Every NBA team has a Game Entertainment staff. A staff responsible for bringing the excitement, personality, and fun to a game. What you see on the court is the finished result, a group of individuals smiling and bringing joy to fans. What you don’t see is the fact that those individuals were chosen through an elite rigorous process. In the same way that only the cream of the crop are chosen to be on an NBA team, only the absolute best are chosen to be a part of the entertainment squad. In this capacity, no part of the entertainment team is more selective than the dance team.
A group of 215 applicants arrived at the Westwood Recreation Center on Sunday with the hopes of joining a team consisting of only 20 spots. Behind every twirl and dip was a dream of joining the Clippers Spirit dance team.
“This experience is a huge deal to me, I drove all the way from Texas for these auditions,” applicant Abby Williams said.
Whether or not the applicant is a newcomer or a returning member, the significance of the team is the common denominator between the two.
“This team is a sisterhood, it’s training, it’s just an experience that’s unsurpassed,” returning member Michelle Sim said. “There’s nothing else that’s comparable to the feeling of stepping on the court and showing up to game day.”
Even though there are other opportunities, these individuals drive across the country to specifically be on the LA Clippers Spirit.
“I had always wanted to be on a team where I’m really challenged and could grow from the people around me,” applicant Claire Ross said. “I had a friend in college who was on this team and she told me that everything I was looking for was this team. So I dropped everything from Tennessee, moved out here, and all of my stuff is still in my car.”
The applicants are given 40 seconds to fight for that dream. Within that time, they need to convey their skills, personality, and passion. They’re given 40 minutes to learn a routine, and 40 seconds to perform one. It’s not just an audition, it’s a job interview, a chance to finally get a big break.
We had the opportunity to speak with the LA Clippers’ Creative Director Petra Pope and ask about what she’s specifically looking for in these auditions.
“The first thing that we’ll have an applicant do is a combination across the floor,” Petra Pope said. “That would tell us how technical of a dancer they are. We’ll make a cut immediately because if they can’t do a simple across the floor combination, that means that they probably can’t retain choreography and wouldn’t be able to move forward.”
The moment is something these applicants have been waiting for their entire lives. Some of them have even trained years for this specific audition.
“I’ve been thinking about auditioning for almost a year now,” applicant Samantha said. “I’ve been thinking about it, training, and working out hard. It’s been a lot of cardio, Pilates, and abs.”
Leading up to this audition are years of competitive dance experience. None of the applicants are individuals who are “just good at dancing.” They are professionals have spent years honing their craft through multiple different styles.
“I was a competitive cheerleader for 13 years,” applicant Kennedy Meek said. “It’s actually been a very interesting transition because NBA cheer is a lot more Jazz based than what I grew up doing. I’ve been working with different coaches trying to maneuver my movements to be more dance based versus cheer based.
The workout routines of a Clippers Spirit dancer are as strenuous as it gets. No, they aren’t pressing 500-pound barbells, but they’re pushing the limits of their endurance multiple times a day. Perhaps the hardest part of it all is balancing regular life with the intense workouts necessary to become an NBA dancer.
“Training has definitely been very difficult,” applicant Kennedy Meek said. “I work really strange hours so having to fit a dance class in at the strangest times, you just gotta do it. You get home at midnight, you wake up the next morning at six, it’s super difficult. The entire process is so rewarding.”
Credit: LA Clippers
The Clippers expect no less from members of their distinguished dance team. Besides years of experience, everyone must bring something unique to the table. It’s not just about the dance moves, it’s about the personality and a way of conveying the accumulated experience.
“The thing that we’re looking for that’s most important to this organization, is an excellent skillset,” Petra Pope said. “These dancers must have at least 8 years of technical dance training, and that’s Jazz, Hip Hop, Ballet, Tap, and gymnastics.”
Having a varied dance skillset is something that’s defined the Clippers Spirit.
“The Clippers specialize in everything,” Spirit coach Latrice Gregory said. “The dancers really have to come well-versed, they have to be trained in Ballet, Jazz, and Hip Hop. We work with so many different themes.”
Credit: LA Clippers
While the end product on the NBA court is something of pure joy and entertainment, make no mistake: the road is tough. The expectations are high, the workouts are tough, the auditions are extremely selective, but that’s what it takes to achieve this dream. Every applicant enters this journey knowing nothing in life worth having come easy, a statement that holds true for every dream.