Perusing the Wolves' web site the other day, we noticed that the first round of auditions for this year's dance team is tonight. It made us legitimately curious: just what does it take to be a dancer for a professional sports team? What are the demands? What goes on behind the scenes? So we reached out to Twitter pal Anne -- another member of this vast universe who we have only met electronically -- and she obliged with a funny, interesting and informative run down. She's a Wolves fan and a former member of the dance team. A quick bio, from her:
Anne Ulku is a full-time freelance graphic designer living in Minneapolis. Anne danced with the Minnesota Timberwolves for four years while juggling a full-time job and finishing her BFA at MCAD. Now with a sole focus in graphic design, she still finds time to dance -- whether it’s ballet classes, attempting to break dance or salsa on the weekends. You can follow her tweets: @aulku. And check out her website: anneulku.com.
This is a tale of talent, dedication, shirt-tossing, awkward gawking and phone number requests denied. Please do enjoy. Anne?
I remember being 5 years old and drawing a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up: Cheerleader -- blue and green sparkles, curly hair and pom poms. Every child’s dream, isn’t it? Well I guess my “dream” somewhat came true.
I was fortunate enough to be accepted to be a part of the Minnesota Timberwolves Dance team for four seasons (spanning from 2004 to 2008). Auditioning for the team every year was not a decision I ever regret. (Well, maybe I thought twice about it during the five hour practices, grueling workouts with personal trainers and endless events -- not to mention while trying to squeeze into itty bitty costumes). But all in all, it was an unforgettable four seasons, and definitely worth it. Not only does your talent have to be top-notch, but dancers also have to be able to talk the talk. Constantly being in the spotlight and interacting with fans and employees calls for warm, genuine personalities with intelligence -- and the ability to deal with whatever comes your way.
On-court mishaps range from costume malfunctions, to tripping in our high-heel boots or running into the players -- except I think there have been more occurrences where they’ve fallen on us during the games. I don’t think they seem to mind though; I can’t tell you how many of the players have tried to get girls’ phone numbers. Of course, it’s unprofessional. So to clear up any misconceptions on those myths of dancers dating players -- not true, never has been and never will be.
The ultimate embarrassing game-time occurrence for most of the girls is probably when we do the t-shirt toss. There are lots of stories of accidentally chucking shirts at people's faces, not even making it into the audience, or sometimes even mistakenly throwing them behind us. Some of us don’t have the best aim -- especially when it comes to throwing other things like basketballs, posters, hats, ice cream sandwiches, and … hot dogs (that’s a whole different story).
I think it’s the most entertaining to hear the requests and compliments (or judgments) coming from fans. Some have no idea who we are and some don’t believe that we’re the "real" dancers. There are always the awkward ones asking for a photo, autograph or a hug, the men wanting to buy our costumes for their wives, fans stealing our pom poms, teenage boys asking for lap dances because it’s their birthday. But it’s actually worse when they just stand there and stare.
Commitment is just as important as the talent and personality. The time it takes to be on the team during the season seems never-ending. Aside from the 40-some home games to perform at during a season, it also requires practices each week, workouts with personal trainers, appearances with sponsors and the organization and charity work. You also have to figure out how to balance full-time careers or school schedules that can be challenging.
But all the girls are there for one reason -- they have a passion. The team literally becomes your family with all the hours you spend together. The amount of genuine fun we have, on and off the court, is one of the most notable and memorable qualities about the team. Friendship, inside jokes, stories and memories are all still shared between the dance team alumni today.
Returning members of the team were never guaranteed a spot back during auditions, so every veteran had to re-audition each year. Of course we’ve all paid our dues through past seasons – the quick costume changes, the gruesome workouts, the mishaps while dancing on court, and the awkward conversations with fans -- but it all won’t guarantee your spot the next season. Every inch of you is being judged during auditions – head to toe, how you dance, walk, talk, and how you’re interacting with others. No matter how long you’ve been dancing, there are always uneasy feelings. The best advice is to work really hard, show confidence and poise, look your best, and always expect that someone is watching. Oh, and also: hairspray. Whipping you hair will soon become your second nature.
Once the team is announced, then the real work begins. The first couple weeks are usually the most exhausting. My first two years on the team, we had to learn about 25 different dances or “sidelines and shorties” (the dances done during timeouts during the games), about 15 different standard formations and transitions, two or three main dances from choreographers, and not to mention the well-known “Bang on my Drum” and “Rock & Roll” which were danced for “hot timeouts” during the games. Each dance is perfected count by count to be sure every single step, angle, arm movement, chin pop and head-whip is in unison. A lot of time is also spent discussing the importance of performance. As a Timberwolves dancer, everything must be over-exaggerated, accented and enhanced to better appeal to fans extending even up to the top deck in the arena (Editor's note: Also known as the RandBall seats). It’s a very new concept to one that has not performed for such a large crowd, but once you learn it, it becomes muscle memory.
The style of dance varies and usually stays very family friendly. Hip-hop, country, heavy metal, rock, theatrical, jazz and R&B have been the variety of performances. Yeah, we’ve pushed the boundaries here and there. It was 2005 -- the home opener -- and we did a routine to “Baby Got Back”. After that performance, the routine, the song, and the costume were forever banned. Supposedly, it wasn’t family friendly enough -- imagine that.
We would also get involved in many events for charity and for our sponsors. These appearances allowed the dancers to get out in public and really represent the Wolves organization. It was always exciting to be able to talk to fans and just get out in the community. Some are for corporate sponsors, some are television and radio appearances -- and some are outrageous requests by fans wanting us to jump out of giant birthday cakes for a party. All appearances had to be approved and organized by the director, who would obviously filter out the ones that did not fit well within our brand. It definitely takes confidence and a positive attitude to represent the franchise and carry yourself as a professional member of the team.
Being a part of such a great organization for so long was such an invigorating experience. I was able to meet great people, get involved in so many things I never would have thought, and best of all, do what I love to do -- dance. However successful the basketball team is each season, you know the dancers will always be there to support and entertain, always with something fresh and exciting, never missing a beat. Even though I’ve retired my pom poms, tall boots, push up bras, nylons and game day make-up, I carry the million memories and love for the team and the sport.
Auditions for the 2010-2011 dance team are this week, so keep a look out for the announcement of the new dancers soon.