Monday, November 03, 2008
The Clippers Spirit Dance Team
Inviting yourself to someone else’s house is tacky behavior. However, there are times when tacky behavior is necessary. At least that’s what I tell myself when the occasion arises. And that’s what I told myself about a month ago, when I emailed Audrea Harris, Director of the Los Angeles Clippers Spirit/Fan Patrol/Jr. Jam to invite myself to the Clippers game on Halloween night.
Because Audrea is a lovely person, she said yes.
So on Friday afternoon, I cut out of work early and headed over to the Staples Center. Halloween! Trick or treat! Costumes! What’s not to like?
Before I continue, I should let you know that there are loads and loads of photos in my gallery on Flickr.
Besides, the last time I went to a Clippers game, the photos didn’t turn out as well as I wanted them to. I was determined to get it right this time around.
Traffic was a bear, so it took a little longer to get there than I planned. Once there,I made my way over to the media entrance to pick up my staff credentials. Check me out. I’m STAFF. That’s right, people. I am important, so you all better shape up. Don’t let my haunted houses socks and festive Halloween headband fool you. Beneath these boing-y jack-o-lantern antennae beats the heart of a lion!
A nice man in a red sport coat took me downstairs in the elevator and pointed me to the left. Another Red Jacket pointed me to a set of double doors. From there, a third Red Jacket directed me to the black curtains. Then a fourth Red Jacket pointed me to the dance team’s dressing room. Even though the whole place is a big circle and it was theoretically impossible to get lost, I was glad to have the Red Jackets’ help. Nothing down there is labeled, so I could’ve stumbled into some place I shouldn’t have stumbled into. Who knows what goes on behind all those closed doors?
Even so, I opened the dressing room door cautiously. When I heard music, I knew I was in the right place. Or else somebody was just having a good time. Either way, I was going in.
I found the girls suited up in their black track suits, warming up for the pregame run-through. And Miss Audrea was right in the middle of it, handing out papers, packing a couple of red, white and blue backpacks, and talking on two cell phones at once. First thing she did was welcome me with a big hug and point me toward the homemade caramel apples. (She tried to take credit for the caramel apples, but I learned later in the evening that her mom was the one who made them. Mama Harris doing all the work and Audrea taking credit for it. Tsk Tsk.)
Cheryl and Audrea
One thing I learned is that Audrea and Cheryl are accomplished multi-taskers. They are those kinds of people who get things done and done ight away without being loud and crazy about it. If I’m ever going into battle, planning a wedding, or launching a space shuttle, I want these two on my side.
I parked on the couch and surveyed the scene. First order of business: identify everyone. I knew the vets of course, but I needed to sort out the newbies. The last time I’d seen them was at auditions in July. Only 12 members of the 16-member team were performing that night, so it was tricky figuring out who was who and which girls were missing. Long blonde hair – is that Jessie or Chelsea? Shoulder-length dark hair – was that Lauren or Teresa? Who is that running around with her hair in pigtails? And where is Shannon, for Pete’s sake?
These girls don’t make it easy for you. There’s a main dressing area, with a restroom on one end and a shower room on the other. I was trying to keep an eye on all three rooms so I could do a head count. But they just kept changing places and dancing and whatnot. And they were all dressed alike. It was like herding cats into a bag. Come ON people. Sit down for half a second, will you?
Next thing I knew, it was off to the main court for a run-through. If you’ve never experienced this, it’s a bit confusing. It looks like chaos, with the basketball players from both teams, trainers, National Anthem singer, Fan Patrol, dance team, arena host, and security people all on the court at the same time. There seemed to be some sort of zone system in place to keep everyone from bumping into each other. The Clippers warmed up inside the 3pt line on one end of the court, the Nuggets warmed up inside the 3pt line at the other end of the court, and the entertainment groups stuck to the center.
Nikki, Melissa, Jessie, and Jacqueline
I don’t understand how any of these people were able to focus in that environment. Everywhere I looked, there were people doing…stuff. Singing. Dancing. Jumping Running. Throwing things. Throwing each other. I wonder if the Fan Patrol girls get hazard pay? I don’t think I would want someone throwing me in the air like a Frisbee while basketballs are fly at my head from all different directions.
2nd year veteran Ashley led the dance team through all of their routines for the night. Here’s the thing that was new to me: when I was on dance team, we had set formations. I always knew where to be on each count. Here in the pros, the girls rotate. For most games, 12 girls perform and the other 4 get the night off. You could have a different mix of 12 girls almost every night. So that means right before the game the dancers must get together to set the formations. I don’t know how many dances they have to learn during the season, but they all have to be prepared to take any position in any formation at any time. I couldn’t do it. I’d zone out all the time, wind up on the wrong side, and screw everyone else up.
(Meanwhile, don’t be fooled by the dimples. That Ashley is a real drill sergeant.)
Because it was costume night, all the girls were wearing different shoes, from jazz shoes and boots to ballroom sandals and sneakers. At one point – and I didn’t see it happen – one of Lauren’s shoes went flying through the air and barely missed taking out a couple members of the Fan Patrol. I don’t know if Lauren was doing a high kick or what, but that thing had a four inch heel and it really traveled. (Please refer back to previous comment re: hazard pay for the Fan Patrol.)
Check out the look on Lauren's face right after her shoe went flying.
Lauren, Melissa, Nikki, and Jacqueline
I found myself eyeing the other girls’ shoes with suspicion.
Meanwhile, the Fan Patrol-ers were also working on their stunts – or as I like to call them – Fantastical Feats of Strength and Balance. Like the Spirit, the FP rotate games. There are 20 of them total, but only 10 performing that night.
Audrea watches the Fan Patrol do their thing.
Tami, Summer, Leslie, Marquita, and Melek
Carlos, David, Ryan, Brian, and Joey
David catches Tami
I am proud to have finally got to the point where I can watch the FP without covering my eyes whenever one of the girls goes up in the air. I’m ok with most of the stuff they do. It’s pretty cool to watch them. But there’s this one move Tami and David do that makes me flinch every time I see it. I don’t know what you call it, but he kind of throws her in the air and she does a flip and somehow lands 7 feet off the ground, with both feet balanced on the palms of his hand. Not hands, ONE hand.. I don’t understand how the law of gravity allows for that sort of thing. I can understand falling, and doing a flip on your way down. But how they manage to do it the other way around is a real puzzle.
After the run-through, the girls went back to the locker room to suit up for the game. They each chose their own Halloween costumes, so some outfits were purchased, some borrowed, and some homemade.
Melissa and Brilane
Nicole, Ashley, Jessie, and Lynae
I caught Melissa munching on a homemade brownie
Brittany, Melissa, and Jacqueline
Lauren and Ashley
Brilane and Nicole
Brittany and Nikki
Teresa and Whitney
I studied their tutus, wings, and various accessories with suspicion. Had they ever actually danced in those getups? Turns out no, they hadn’t. The only dress rehearsal they’d get was in the 30 seconds before the performance. I sensed disaster on the horizon. Lauren had changed her shoes, but who knew what kind of shrapnel would go flying off those outfits? The feathers on Recee’s wings were awfully pointy.
One thing about a costume – it can change your whole personality. Sort of like Jim Carey in the mask, only without that whole evil thing. I wish you could’ve seen Ashley running around with that tomahawk. And if Britney ever took those sunglasses off, I never saw it.
Once everyone was dressed, the group shifted into a phase I refer to as “The Scramble.” All of a sudden, the volume in the room rises. Everyone starts talking at once. People are kicking shoes and bags and makeup cases out of the way. Curling irons and cans of hairspray rattle on the counters, and there are buckets of candy everywhere. Then, as a group, they turn on their collective heel and bolt. Next thing you know they’ve shot off in four different directions and you’re in the dressing room by yourself like “what just happened here?”
One thing I’ve noticed around here is, once the train gets moving you better hop on board or get left behind! Audrea told me to come on with her, so I was right on her heels.
During the Scramble, some of the girls went up to see DJ Dense up in the stands. Whitney went out on the court to film a pregame promo with Arena Host Traci.
Traci and Whitney
The other girls joined up with the Fan Patrol to hand out candy at the entrances. The Fan Patrol-ers were also in costume.
The Clippers Fan Patrol
David, Carlos, Leslie, Summer, Brian, Tami, Melek, Joey, Marquita, and Ryan
After running around the arena to photograph everyone, I went back down to the court and watched the Clippers and Nuggets warm up. What mostly seemed to be happening was tall people lying on the floor with lots of short people tugging at their arms and legs. The tall people have very long legs. Almost longer than the trainers were tall.
It was game time soon enough, and everyone ran back to the dressing rooms to ditch the candy and get last minute instructions from Audrea and Cheryl. Then the group moved out to the tunnel and did a pre-game circle thing. I don’t know if it was a pep-talk or a prayer (Please Lord, make sure Lauren doesn’t kill anyone with her shoes.) Whatever it was they were doing, it looked like the basketball team was also doing the same thing. Except they probably weren’t praying about anyone’s footwear. Everyone’s shoelaces were tied securely. I checked.
Then all of a sudden, everyone up and ran out on the court. The whole time, I’d been trying to figure out how everyone knew where to go and when. Were they signaling each other? Had they synchronized their watches? Then I realized – duh. Headsets. They’ve all got headsets. (Woodchuck to Grey Squirrel, the chickens have flown the coop. Repeat, the chickens have flown the coop. Do you copy?)
I narrowly missed getting mowed down by the Clippers as they ran by. Note to self: it is never a good idea to stand between the basketball court and the basketball team. A nice lady next to me gave me a heads-up just in time for me to get out of the way. I flattened myself against the wall as the 7 footers thundered by.
Honestly at that point I was surprised that security didn’t throw me out of there. Credentials or no, any moron would know to stand somewhere other than right smack in the middle of the tunnel just before the National Anthem. Can you say kuh-loo-less?
Next, the lights went down and realized I’d lost track of the dance team and the Fan Patrol. Oh wait – there they were, already lined up on the court for the National Anthem. I suppose the respectful thing to do would’ve been to stand with my hand over my heart like everyone else. But noooo. I was focused on walking away from the evening with great photos of all the action. So while everyone else was standing still, I was bobbing and weaving my way around the court. (I’d decided somewhere along the way that if I kept moving, I was less likely to get noticed and yelled at.)
Jessie and Lauren
When the anthem was over, the Spirit and FP took center court to hype up the crowd. After that, the whole game was a blur. I lost track of the number of dances the team did. It seemed like every time I turned around, it was time out and there they were, back out on the court. And when they weren’t on the court, the FP were ou there doing some stunts. Honestly, all I remember is basketball players, security staff, little kids in costume, time outs, free throw contests, music, and cheering.
I completely lost track of time. I do recall part of the halftime show, because Spirit and FP did a joint performance to Thriller, complete with old school Thriller moves. (Don’t front. You know what I’m talking about.).
Recee, Lynae, Nikki, Ashley, Melissa, Jacqueline, Jessie, Brittany, and Whitney
Recee, Lynae, Ashley, Lauren, Nikki, Brilane, Melissa
The evening involved a whole lotta running around, photographing everything. I was supposed to stick by Audrea and Cheryl but I kept sort of NOT doing that. I’d step out to snap “just one quick photo” and next thing I knew, I was at the other end of the arena. Or sort of – you know – ON the court during the timeouts. (I kept to the edges! And I tried really hard not to get in the photographers’ way or block anyone’s view of the game.) Honestly, I tried to be good. But I had a big fear that I was going to take a thousand photos then go home and realize only 3 of them turned out. Last game I went to, I didn’t get any good performance photos, so whenever I saw an opening, I went for it. (And then crept back to my spot in the corner to pretend like I’d been standing there the whole time.) My hope was that Audrea and Cheryl were too busy to notice me scurrying around, but let’s be real here. They don’t miss a thing.
Jessie, Lynae, Nikki, Recee and Nicole
Melek and Joey
Fan Patrol-ers Leslie and Marquita with Arena Host Traci
Tami, Marquita, and Summer
David, Ryan, and Brian
I sort of figured if I was going to get busted, I might as well take some good photos on the way out. I don't know why but every time I go to one of these things - pass or no pass- I feel like I snuck in and am getting away with something.
A couple days later, I really do feel kind of bad about all that. I should’ve stayed put. (Someone invites you to their house; you don’t run around peeking into their medicine cabinets.) I got some great photos though, and I’m not sorry about that. So there.
Tami, Summer, Leslie, Marquita, and Melek
Near the end of the game, the dance team took up their positions, sitting at either end of the court. The clock was about to run out, and the score was close. The game went into overtime, and the dance team had to go out and perform a couple of times while the basketball team and coaches figured their strategy to beat the other team. In the end, the Nuggets squeezed by the Clippers to win the game. (Okay, I’ll be honest. The Nuggets stomped on the Clippers with those last few baskets.)
I really did expect to get in trouble that night. I honestly thought Audrea and Cheryl would pull me aside and tell me nicely to sit my butt down and stop embarrassing them. But it turns out they were cool with everything, and Audrea said she’d get me media credentials for the next time. (Next time?? Woo!) This time I had staff credentials some I sure there were some people there wondering what I was doing up in the middle of everything with my camera. But everyone there was super nice and friendly to me. I didn’t get yanked off the court or kicked out of anywhere, which wouldn’t have been a great thing, but would have made a great story. (Blogger Bounced from Basketball Bash! Film at eleven.)
Meanwhile, bless her heart, Audrea said I was welcome to come back. This is a relief because I still have to get some shots of everyone in their regular game-day costumes. This spares me having to sneak into the Staples Center and drop from the ceiling Mission Impossible-style in the middle of halftime. I’d do it, but I could only get away with that once, and then how was I going to sneak in for the holiday performance? I’m no 007. There are limits to what I can do.
When it was over, Audrea and Cheryl made a mad dash back to the dressing room and I was right behind them. You’d be amazed how quickly everyone can pack up their stuff and get the heck out of there before the traffic caught up.
I planned to drive straight home and check out the photos. What actually happened was I drove home, went to the bedroom and did a face plant I the middle of the mattress. I was all Halloween’ed out.
In any case, that’s how the whole thing went down. I wanted give you a chance to see behind the scenes, get a feel for what game day is like, what it’s like to be a member dance team, and why I refer to them as my Beloved Clippers Spirit Dancers. I hope you enjoy the photos. Go there now!
PS: Watch out, Fan Patrol – you’re next. Mwahahahahahaha….