Intern Finds Pacemate Auditions Tough but Memorable

Emily Cerling
Website intern Emily Cerling made it through the first cut of Pacemates tryouts.
(Walt Thomas/Pacers)
By Emily Cerling | July 25, 2007

Dancing in an annual recital is one thing, but dancing on the floor of Conseco Fieldhouse is another game. After dancing my way through tap, jazz and ballet routines, with a few years of show choir under my belt, I decided to see if I had what it takes to be a Pacemate.

On July 16-17, the Indiana Pacers dance team, the Pacemates, held auditions at Conseco Fieldhouse. Eighteen girls would get the chance to perform at the home games.

Dusting off my jazz shoes, I attended one of three pre-audition clinics just to see what I was getting myself into. Dozens of other girls attended, hoping their presence would give them an extra few points when auditions rolled around.

With auditions still a few weeks away, I wasn’t too worried. I still had time to polish my kicks and leaps. I spent a lot of my childhood performing in front of large audiences, so this would be easy; what was one audition? After all, my first year in college was spent as a theatre major where I was constantly auditioning and being evaluated by directors and judges.

When the weekend before auditions hit, something changed. A knot in my stomach, the one you get when you’re about to do something terrifying, was more and more noticeable.

Then other thoughts went through my head. What if I got eliminated right away? Would that affect my self-esteem at all? I had to remind myself: “You’re a journalist now, not a dancer. It doesn’t matter what happens.” Even then I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be a Pacemate.

What a dream that would be, to actually make the squad. I started singing and dancing when I was 2 years old and since then I always had a love for the stage. Dressed in sparkling uniforms with dramatic hair and makeup was only one of the perks of being a part of the team. Adoring fans, staying in shape and numerous exposure opportunities are desirable aspects of becoming a Pacemate.

That night I didn’t get much sleep. I laid awake, thinking about what I was going to wear, how hard the dance was going to be and how my dancing skills were going to compare.

Not really knowing what to expect, I walked into the entry pavilion at Conseco Fieldhouse a half-hour before registration even began. Already, dozens of girls decked out in dance attire were present. Some were stretching, some were nervously chattering with family members, and some were eying the competition.

The registration process wasn’t too stressful, which gave me time to concentrate on the actual audition. As I made my way down the stairs and onto the basketball court, I realized that I was actually auditioning. Those butterflies that I had tried so hard to submerge came back. Great, now I was going to have to dance and deal with nervousness.

Identified only by the number pinned to my dance trunks, I was ready to begin.

First item on the agenda: warmups.

That wasn't bad at all. At least it gave me a little time to relax. After the warmups were completed, it was time to learn the first dance, which was only two eight-counts-- a fairly short routine. Luckily, I was able to catch on quickly.

After the dance was taught, groups of five were brought on to the dance floor. As it got closer to my number, that twinge of stage fright came back.

When it was time to perform, I knew what I had to do:

Sell it.

With a smile plastered on my face and big bright eyes, I nailed the dance. That was over! How difficult could this process be?

When I heard my number called, I knew I had made it past the first cut. Confidently, I ran out onto the dance floor, ready to undergo the next challenge.

The new choreography was taught and I was beginning to get fatigued. This time around, the routine was harder and longer. I tried my best to memorize and perfect each movement.

Time to do the dance for the judges. But what? Only two girls at time? Talk about intimidating. When I was on deck ready to do my dance, all I could think about was when this was going to be all over.

With only one other girl doing the routine, I knew I had to fend for myself. As I began the dance, I smiled with over-the-top facial expressions. The beginning of the dance went well.

Then, all of a sudden, I blanked.

All I could do was keep on smiling, trying to pick up somewhere in the dance. It definitely wasn’t my best performance ever, but I gave it a shot. Now it was up to the judges to determine if I made it to the next round.

This time around, I didn’t make it through. Somewhat relieved, I packed my belongings along with numerous heartbroken girls and went home.

The next night, the stakes were raised. Without the pressure of actually having to perform, I made my way back to Conseco, this time as an audience member.

The 25 remaining girls were on the basketball court long before auditions began. For some girls, becoming a Pacemate would be an exciting new opportunity. For others, the veterans of the squad, it was a lifestyle.

Lucky for me, I wasn’t the only one who was a little bit nervous. Even six year veteran, Michelle Bowyer, prepared for a nerve-wracking night.

“If you don’t make it, you know what you’re missing,” she said. "You’re going to be missing out on your friends and the experiences you have. Every year I get more nervous. If you don’t do your best, you may not have all those exciting opportunities.”

In order to calm her nerves, Bowyer listens to the audition song on her MP3 player to go over the dance moves in her mind.

Samantha Armstrong, an incoming freshman at IUPUI, wanted to use this audition as a life experience. As a trained dancer, she loves performing in front of big crowds and dancing at the Pacers games would be fulfill just that.

Armstrong was confident on the second night, knowing that whatever lies ahead would add to her life experience.

“I just have to look good and feel good," she said, "and I’ll be OK."

Like the night before, the girls went through a warmup and a new dance, this time a hip-hop piece.

After a break, it was time to show the judges just what they could do. While they were given time to catch their breath and drink some water, most never left the court.

Perfecting each move and running through the dance just one more time, each participant knew she had to step it a up a few notches. It was then up to the judges to decide which girls would make up next year’s squad.

For some, the results will be exhilarating. For others, a disappointment.

In order to cut through the competition, you have to be tough. And that’s what makes an outstanding Pacemate. Maybe I won’t be a Pacemate, but having the power to dance in front of the crowd, even if my dancing skills were in need of some polishing, will definitely add to my character.

Am I glad I did it? At the time, no. Now, yes.

Not that I enjoyed those dreadful butterflies in my stomach, or being stared at in nothing but shorts and a midriff by a bunch of judges. And maybe I could have taken a few more dance classes in my post-high school years. Nevertheless, dancing in the middle of the court at Conseco Fieldhouse was something I’ll never forget.