Would-be Warriors dancers take first steps
By Lou Fancher
A mathematician, digital project manager, engineer, schoolteacher and dozens of college graduates appeared Aug. 12 at Ultimate Fieldhouse in Walnut Creek to show off their dance skills. Solid double pirouettes, side splits, head rolls and hip isolations were just the beginning.
Candidates vying for positions at the preliminary auditions for the Golden State Warriors Dance Team arrived in peak physical conditioning, with perfectly coifed hairstyles, stage quality makeup, colorful and form-fitting short shorts and crop tops, and above all, brains and broad-minded interest in community service.
The finalists selected from this year’s 150 participants during rigorous one-day prelims that included rapid learning and performance of complex jazz and hip-hop dance routines participate in interviews, boot camp and final auditions Aug. 17. Approximately 20 training camp candidates enter four weeks of three-day-per-week sessions culminating in one last culling to select the 2017-2018 Warriors Dance Team.
Helming the auditions, Dance Team director Sabrina Chaudhry-Ellison is a model of multi-faceted efficiency and grace. Directing staff and choreographer Kristin Hollowaty, Chaudhry-Ellision establishes procedures, assigns responsibilities, responds to media, places lunch orders.
In her seventh season with the Warriors, Chaudhry-Ellison has worked during a two-decade career with professional sports teams, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, Seattle Seahawks, Anaheim Angels and San Francisco 49ers. In addition to keeping an eagle eye on candidates’ technique, physique and performance energy, she said the interviews are key.
“It’s the most serious part. It’s important to find ambassadors that can speak to the media. Is their heart in the right place? Will they go out in the community and be personable, have positive energy, be comfortable with little kids, adults, fans? Be approachable?” she asks.
To find the answers, interviews veer from assessment of Warriors knowledge — team defeated to win championship, name of the president and primary sponsors — to deeper topics. She gives examples: “If they want to be a lawyer, why? What things are they studying in college and why? What intrigues them about dance?”
In boot camp, concentration shifts to practicalities: clean ensemble dancing in jazz routines; dynamics and individual style in hip-hop combinations, according to Hollowaty.
“At that point we can see, ‘that girl has it.’ Finals are to see them execute, but they can shine in freestyle portions,” she says. “They’re improvising, showing us their greatest strengths and something that will wow us. You look for drive, refreshing raw talent, work ethic, not taking anything for granted.”
Among the candidates, there’s plenty of talent and appreciation of dance. The atmosphere is Warriors-like: serious, but under-layered by explosive physicality, childlike exuberance, occasional silliness.
“It’s more than dance,” says Emily Nunn, 24, a native of Concord and former member of the Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps. “The team sends a message that a woman can be as powerful and strong as she wants to be.”
By day an I.T. manager for a manufacturing company, Nunn learned in audition prep classes to scale up her movements. “They do hard-hitting, big, all-out, arena-size moves, so that’s what I’m working on,” she said.
Clarice Guido grew up in San Ramon and was on the 2016-2017 team. Employed by a college sports network while performing at every home game and attending rehearsals, public appearances, dance clinics and — happily, the playoffs — she says time management is critical. “It isn’t just glitz, it’s intelligence, showing good character, being a role model. I have two college degrees. The women on this team are the full package: beautiful, brainy sisters.”
In the line snaking out the Fieldhouse entry, there’s camaraderie more than competition. With two seasons performing with the 49ers under her belt, Vanecia Rodgers, of San Jose, says, “You’re performing with your sisters, entertaining fans. We’re a powerhouse, we shine.”
Caitlin Voracek, a 24-year-old UC Berkeley grad picks up the theme. “I do it for the love of dancing with best friends.” She laughs, adding, “but the rest of your social life goes down the drain.”
Dance Team members receive an hourly wage. Although Chaudhry-Ellison follows protocol and declines to indicate the salaries, she says dancers are paid for all appearances and receive complimentary hair, makeup and tanning services from sponsors.
Instead of money, what attracts most of them — and is Chaudhry-Ellison’s primary focus other than high-caliber dancing — is the opportunity to establish that beauty, dance and entertainment do not preclude a woman having personality and intelligence.
“These women are empowered to grow and evolve,” she says. “To squash stereotypes, to become strong community ambassadors.”