Making Pacemates Takes Talent, Effort

Dancers fill the Conseco Fieldhouse floor for Pacemates tryouts, including intrepid intern Carolina Fernandez (far right, wearing No. 73).
(Walt Thomas/Pacers)
By Carolina Fernandez | July 21, 2005

Young women with styled hair, made-up faces and skimpy clothing filled the Conseco Fieldhouse floor Monday night for the 2005-06 Pacemates auditions.

I was among the 168 that tried out. As a summer intern for Pacers.com, and with some dance experience, I thought it would be interesting to go through, as well as observe, the audition process.

As I waited in line to register, girls glanced around, sized each other up and tried to evaluate their competition. Many came with a friend. A few, including me, came alone.

Some girls were confident, almost cocky. “I’ve had years of dance experience,” bragged one. “This should be a piece of cake.”

She was cut during the first round.

Others were noticeably timid, as they nervously talked about how they didn’t think they would make it.

After registration, we waited in the bleachers for a good half-hour before Stacy Austin, the Pacemates’ choreographer (who was a Pacemate for nine years), introduced herself and began the audition with a group stretch.

We were all given folders that laid out the audition schedule. There would be stretching, the first routine would be taught, then the first cuts. Later, a second, longer dance would be taught followed by the second cuts and the end of the evening. Those who made the second cuts were the finalists who would come back for the second night to learn the final dance.

The first routine was a short hip-hop sequence set to fast-paced music. After the girls heard the song they would be dancing to, they looked around in awe to see if the other girls thought it was too fast.

Hip-hop isn’t really my area. I was nervous, looking around in the stands, recognizing familiar faces and feeling as if I were under a microscope.

Stacy made sure to emphasize that the judges were looking for energetic girls. Some took this to an extreme, jumping up and down and doing cheerleader kicks, trying desperately to catch the judges’ attention.

I asked Stacy before the auditions to describe the ideal they were seeking.

“We look for attractive girls with a great physical appearance,” she said. “I definitely suggest having a good workout regimen and taking dance classes. Also, it’s important to make sure the outfit they pick is flattering.”

The girls who were former Pacemates stood out. They were the most confident, and they sat together in the stands and cheered each other on. Almost all of them nailed the routine the first time they were in front of the judges.

Stacy admitted they do have an advantage because they know how she teaches and if they were good members the previous year, it makes them stand out. However, she said that new people have their own edge.

“New girls have an advantage because I don’t know anything about them, so I see them all equally,” she said. “If a former Pacemate was not a good member, or had problems being dependable and not picking up dances well, they have the disadvantage.”

After the girls were segmented in groups of five to perform the routine, the judges deliberated for about 10 minutes before announcing who would be cut.

Two girls in front of me chatted anxiously, “I can’t wait, I hope I made it, I’m so nervous!”

The judges announced those who would be staying for the next round. The two in front of me didn’t make it. I was surprised to hear my name called. I had not felt that comfortable with the first routine.

Over half of the women got up from the stands and dejectedly walked across the court to leave. Some had family members watching.

As the girls filed out, Austin started teaching the new routine. At the beginning I felt confident, this was more my style, more of a jazz dance rather than hip-hop. However, although the dance was not highly technical and I could do all of the moves, it was incredibly long, and we only had about 15 minutes to practice the whole dance all the way through before having to perform for the judges - this time in groups of three.

Although I felt more comfortable with the dance, there were areas I knew I wasn’t going to be able to remember without more practice. I tried to watch the girls in front of me and go over it in my head. Some of the groups I watched were great, some panicked. I hoped I would be able to at least get through the routine without going blank.

When my turn came, I felt confident with the first part of the routine and, as expected, spaced part of the middle, but finished well at the end.

Overall, I felt good about it. I haven’t taken a jazz-dance class since high-school and I felt I did probably as well as I could under the circumstances.

The Pacemates from last year, who dance year-round, were, of course, fabulous. There were also a lot of other good dancers that did well on the routine.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it to the final round because there were plenty of other girls that did really well and didn’t forget any of the dance. I was just happy I didn’t choke when put under the pressure of performing.

As the judges discussed who would be kept and who wouldn’t, I was glad the night was coming to an end. I was tired and looking forward to not being scrutinized for my appearance and energy level, which at this point was pretty low. The judges called out the numbers of the girls who would be there the next night - only about 20 of the original 168. My number wasn’t called.

I was not surprised that I didn’t make the final cut. I knew there were girls there that had done better. I felt bad for the ones who had gotten their hopes up, gave it their all and then didn’t make it.

As Stacy talked to the remaining girls about the second night of auditions (where a second long routine would be taught, as well as the dancers showcasing their tumbling abilities), the rest of the girls filed out, for the most part silently. Their demeanor was a stark contrast from the energy and anticipation they had at the beginning of the evening. I wondered what they were thinking, if they were maybe regretting being off two counts in a certain section of the routine, or just reflecting on the night.

Being the next Indiana Pacemate requires not only an attractive look and great physique but also solid dance ability. The audition process requires some technical dance training (leaps and double pirouettes are a must), a definite capacity for learning routines quickly without much practice, and above all else, lots of confidence.