Audition process tough but rewarding for 16 Denver Nuggets Dancers

Interviews, on-court performance lead to spot on 2014-15 team
by Aaron Lopez

Dressed nicely in business attire and sitting in a leather couch outside the Aspen Conference Room, the college student tried to calm her nerves.

Stephanie had been through the interview and audition process for the Denver Nuggets Dancers before, but it still wasn’t easy.

“I feel more confident this year, but I’m still just as nervous,” she said.

As a group of elementary school students approached, the first question for Stephanie came earlier than expected.

“How long have you been dancing?” the Pepsi Center tour guide asked.

Stephanie flashed an engaging smile and told the children she’s been dancing since she was 3 years old. After adding a few more details about being a Nuggets Dancer, she wished the wide-eyed kids well as they continued along the concourse.

A few minutes later, Stephanie sat down for her formal interview with Dance Team Manager Amy Jo Wagner, Executive Director/Producer of Game Presentation Steve Johnston and Director of Game Entertainment Shawn Martinez. She would be much more relaxed when the audition moved back to the court.

“Dancing is what I’m comfortable doing,” Stephanie said.

“I speak through my dancing.”

Stephanie, a student at Metro State, was among the 16 women who were selected Sunday as members of the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets Dancers. Wagner originally planned on keeping 14 dancers but went with two more after seeing the candidates.

“The talent that turned out this year was great than anything we’ve had in the past,” said Wagner, who is entering her eighth season as the team’s manager and choreographer.

Nearly 100 women went through the initial audition last weekend before Wagner and her panel of judges pared the list to 28 finalists. In addition to interviews, the finalists were required to learn three 70-second dance routines that they performed on Saturday. They also were required to choreograph their own solo performance.

“The tryout process in general is just a whirlwind,” said Kelsey C., who will return for a second season with the dance team. “It just flies by, but it’s a lot of fun.”

In addition to performing at Nuggets games, the dancers represent the organization during community appearances throughout the season. That’s why the interview process is so important. Being an elite dancer doesn’t necessarily mean a spot on the squad.

“Our fans typically see them dancing on the court, but community appearances are a huge part of it as well,” Johnston said. “We need to see their personality and how they’re going to interact with people.”

Added Wagner: “Some girls, from the moment we see them dance, we know we’ve got to have her. And if she interviews well, chances are that our fans will fall in love with her at first sight, too.”

The audition process is an emotional time for Wagner, a former dancer with the Phoenix Suns. While she’s always excited to add new faces to the team, it’s difficult saying good-bye to familiar faces.

Because many of the dancers are college students or have other full-time careers, there is always turnover from year to year.

“During the season, we spend five or six days a week together,” Wagner said.

“It’s like a sisterhood. We fight like sisters, but we also love each other like sisters. It’s hard. I’ve seen some of these women grow up.”

Past Nuggets dance teams have included 18-year-old women straight out of high school. Kynzie, a recent graduate of Conifer High School, was among the finalists this season.

“I definitely thought he choreography moved very fast,” Kynzie said of the audition process. “That was a little stressful, but I got through it. It’s all been enjoyable.”

Dee, who is finishing her final coursework at the University of Colorado, also made a bid to join the Nuggets Dancers as a rookie. She danced at CU and is a member of the Denver Outlaws Dancers.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Dee said. “It’s been a very encouraging process. All the girls have supported one another during training camp. I was living the life of a Denver Nuggets dancer. That was pretty cool.”

While Dee was going through auditions for the first time, Kelsey C. was in the midst of her bid to return for a second season.

“You know the (audition) process, but you know what you have to lose if you don’t make the team,” she said. "You’re totally motivated the second year."

“There’s nothing like standing on the Pepsi Center floor hearing the national anthem start playing. It’s a feeling you don’t get anywhere else.”

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