The Maine Red Claws were featured on MPBN July 17, 2009. The transcript of the interview is below.


Red Claws Dancers Gear up For Season

July 17, 2009 Reported By: Josie Huang

Maine's new NBA Development League team, the Red Claws, has sold more than 1,000 season tickets this year -- more than any other D-league team in the NBA development league. But the team is still scouting for players. It doesn't have a coach. In fact, the only performers it has are assembled in a World's Gym in Portland.

These are the Red Claws dancers. And for now, they are the public face of the team, showing up at parades and fund-raisers to get out the Red Claws name.

The young women follow coach Tina Kelly's moves in front of the mirrored walls. In their teens and 20s, the 16 dancers come from all over southern Maine. Among them is Tiffanie Delano of Buxton.

Delano auditioned to be a dancer for the Boston Celtics, making it to the finals one year. "I always thought that Boston would be the closest that I would get a dance job, anything professional anyway that wasn't college, and I was really, really relieved to find out that they did," she says.

Come November, when the season starts, Delano and her fellow dancers will not be the main attraction, and they'll only earn $25 a game -- not enough to pay the bills. Not only will they have to know razor-precise dance moves by heart, they'll have to remember to apply fake lashes.

But it's all worth it, says Delano, who is a part-time student and works multiple jobs, yet still manages to schedule upwards of 10 hours of practice a week.

"I print out a calendar from Word," she says. "And I get my schedule from the hat store, and I write it down, and then I give it to the coffee shop manager, and then she writes down my schedule there, then I give it to my manager at the bar, when I'm usually working at the bar, and then to the dance studio, and then everybody kind of works around that. It's crazy. It's ridiculous."

But she still finds time to choreograph dances, like this mind-bendingly intricate routine she teaches to her teammates.

"1-and-2, 3-and-4 and 5 and 6 and 7, 8 around 1, 2, 3, up 4, 5, 6 and 7, roll 8, 1 and whip, hip 4, 5 and 6, 7, 8, 1, 2."

Following along is Alicia Owens. She was on the college dance team at the University of Arkansas. "But a lot of the stuff takes a while to come back, like your stamina and flexibility," she says laughing. "Some of those things are going to take a while."

At 27, Owens is the oldest of the dancers and also the most established in the professional world. She's got an MBA and is a financial analyst at TD Banknorth in Portland. "I'm a math geek. I also used to teach at Yarmouth middle school as a math coach."

Owens has been getting a lot of support from her co-workers about her dancing. Her employer happens to be one of the owners of the Red Claws. But she's conscious of naysayers who turn their noses up at dancers.

"I think the stereotype might just be that we're just not as intelligent or we're just bouncy," Owens says. "And some people, they're always going to have those ideals unless they get to know somebody and realize we're just real people. We're real girls and we just like to dance -- we like to entertain people."

Not only will Owens be entertaining, she'll become a local personality performing before thousands of people each game.

Coach Tina Kelly, who counts being a Baltimore Ravens dancer among her career highlights, tells the young women that whenever they have the Red Claws logo on, they have to be "on."

"The crowd doesn't care," Kelly tells them. "They always need you looking fully made up, fully glammed up, like, you know, the curlers, the rollers, the whole thing. You always have to be larger than life - that's your persona."

That's why Kelly is working on getting the dancers special deals with hair stylists and tanning salons, and ordering them uniforms. And that's on top of coaching.

She reminds the women to remember to smile as they dance -- even as they practice. "And so many people are like, no, no, no, you'll see my face on performance day. Baloney! It's a muscle. If you don't work it -- it won't cooperate on the day of the performance."

Listening carefully to Kelly is Jane Thorne of South Portland. She just graduated from high school. In fact, she tried out for the team the day before graduation. "My graduation was the day after auditions and I had a recital the same day for my dance studio."

Thorne's been dancing since age two, but being one of the youngest dancers was intimidating. "I'm usually shyer untiI I get to know people, so being a lot younger than the a lot of the other girls, it's kind of nerve-wracking but it also makes me feel really good about myself because I'm in with all these other people who have had more experiences than I have and are older than me."

Though months away from performing at the Portland Expo, the women are trying out their dance moves for the other people working out at the gym.

Cindy Bain, a dog walker from Portland, stopped her workout to peer through the glass windows at the women practicing. Local sports, of course, have mascots. Think Slugger for the Portland Sea Dogs. But there's nothing like these dancers.

"I like it!" Bain says. "I think it's cool. We need a little glamour. You don't think Maine and think glamour, I don't think. I'm a Mainer. Bean boots with skirt. You don't think glamour -- at least I don't."

You'll see plenty more of the dancers in the run-up to tip-off season. Appearances have been scheduled at Oxford Plains Speedway and other fundraisers.