We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.
The first clue that the Brooklynettes aren’t your average dance team is what they’re wearing. They’re more likely to strut onto the Barclays Center court in wedge sneakers than heels; their graphic black-and-white uniforms are urban chic, not girly-girl cute (though, to be fair, they’re known to sport a sequin or two).
But then the dancers start to move. And as they blaze through high-octane, hard-edged choreography by an industry A-lister, you realize that this isn’t just the best-dressed dance team you’ve ever seen. It’s the best dance team you’ve ever seen, period.
In fact, the Brooklynettes—who’ve been entertaining Brooklyn Nets fans since the team’s move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, NY, in 2012—are changing what it means to dance for the NBA. Their top-notch dancers are attracting big-name choreographers, artists who aren’t otherwise associated with the dance team world. And their every move reflects the diversity, creativity and grit of the borough they call home.
(From left) Liz Chestang, Amanda Robinson and Anna Smyczynski (photo by Erin Baiano)
That Brooklyn Feel
When it was first announced that the New Jersey Nets would become the Brooklyn Nets, Adar Wellington—coach of the team then known as the New Jersey Nets Dancers—knew some major changes were in order. “We wanted to reimagine the dance team so it truly represented the city,” says Wellington, whose own impressive dance career includes
several seasons with the NJ Nets Dancers and tours with Rihanna and Ashanti. “Brooklyn is so cool and effortless, and it has this edgy, rough feel to it.”
To Brooklyn-ify the renamed Brooklynettes, the artistic crew made hip hop the team’s new foundation. “When you think Brooklyn, you automatically think hip hop,” says current Brooklynettes captain Amanda Robinson. “In keeping with that, our choreography is very street, very gritty.” But the team also wanted to incorporate the borough’s myriad other musical influences. “Around here, there’s everything as far as
music goes,” Wellington says. “We’ve got jazz, we’ve got Latin, we’ve got swing. And it was important to us to recognize that diversity in our routines.”
The resulting melting-pot-with-an-edge style not only separates the Brooklynettes from other pro dance teams—it actually puts them right in line with commercial industry trends. “What the Brooklynettes are giving you is what people are seeing in television, film and music videos right now,” says frequent Brooklynettes choreographer Tanisha Scott, who’s worked with Rihanna and Beyoncé.
The Big Apple’s Best
The NYC move also put the team in the middle of one of the dance world’s busiest hubs. “New York dancers are the cream of the crop,” says second-year Brooklynette Liz Chestang. “They’re hungry, they’re competitive and they’re plugged into the commercial scene.” Team auditions now attract some of the city’s—and, therefore, some of the world’s—most talented dancers. “We routinely have 400 girls show up, and they’ve all worked with top artists in dance, theater and film,” Wellington says. Unsurprisingly, the dancers who make the cut are a seriously impressive bunch. They’re smarties, too: Nearly all of them are college graduates. The current team boasts women with degrees in everything from psychology to advertising, not to mention dance and choreography.
The NYC move also made it easier for the team to bring in high-caliber choreographers, since many of the industry’s biggest names spend a lot of time in Gotham. And the Brooklynettes’ stellar dancers have proved a powerful draw for heavy hitters who might otherwise have hesitated to enter the dance team world. At a Nets game today, you might see choreography by the likes of Scott, Luam, Rhapsody James or Derek Mitchell. “The Brooklynettes are at a technical level you don’t usually see in a dance team,” Mitchell says. “Adar wanted to change people’s expectations about half-time show choreography, and that really lit my fire. With the Brooklynettes, it’s less about cheerleading and more about performance.”
(From left) Chestang, Smyczynski and Robinson (photo by Erin Baiano)
Beyond Center Court
Being a Brooklynette isn’t only a prestigious job—it’s also a launching pad to other prestigious jobs. Because when it comes time for Brooklynettes choreographers to hire for other gigs, they frequently turn to team dancers. Scott, for example, recently brought on a Brooklynette to tour with Sean Paul. “When you see these choreographers at auditions for outside jobs, you have an automatic leg up,” Chestang says. “You feel more comfortable, like, ‘Luam knows my face! She’s seen me dance—she knows what I can do.’ ”
Last summer, Wellington herself was the hookup: She assisted choreographer Danielle Flora on the Judd Apatow film Trainwreck, starring Amy Schumer, and several Brooklynettes earned dance roles. “It was insane—we were on set with Amy and Judd and Bill Hader!” Robinson says. (Look for the film in theaters this summer.)
While the dance world is, unsurprisingly, excited about the Brooklynettes, the team has earned plenty of mainstream admirers, too. And that’s kind of the point—to be a group every Brooklyn fan can love. “When you go to a Nets game, nobody leaves to get hot dogs when the girls are about to perform,” Scott says. “Even people who just came for the basketball can sense the strength the dancers radiate.”
Dancing for Hip-Hop Royalty
It’s not uncommon for Beyoncé and Jay-Z to be sitting courtside at a Brooklyn Nets game. And it’s not uncommon for the Brooklynettes to dance to a Bey or a Jay song. So what’s it like to perform a routine for the very stars whose music is blasting over the sound system? “It’s a totally surreal experience,” Brooklynettes coach Adar Wellington says. “To have Beyoncé sitting right there while you’re dancing to ‘Yoncé’—I mean, you have to make sure that routine is extra amazing. But both of them are always so excited and supportive.”
So, About Those Uniforms
The mastermind behind the Brooklynettes’ truly covetable uniforms is David Dalrymple, a designer who’s worked with Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and (you guessed it) Beyoncé. “He does an amazing job bringing the culture of Brooklyn’s different neighborhoods to the court,” says Brooklynettes captain Amanda Robinson. “They’re glamorous and sophisticated,” adds coach Adar Wellington, “but they still have a little edge, a little toughness.”
Meet the Dancers
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
Years on the team: 4
Hometown: Piscataway, NJ
Training: “My mom first put me in dance classes when I was 3 so I’d learn discipline, but then I fell in love with it,” Robinson says. She spent several years at the School of American Ballet, dancing children’s roles in New York City Ballet productions of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She also trained and competed in “a little bit of everything” at her local studio through high school.
College: The College of New Jersey, where she double-majored in psychology and communication studies. “My experiences in college prepared me to act as an ambassador, which is a big part of being a Brooklynette,” she says. “By participating in college discussions and debates, I learned to have a voice and be comfortable in my own skin.”
Perks of being a Brooklynette: “I’d never been outside the country before joining the team, but with them I’ve visited nine countries in four years. Everyone loves this team—I remember seeing a little boy in Paris with a Nets shirt on. The brand is that powerful and that cool.”
Call her “Captain”: Robinson was made captain this season, and it’s “a very hands-on job,” she says. “I run most rehearsals, and frequently I help tweak the choreography, making sure it’s crowd-pleasing, high-energy and fun.”
When she’s not dancing: Robinson is a fitness model and trainer. “In college,
I never liked working out,” she says. “But now I love the rush that you get, the feeling that you’ve accomplished something.”
Advice for Brooklynettes hopefuls: “At the audition, let your true self shine. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be genuine.”
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
Years on the team: 1
Hometown: She was born in North Carolina, but spent most of her childhood in her family’s home of Warsaw, Poland.
Training: Smyczynski started out training and competing in “disco dance” in Poland. “It’s a style that’s really popular in Europe, though people in the U.S. might find it a little strange,” she says with a laugh. “It’s like techno combined with jazz—you do really fast movements to really clubby music.” She came to the States to study dance at California’s Idyllwild Arts Academy her junior year of high school.
College: Smyczynski graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in dramatic writing and a minor in English literature. “I’ve always been passionate about writing,” she says. “I also joined NYU’s dance team. That’s when I learned about the Brooklynettes. I spent hours watching their videos online!”
Perks of being a Brooklynette: “Our roster of choreographers is so impressive. These are people I used to take class from at Broadway Dance Center—and now they’re making work for me. It’s such a personal interaction.”
Screenplay dreams: “I wrote a screenplay for my thesis at NYU. It’s a story based on my own experiences growing up in Poland—a family drama. I’m planning to submit it to a few competitions, and hopefully it’ll make it to Hollywood someday.”When she’s not dancing: Smyczynski spent much of this past year applying to PhD programs in comparative literature. “I like that comp lit is strictly academic—it uses a totally different part of my brain,” she says. “Later on, I’d like to find a job in the academic community.”
Advice for Brooklynettes hopefuls: “Always believe in what you’re doing. Don’t let anyone put you off track. You can make things happen—it’s about will, not just talent.”
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
Years on the team: 2
Hometown: Cleveland, OH
Training: Chestang grew up studying ballet, modern, jazz and hip hop at a local studio, and traveling to summer programs at places like The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and The Ailey School in NYC.
College: Ohio University, where she earned a BFA in dance performance and choreography. “College taught me how to take care of my body,” she says. “I came out really knowledgeable about kinesiology and injury prevention. I also took film and art history courses—it’s important to have that dialogue with people in other parts of the art world.”
Perks of being a Brooklynette: “Performing at the Barclays Center is amazing. The space is fantastic, and you’re dancing for these incredible fans who love not just the Nets, but Brooklyn itself.”
Her All-Star moment: Last year, Chestang was chosen to represent the Brooklynettes on the NBA All-Star Dance Team during All-Star Weekend. “They only picked one dancer from each of the 30 NBA dance teams, so I was really honored to be selected,”
she says. “It was awesome meeting interesting women from all over the country.”
When she’s not dancing: “I love to travel. My first overseas job was dancing in a casino in Macau, and I definitely caught the travel bug. Since then I’ve been to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Tokyo, the Caribbean and South Africa.”
Advice for Brooklynettes hopefuls: “Train like crazy. And take lots of different classes to improve your versatility. Yes, we do a lot of hip hop, but we also have Afro-Caribbean and jazz numbers.”
(From left) Chestang, Robinson and Smyczynski (photo by Erin Baiano)
The Brooklynettes don’t mess around when it comes to auditions—because with hundreds of hopefuls showing up at Barclays Center each June, they can’t afford to.
The artistic crew actually whittles the initial group of 300 to 400 dancers down to 150 within the first 30 minutes, after watching everyone do a basic across-the-floor combination. Another cut is made after the remaining dancers learn a routine based on choreo from the previous season. The current Brooklynettes are there to help the newbies on this first day of auditions—but on the second day, when a guest choreographer teaches a brand-new combo, the returning members are auditioning, too. And the 30 who remain after the second day’s cut go on to a three-day bootcamp, where they’re further drilled in choreography and technique, and go through a formal interview process. “Basically, we want to see if you have the work ethic to handle this job,” says Adar Wellington, the team’s coach. After all that, the final group of 18 to 20 dancers is selected.
How can you make sure you’re ready? Take one of the Brooklynettes Audition Intensives, which are offered in the weeks leading up to the audition. “You’ll learn the choreo we’ll teach at the auditions,” Wellington says, “and we’ll break down what you should wear and answer FAQs.” Find more info at brooklynettes.com.
It's been a big year for sports and dance.
There was the Miami City Ballet/Miami Heat photo campaign...
Patricia Delgado and Dwyane Wade (courtesy MCB)
...the Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake "Evolution of End Zone Dancing" video...
...that time former baseball star Mike Piazza performed with Miami City Ballet...
(courtesy New York Daily News)
...that time Pittsburgh Steeler Steve McLendon told ESPN about his weekly ballet classes...
...and then there was the dance battle between an usher and a fan at a Detroit Pistons game.
And this epic year in dance/sports goes out with a bang.
At a recent Bobcats basketball game, the announcer invited fans to dance for the Sprite Spark Fan Cam. The speakers blasted Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop ’Til You Get Enough," and the fans did not disappoint.
But one kid took it to the next level, taking the song quite literally by refusing to stop. He continued even after the announcer declared him the winner. But no one was sad about it because THIS GUY IS REALLY GOOD. No seriously, you have to watch.
The real gold starts at around 1.37:
If you've got killer dance moves—and vocal chords to match—you need to audition for the 2013 Knicks Kidz Bop Talent Search! The winner receives a cash prize and the chance to perform during a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden in NYC.
Knicks reps are looking for singers/dancers between the ages of 6 and 14. It's super easy to audition:
2. Attach your resumé and headshot.
3. Upload a video of you belting your favorite pop song.
4. Send it all to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, September 30.
Get more specifics here. Good luck!
How fun is this? Miami City Ballet and the Miami Heat have teamed up to create a totally unlikely but totally awesome photo campaign, celebrating 25 years of both basketball and ballet in Miami.
MCB principals Jeanette and Patricia Delgado paired up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, respectively, to "showcase the world class athleticism of...both sports and dance." (It's pretty amazing that even on pointe, the ladies are still more than a foot shorter than their bballing counterparts.)
Yesterday afternoon, the Delgados also "participated in various activities" during the Heat's matchup with the L.A. Lakers. Please, please let this mean that LeBron and Dwyane will be making Nutcracker cameos come December.
(This is, by the way, one of those rare instances when I can get my boyfriend to show some honest enthusiasm for ballet. Everybody wins!)
Check out this behind-the-scenes footage from the photo shoot, which looks like it was good awkward fun:
When the New Jersey Nets moved to Brooklyn this year, they changed more than just their zip code. They also formed an all-new dance team, The Brooklynettes, who vowed to break the mold with hot new moves and even hotter dancers. And they certainly pulled it off! With choreography by dance celebs like Rhapsody James and Derek Mitchell and some of the coolest looking uniforms in the NBA, these girls are smoking.
Of course, we love them, but it’s so great to see non-dance publications pick up on their brilliance as well! Check out this recent article, complete with fun slideshow, in New York Magazine about the team. The story highlights the fact that these girls are not cheerleaders; they're trained dancers, often with college degrees and impressive résumés. Plus, it gives an insider look at life on the squad. (No cat fights here.) All in all, an impressive look at why dance teamers deserve a whole lot of credit.
You go girls!
courtesy Madison Square Garden
The Knicks City Dancers are perhaps the most iconic sideline stars in the NBA. From their hard-hitting center court routines to the time they spend mingling with fans in the stands, the 22 members of the KCD work hard to live up to their well-deserved reputation.
The 2011–12 season marks the KCD’s 20th anniversary. The current team features a diverse group of gorgeous girls, like Ana, who hails from Brazil; Sierra, who spends her off-court time as a professional DJ; and Alyssa, who went to school for kinesiology and applied physiology.
Being a member of the team, which performs at all New York Knicks home games at Madison Square Garden, requires more than just stellar technique and a totally toned body. These young women all have side jobs or additional careers, and many are in graduate school. “Being a Knicks City Dancer is a part-time job but a full-time commitment,” says Sierra, a five-year team veteran and current co-captain.
Think you’re cut out for a career with the KCD? Dance Spirit got team members Ally, Sierra and Sarahbeth to dish about what it takes to snag a spot on the squad. Take notes—all three girls made the team on the first try!
Each dancer on the team (except the caption and co-captains) has to re-audition every season. "It keeps us on our toes," Ally says.
Ally, Sierra and Sarahbeth's Top 10 Knicks City Dancers Tryout Tips
1 Arrive at the audition at least an hour early. “Get a good place in line,” Ally says. “You don’t want to be left waiting outside.”
2 Wear a flattering, eye-catching audition outfit. “I’m an athletic person, so I always wear a sports bra and shorts,” Ally says. “Never wear all black or all white. Add a pop of color that’s noticeable—you want to stand out—but not overwhelming. Make sure the judges can see your body. They want to see that it’s healthy, but remember that healthy doesn’t necessarily just mean skinny.” Adds Sierra: “You should feel great in your audition outfit. You go to the gym and take dance classes—don’t hide your hard work!”
3 Be stage-ready. “Come with full hair and makeup,” Sarahbeth says.
4 When you walk into the audition, look like you’re already a part of the team. “Check out the KCD website beforehand to figure out the team’s look,” Sierra says. “Don’t lose your personal style, but adopt theirs and work it into your own.” It’s also crucial to research the team’s history. “Learn about past team members and routines,” Sarahbeth says.
5 Eat properly on audition day. Tryouts often last an entire day, so fuel up. “Eat a well-balanced breakfast—I’m a big fan of oatmeal, bananas and coconut water—and make sure you’re hydrated,” Ally says.
6 Show off your dance training. “Remember that great dancing stems from your technique. It’s not just about performance quality,” Sierra says.
7 Be ready to learn choreography quickly. “We learn a routine in one night, clean it
the next night and then perform it later that week,” Sierra says. “Being able to pick up moves fast will help you throughout the year.”
8 go front and center—at least at first. “You don’t want to be hidden, and if you stand front and center during the audition it shows initiative,” Sarahbeth says. “Eventually you’ll take turns in front, but try to get there at the beginning.”
9 Prepare for an interview. KCD hopefuls who advance to the second round have individual interviews with the judges. “Let them get to know you on a personal level,” Sierra says. “Tell them exactly why you were made for their team.”
10 Attend a clinic. The KCD hold clinics throughout the tristate area during the year. “They’re mock auditions,” Sarahbeth says. Going to a clinic will prepare you for everything the judges may throw your way at the actual tryout. You’ll learn routines from the previous year’s audition and the current dancers will teach the technical tricks often incorporated in the KCD choreography. It’s an instant leg up on the competition!
Michelle Harris, director of entertainment marketing for the New York Knicks, is a former Knicks City Dancer and captain. Her top audition tip? “Find out what sets you apart from every other dancer—then highlight that. Tumbling will definitely give you an advantage.”
The Knicks City Dancers work hard for those flat abs and rock-hard thighs! Here are Sarahbeth’s favorite KCD-approved exercises and healthy-living tips:
Always warm up. “You don’t want to dance with cold muscles. Do jumping jacks or crunches, take a quick jog or hold a plank before it’s time to perform.”
Work your core. “I do 200 crunches when I wake up and 200 before I go to bed. I include oblique exercises, like twisting crunches, and I do standing side bends with dumbbells in my hands (50 bends on each side). I finish up with three rounds of two-minute planks, with short breaks in between.” [DS says: Sarahbeth is hardcore! Start with a 20-second plank and build from there until you can hold it for two minutes.]
Pump up your arms. “I do 20 tricep dips (use a sturdy bench, table or chair for support) between rounds of planks.”
Get rest. “I like to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. It’s not always possible with a crazy schedule, but I try.”
Hydrate. “Don’t drink soda. I carry a big jug of water around with me all day, and I’m constantly refilling it.”
THE KNICKS CITY DANCERS BY THE NUMBERS
30 finalists are selected to attend the KCD training camp. After an open call, the finalists go through a series of rehearsals and fitness tests so the judges can see what their work ethic is like.
22 women made the team for the 2011–12 season, including a captain and two co-captains.
10+ hours are spent rehearsing each week, plus two additional hours on game days.
14–18 dancers are on the floor each night. The entire team doesn’t perform during games. The bigger the game, the more dancers are on the floor.
19,463 seats are in Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks City Dancers perform.
33 performance nights are planned for the current season. The dancers perform at every home game, plus playoffs. In a regular season there are 41 home games, but there are only
33 this season due to the NBA lockout at the beginning of the season.
30 routines are performed by the KCD throughout the season.
4+ is the number of times the team performs per game. The girls take the floor for two full routines, during player introductions and during fourth-quarter “hype” timeouts.
5 pairs of shoes are worn by each team member: sneakers, boots (two pairs), character shoes and appearance high heels.
13 costumes are worn by each dancer throughout the season.
MEET THE DANCERS
Years on the team: 3
Dance training: Ally went to high school at the New World School of the Arts in her hometown of Miami, FL. She graduated with a BFA from the Ailey/Fordham program and then went on to dance with Complexions Contemporary Ballet. She joined the KCD soon after.
Why KCD? “I love concert dance, but
I wanted a wider range of exposure. On a dance team we get to travel, perform all the time and dance on a 360-degree stage.”
Favorite thing about being a KCD: “My teammates. They are all driven, amazing dancers.”
Best KCD perk: “Performing at MSG!”
Advice for KCD hopefuls: “You’re in the public eye. Having a wonderful, positive personality goes a long way.”
Non-KCD job: Ally is a model with Wilhelmina Models and has been the face of the Under Armour women’s line for three years. She is also a backup dancer for Pitbull.
Hobbies: “I love to cook—especially chicken stew! I also love planners, notebooks and pens. Every year I devote a week to finding a perfect planner.”
Years on the team: 5 (currently co-captain)
Dance training: Sierra trained in ballet and pointe for 14 years in Lincoln, NE, and attended summer intensives at Boston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet. After high school, she moved to NYC and joined the KCD.
Why KCD? “This team represents NYC. The women are strong, talented and classy.”
Best KCD perk: Working with the Garden of Dreams Foundation. “We help make dreams come true for kids facing various obstacles. When you spend time with the kids you get this amazing feeling, knowing you can affect someone else’s life.”
Advice for KCD hopefuls: “Remember that this is a team, and at the end of the day we walk onto the court as a group. It’s not just you out there—we work together.”
Non-KCD job: Sierra is a model, teaches ballet and pointe at a dance studio on Long Island, NY, and is a DJ for STADJ, a company for model/DJs. “I didn’t have DJ experience before, but the company trained me,” she says.
Hobby: “I just started playing the guitar. I can play ‘Firework’ by Katy Perry.”
Years on the team: 5
Dance training: Sarahbeth began dancing when she was 4 in Long Island, NY. She trained in all styles and danced with her high school dance/kickline team. After years of competing with both her studio and high school and attending summer intensives at New York City Dance Alliance and American Ballet Theatre, Sarahbeth went on to Marymount Manhattan College. She graduated last May with a major in dance and minor in business.
Why KCD? “Growing up, I watched Knicks games with my father, and I would always watch the dance team. I used to go on the KCD website to check out the dancers. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Best KCD perk: “Traveling. We’ve been to China, Taiwan, Milan, Paris, India, the Philippines and Abu Dhabi for events.”
Advice for KCD hopefuls: “Take classes! You have to be versatile. You can’t just be a hip-hop or jazz dancer. We incorporate everything from musical theater to ballet in our routines.”
Non-KCD job: Sarahbeth coaches her former dance and kickline team in Smithtown, Long Island.