they love to do.

Auditions for the Timberwolves Dancers are this Monday evening.

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