Monday, January 19, 2009
Manatees, Mermaids finalists selected on fun day in Florida
By Alden Gonzalez
By Alden Gonzalez
The opposite extremes of the dance world were obvious Sunday at Florida International University.
In the morning, you had the Marlins Mermaids tryouts. A little more than 100 women with some of the most extensive dance resumes worked to get every single step to a choreography as precise as possible in the hopes of making a very selective cut, then try to make an even stingier one later.
Then you had the Manatees. Twenty-one overweight, carefree, diehard Marlins fans with very little to no dancing experience flopped around playfully and showed off their round figures. In the end, all of them were selected.
"Big people can move, too," said Tiny, who, at easily over 400 pounds, is the biggest Manatee of all -- literally and figuratively. "It's not all about the skinny, petite people, you know."
There was no denying that on Sunday, as 14 returning Manatees along with seven trying to latch on to the team showed off their freestyle moves the entire afternoon.
As choreographer Vanessa Martinez-Huff put it, it's more about personality than ability in the Manatee world.
"You can't take yourself too seriously," Martinez-Huff said. "It's 70 percent personality, 30 percent dance technique and dance ability. Yes, we want guys who can dance along and follow the beat, but other than that, it's so much more about entertaining the crowd. They need to be able to smile, have a good time and really pump up the crowd."
There was no shortage of that last season, when the Manatees went through their inaugural campaign and created a buzz around South Florida -- and the country -- that nobody thought was possible.
"It was very unexpected, but welcomed," said Mr. Mantastic, one of the more popular returning Manatees, infamous for writing messages on his perfectly round pot belly. "Any attention is good attention, I think. It's great. That's what we do it for -- the entertaining."
Mr. Mantastic's alter-ego is that of a jubilant peanut vendor at Dolphin Stadium when he's not working his magic during Friday and Saturday night home games. And he knows exactly what it takes to be good at his craft.
"You have to be a huge Marlins fan, obviously," Mr. Mantastic said. "And then you have to be enthusiastic. It's not even so much about how well you dance, it's about your personality. Have fun, go out there, and, obviously, after you learn the routine, it's practice, practice, practice.
"But, all in all, just have fun."
It wasn't all fun for the 100-plus Mermaids hopefuls who went through tough routines in front of a panel of judges in hopes of getting an opportunity to make the final cut.
"[Dancing] on your own, it's different," said Stephanie Hernandez, one of the women selected. "When you're here, everybody's looking at you, and there's so much pressure on you."
Thirty-seven dancers were selected to join the 13 returning veterans and head to a one-week boot camp beginning Thursday. While there, they'll learn two or three new dances a day and impress as much as they can in the hopes of being among the final group of about 25 selected on Jan. 30 -- during a ceremony at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
And no matter how good they were last season, none of the returning Mermaids are guaranteed a spot.
"Yeah, there's a lot of competition going on here," returning Mermaid Glenda said. "We're all a little nervous because we have to try out again, and we never know who's going to get picked.
"There were a lot of pretty girls here. A lot who can dance."