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
Among them is Tiffanie
Delano of Buxton.
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,"
Come November, when
the season starts,
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
But it's all worth
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
"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
"I'm a math geek. I also used to teach at
middle school as a math coach."
Owens has been
getting a lot of support from her co-workers about 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."
to Kelly is Jane Thorne of
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
"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
stopped her workout to peer through the glass windows at
the women practicing. Local sports, of course, have
mascots. Think Slugger for the
Dogs. But there's nothing like these dancers.
"I like it!" Bain
says. "I think it's cool. We need a little glamour. You
and think glamour, I don't think. I'm a Mainer. Bean
boots with skirt. You don't think glamour -- at least I
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.