Cohen: Talent Evident Among Dance Team Hopefuls

By Josh Cohen
July 9, 2011

ORLANDO -- Remember how it felt when you arrived to school for the first day of the semester. There was that palpable energy and anxious enthusiasm that spread from student to student and teacher to teacher.

In a lot of ways, the First Round of 2011-12 Orlando Magic Dancer Auditions had a similar feel.

A distinctive vitality smeared across the gymnasium at the RDV Sportsplex in Orlando, where 105 of the most gifted and dynamic dance performers in Central Florida showcased their talents.

While it’s undeniable that all of the competitors have unique backgrounds and journeys, it’s also apparent that everyone in attendance on Saturday has the same ambition.

Earning a spot on the prestigious Magic Dance Team is an accomplishment that is forever celebrated.

Just ask Danielle Meyer, who retired from dancing following this past season after spending an extraordinary 10 years performing in the NBA, including six seasons with the Magic.

“My greatest accomplishment in my life was being a Magic Dancer,” Meyer said while helping coordinate auditions. “In addition to all the dancing, you get to touch lives by being out in the community. The girls that are selected are in for an amazing experience.”

There was an assortment of challenges that all of the aspirers had to endure during the first day of competition.

For one, during one of the introductory performances, hopefuls had to complete a routine – across the floor -- in which they were split up in threes while judges evaluated their efforts.

This may seem rudimentary, but if you analyze it further, you realize how intricate this is. Required to demonstrate their talents for the first time in front of, not only the judges, but their competitors and Dance Team Manager Jeanine Klem-Thomas, the participants had to overcome pressure and nervousness.

“We are looking for technique, personality and I want to see eye contact,” said Stephany Lanahan, choreographer and staging specialist at Walt Disney World, a former Magic Dancer and one of five judges in this year’s audition process. “When you dance for thousands of fans you need to show confidence.”

After 25 of the hopefuls were cut, Anthony Williams, a performer at Disney World and auditions judge, instructed the remaining participants how to perform the jazz portion of the Second Round dance routine.

Aside from having to perfect all of the fundamentals that any routine necessitates, the aspirers had to learn a set of moves and prove they can adapt to innovative hops on the fly.

And speaking of on the fly, as soon as Williams was done with his section, Julie Johnson, who’s group studio Young Beast Society was recently featured in the top 10 of America’s Got Talent, walked in to surprise the dancers and teach them the hip hop version.

As more challenges came, the judges conducted more evaluations. After about eight hours of assessment, the top 30 who proved they possess quality attributes in all of the necessary categories, including appearance, fitness, dance ability, style, strength and completion of movement, energy, projection and potential, advanced.

Before all of the decision makers elect the 20 that will represent the Magic on Friday night at Final Auditions, there will be an extensive, very wide-ranging process that each remaining aspirer will be evaluated on.

Over the next few days, representatives of the Magic will interview each finalist to review their respective personalities. The finalists will also participate in three nights of boot camp in which Klem-Thomas will be observing and judging the hopefuls based upon their interaction with the other candidates, their work ethic, their ability to ‘get out of their comfort zone’, and their overall performance in all activities.

“I am extremely excited about the talent that we have seen in Round One,” Klem-Thomas said. “I’m looking forward to putting together an incredible team for the upcoming season."