Seniors Vie for a Spot on N.J. Nets Dance Squad
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Now, to basketball.
The NBA, this year, instituted a rule that set the minimum age requirement for players at 19 years old. But the New Jersey Nets must have been reading the fine print, because they discovered that the league has no upper age-limit for dance teams. Last night, the Nets held open auditions for anyone over 60 who wanted to try out for a senior dance team.
NPR's Mike Pesca was there.
MIKE PESCA: Ecclesiastes 9:11 - I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.
You can now add: nor the dance team to the young.
PESCA: To the tune of a song that charted when many of these women were in high school, and some were pushing 40, Nets dancer, Jacquelyn Sable(ph), warmed up the assembled crowd - 34 women and one man auditioning for a spot on the Net's senior dance team - an idea that Nets executive Petra Pope says was born of the crowd reaction to in-game dance contests.
Ms. PETRA POPE (Executive, New Jersey Nets): The senior always wins, and because along with that that you put on some fun music, normally it's hip-hop, then they'll perform to it, and it was just - the crowd goes crazy. So we thought wait a minute, there's something to this. So we all kind of got together and thought about it and said let's create this team.
PESCA: But busting an impromptu move on the JumboTron is a far cry from donning your sweats, traveling to suburban New Jersey and putting yourself through -who knows what. The directions were pretty vague. Stephanie Johnson(ph) was ready for an experience that she expected would be a far cry from her cheerleading days.
Ms. STEPHANIE JOHNSON (New Jersey Nets Senior Cheerleading Squad Hopeful): We wore corny plaid skirts and these big, ugly-looking underpants, and this big, bulky sweater with a letter on the front, you know. But they've got the hot outfits, they've got everything going.
PESCA: Those outfits were one point of concern for Sonny Cordore(ph) of Colonia, New Jersey.
Ms. SONNY CORDORE (New Jersey Nets Senior Cheerleading Squad Hopeful): The hips are flying, and they wear these tiny little costumes. We're not doing that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CORDORE: No tiny little costumes, and I'm not flipping or any of that, but anything else they ask me to do, I'll try.
PESCA: A few of the women were former cheerleaders. A few said they just hadn't been to an aerobics class in a while, and this was a free workout. But no one knew that the big band warm-up music would soon be replaced by a tune that's from a Jay-Z album that's not even out yet.
Unidentified Woman: Miguel (Unintelligible) music.
PESCA: This was exactly the concern of Judith Bartadelle(ph).
Ms. JUDITH BARTADELLE (New Jersey Nets Senior Cheerleading Squad Hopeful): I've never done this hip-hop. I don't know hip-hop. I think my grandchildren do hip-hop, and they speak hip-hop. It's a language, I believe.
(Soundbite of music)
PESCA: Bartadelle, who was once a professional dancer who actually opened for Frank Sinatra in the '50s, sat the auditions out after realizing that hip-hop wasn't her thing. The other 33 women and one guy stuck it out.
The auditioners gradually learned the steps, some faces screwed up in concentration, others clearly having fun with bits of the routine that allowed for personal expression. When a 20-something Nets dancer demonstrated the brush off her shoulders, her expression was coquettish. When an octogenarian performed the same move, a lifetime of housekeeping was in evidence.
Two of the current Nets dancers actually induced their own grandmothers to try out before the judges. One judge was Vincent Curatola, who plays Johnny Sack on The Sopranos. Surrounded by what you might call the Bubby(ph) Bing club -Curatola says he was looking for energy and joy more than technical expertise.
Mr. VINCENT CURATOLA (Actor, Judge for New Jersey Nets Senior Cheerleading Squad): It's more about telling the story, because it is a story. Dance is a story.
PESCA: Calls will go out over the weeks for the 10 to 12 dancers who are selected. Even for those who didn't make it, like Jerri Kadisan(ph), the experience was transformative.
Ms. JERRI KADISAN (New Jersey Nets Senior Cheerleading Squad Hopeful): It's something that I've always kept in, you know? I've always wanted to dance or wanted to be, you know, a cheerleader, you know, and never did.
PESCA: The squad will perform at home games, will be attired in age-appropriate uniforms, and will be paid. And just one piece of advice: They might want to watch out for the occasional tower forward who is said to have wandering hands. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
Unidentified Woman: Nice job, nice job. How does it feel?
(Soundbite of music)
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