Monday, January 12, 2009

Catching Up With the Pacemates' New Director 

Posted by Midwest Dave at 11:25 AM ET

As the 2007-2008 Indiana Pacers season ended, Pacemate fans had a "Say it ain't so!" moment, as seven-year veteran Michelle hung up her pro sports dancing shoes for good. Luckily, it wasn't "goodbye" but rather "see ya later," as we learned the news this summer that Michelle replaced Pacemate legend Stacy Austin (herself with nine years as a Pacemate followed by several more years as Director) as coordinator/choreographer of the NBA Pacemates and WNBA Fever Inferno squads.

2001-02 Pacemates

Prior to joining the Pacemates, Michelle danced in college for four years as a member of the Ball State University Code Red Dancers. Then she went on to coach the Ball State squad for six years, while a Pacemate at the same time; all of this, in addition to a full time job. So coaching and juggling multiple responsibilities, and going from squad member to coach, is not new to her. However, it has been an extra busy time for Michelle since last spring. Besides taking over two professional sports dance squads, Michelle was also married during the late summer.

But giving of herself and her time for others is just Michelle's nature. When her college dance squad had no coach and the school looked to disband them, Michelle said "No way!" and took on the coaching responsibilities, even though she had just graduated and was a rookie Pacemate. In addition to her dancing, Michelle is a former Miss Ball State, and she used her crown and her years with the Pacemates to promote awareness of the needs of those with Multiple Sclerosis, a cause near to the hearts of Michelle and her family.

Despite her hectic pace, Michelle was kind enough to update us with how things are going in her new position:

Midwest Dave: When I spoke to you during your last game, you were clear that your dance squad career was over. Did you have any idea you would be back as the Pacemates Director/Choreographer at that time? How did it happen?

Michelle: It's always hard to quit something that you love, so it was extremely difficult to SAY those words. I coached at Ball State so coaching was always something that I've loved. Being the coach of the Pacemates was a long time goal. The former coach, Stacy, and I are very close and we had a few conversations about my interest in coaching if she were to step down. I started helping with the Fever Inferno (WNBA hip-hop squad) in April and Stacy left in May. I interviewed and was hired in June.

Even in high school I knew that I would be doing something with dance in my professional life. I wasn't sure what though, whether it was going to be coaching or owning a studio, but I had just always seen dance in my future. During my first few years on the Pacemates, I was just enjoying being on the squad; taking it all in and enjoying being out on the court. During my fifth season I started to ask more questions and wanted to know more about the behind-the-scenes tasks. I realized that coaching was a career goal for me.

MWD: Is it different to go from squad-mate to running the squad as far as your relationships with the girls?

Michelle: Catching Up With the Pacemates' New Director The transition has been fairly easy. Change can stimulate both creativity and chaos. We've had a little of both, but all in all, it's been relatively easy on both sides. It's always hard to see a peer become a leader, and vice versa, but it's been a smooth transition.

Michelle in her rookie season, 2001-02.

MWD: What did you think of the quality and quantity of those who tried out for the Pacemates this year, compared to when you first tried out?

Michelle: My first year trying out was the year after the Pacers went to the Finals. Obviously we had more girls at that audition which was due to the success of the team. Since then, we've had smaller auditions, but I don't feel that the quality or dance ability of the participants has dwindled. Each year the squad has a different look with a few familiar faces. It keeps it fresh for the fans, but still gives them a chance to see their "favorites"!

MWD: What is the single best piece of advice or knowledge that you will share with the new Pacemates?

Michelle - Just have fun! Sometimes girls get caught up in all of the drama that a group of girls can bring. I've seen girls come and go because of drama. It's not worth it. Just focus on knowing your routines, getting used to the schedule, and have FUN FUN FUN! That's what it's all about.

MWD: What part of the new job has surprised you? (like something that you didn't expect or something that takes more time than you thought)

Michelle - Planning for games takes A LOT of time. I prepare game sheets for each game and sometimes it takes a while to plan things especially if someone is missing.

MWD: The Pacers are trying to show their best efforts both on and off the court. Do the Pacemates routines and uniforms/costumes need to be reviewed by Pacers staff, before the Pacemates perform?

Michelle:When purchasing a new outfit, I do consult my boss to be sure my idea is approved. As you know, the Pacers have gone to more of the collegiate and old time basketball feel with all of our game presentation and the Pacemates are included in that effort, on and off the court.

MWD: With long-term experience as a Pacemate, managing the Ball State dance squad, and a degree in psychology, you are well prepared for this role. If you were advising a dancer who would like to move to the director/choreographer challenge, what key things would you recommend that they do to prepare to apply for these opportunities?

Michelle: Ask to get more involved in the "behind-the-scenes" efforts including game presentation, planning, costume designing, etc. The more you know, the more prepared you'll be. Strive to be the best team member on and off the court. Get some coaching experience at the high school or college level.

Michelle coaching at halftime

Michelle with Pacemates Melanie and Tessa

MWD: What plans, dreams, or goals do you have for the Pacemates or Indiana Fever dance squads as you progress in your role?

Michelle: I would like for both of the teams to have a FUN year. That's what it's all about. I had the wonderful experience of traveling overseas with the Pacemates and would like for the girls on the team now to have those experiences.

Thanks Michelle for your insights during this exciting time!

We also thank former Pacemate Director Stacy Austin for all of her years with the squad, on the court and off. When Stacy took over, one was struck by the "wow" factor of dramatic changes to the Pacemates that developed over time. The uniforms, the presentation, the dancing, all went to a seriously "wow" level. More importantly, her squad members loved her as a coach.

And although we miss Michelle's fabulous, eye-catching, Hall of Fame-worthy moves on the court, we get comfort that squad leadership is staying "in the Pacemate family."

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