Dance Team Dreams

A native of Bettendorf, IA, Christine Zimmerman started dancing and tumbling when she was just 4 years old. As a teen she became a full-on dance team star, acting as the captain of her high school squad. Christine then spent a year on the dance team at the University of Iowa before transferring to Arizona State University. Upon graduating from ASU in 2008, she won a coveted spot on the Phoenix Suns dance team. But after a year with the Suns, Christine discovered that she (and her then-fiancé, now husband) would soon be moving to the East Coast. Though she was sad to leave the Suns, Christine decided to take advantage of the opportunity to go out for the Knicks City Dancers, one of the industry’s most competitive dance teams. DS tagged along with Christine as she went through the Knicks’ grueling audition process. Read on to see if she was able to keep living her dance team dream in her new hometown! —Margaret Fuhrer

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Christine (center) works Shane Sparks’ combo. Photo courtesy Madison Square Garden

Here I am at the Knicks audition! Wow, it seems like everything’s on a grander scale in New York City. I knew the process would be more intense than the Suns audition, but I didn’t realize how tough the competition would be. There are 300 girls here, and everybody’s really pretty and really talented.

We’re all asked to do a technical skill across the floor, and then they make the first cut, trimming the group in half. I’m safe! I feel a little bit calmer as they start teaching those of us who made it a routine. The Knicks held a weeklong technique clinic before auditions officially started, and I’m seriously glad I attended. This combination has some hardcore hip-hop moves that we’d already practiced, so I definitely have a big leg up with the choreo. There’s a booty shake I’m worried about nailing, though.

On to round two. I’m pretty confident about my performance, but I know they’re only going to keep 70 of us, and I can feel my heart pounding, especially when they start to announce the numbers. I notice that the judges are calling them in order—and they skip me, which really makes me nervous! But then they start skipping around all over the place, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief when they finally call my number. I’m pumped to come back tomorrow and learn choreography from Shane Sparks!

It’s definitely time to get some rest. But before I go to bed, I look over the NYC subway map to be sure I make it there on time tomorrow. I’m still getting used to mass transit.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Just learned the Shane Sparks routine! Holy smokes, it’s intense. I’ve always considered hip hop to be a challenge, and while most dance team routines are girly, Shane’s giving us “ganky” moves, which require a different kind of attitude and a whole lot of confidence. [Check out our “ganky” choreography spotlight on p. 110!] But it’s awesome learning from Shane, and the choreo is hot. I’ve got to work hard to perfect the combination, because I know these are the types of difficult moves the KCD do during the season.

I feel good after performing, but then the 10 veteran KCD members take the floor. (Everyone, even if they’ve already been on the team, has to audition each year.) I’ve been admiring their work ethic as we’ve been learning the routine; they really push each other to be better dancers. They’re all so strong and confident, and as I watch them I get jittery again. I’m definitely relieved when I hear my name called at the end of the process, especially since we’re down to just 27 girls!

Now it’s back to Iowa until the final part of the audition, the official three-day training camp, begins next week. (We’re going to clean the audition piece, as if we were in a real KCD rehearsal, and get a hard-core workout from the group’s personal trainer.) I plan on hitting the gym and brushing up on the dances we’ve learned so far while I’m away. I want to build up my endurance because I know that this last week of the process will be long, and if I’m not in shape it might be overwhelming.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

It’s the last day of the training camp—and these past three days have been the most intense workouts I’ve ever had in my entire life! Mentally, at this point, I’m just trying to concentrate on what we’re doing. I’m so completely exhausted I just want to get the motions right. Physically, I can’t feel some of my muscles; I think they’ve gone numb. But I’m giving it my all, and I’m happy with the way everything’s gone so far, so I’m hoping for the best.

A few hours later, after the final announcement:

I made it! I’m one of the final 17! Wow, I’m thrilled. I can’t wait to tell my mom and my fiancé. And I’m so excited to get this year started and to get to know the other girls. I made some of my best friends when I danced for the Suns. I hope I’ll make great friends here, too.

Looking back, the biggest challenge of this audition was for me was to stay rested throughout the entire process. Although the actual audition lasted only a few hours each day, the combinations were intense and I was surprised at how nervous I was. And Suns and Knicks dancers have completely different dance styles; the KCD do a lot more hip hop. It was challenging to adapt, but it was fun to push myself.

I know I have a lot of hard work ahead of me this season. We’ll have two three-hour rehearsals a week and as many as three games a week, in addition to our off-court appearances on television programs and at charity events. I think my biggest challenge will actually be adjusting to NYC—it’s always intimidating to move somewhere new. But right now I’m just hoping that the Knicks will be really good this year and make it to the play-offs!

Knicks City Dancers Auditions at a Glance

Number of Days and Cuts:

5 days, five cuts

Venue

Madison Square Garden in NYC

Age/Training Requirements

Dancers must be at least 18 years old and have at least eight years of technical dance training. Tumbling experience is a plus.

Schedule

Day 1: All of the auditionees demonstrate a technical skill, and the first cut is made. The remaining dancers learn a routine from veteran KCDs, and the group is cut to 70.

Day 2: The dancers who made the second cut and the veteran KCDs all learn a routine from a big-name choreographer (this year, Shane Sparks). Twenty dancers are cut during the learning process. The remaining dancers perform the routine in groups of four, and the pool is cut down to 27.

Weeklong break.

3-Day Training Camp: The dancers clean the audition piece, set formations and work out with the KCD personal trainer. At the conclusion of the third day, the 17 finalists are announced.

Number of Dancers Selected:

17 are selected through the audition process; an additional two are chosen through online fan voting.

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