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Wednesday July 14, 2010 10:49 AM

Rockets Power Dancers Auditions Running Diary

Rockets hold preliminary auditions for the 2010-11 season

John Dabkowski

HOUSTON - In what has become a midsummer tradition to rival the 4th of July, Rockets Power Dancers auditions were held this past Sunday at Toyota Center. More than 200 RPD hopefuls turned out this year, looking to impress the judges with their dancing, showmanship, fan interaction and more.

Our self-described ‘hopeless romantic’ and resident Rockets Power Dancer Expert Jason Friedman was away on Summer League duty, so I filled in for him in the illustrious role of Rockets.com guest judge. Jason asked only one thing of me: to continue the tradition of a running diary on audition day. So even though my prior writing duties for the Rockets up to this point have been limited to 140 character Tweets and Facebook, hopefully I can paint a picture of a day in the life of a Rockets Power Dancer judge.

10:03AM – Arrival at Toyota Center

The honor of parking in the loading dock of Toyota Center is the first perk for the RPD judging panel. For me, this is already an improvement compared to a typical work day. Usually the underbelly of the building is reserved for the likes of Aaron Brooks, Shane Battier and the rest of the Rockets personnel as they come and go for practices and games.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by some veteran RPD Dancers who were not required to compete in the preliminary auditions. I was quickly whisked upstairs to a conference room overlooking the Rockets’ practice court (the setting for today’s auditions). Here we’ll have a pre-audition judges meeting to give us direction on our task.

10:15AM – Judges Meeting and Audition Warm Up

The 27 judges for today’s auditions are a mix of Rockets employees, RPD alumni, dance instructors and coaches, radio personalities from around Houston, plus a lucky Rocket Season Ticket Holder, among others; a solid group of people who will no doubt be seeing much of RPD during the 2010-11 season as they perform at Toyota Center.

As our meeting continues, warm ups are well underway on the practice court beneath us. We have found out which song will be continually pounded into our brains for the next couple of hours – “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz, an unfortunately ironic title for those who will not advance to round two. The court is packed with more than 200 ladies looking for their moment in the spotlight. They are given instructions for the routine by RPD Coach and Choreographer “Sweet Susie” Boudwin and some RPD vets from this past season.

My first thought: Prep Classes are a must. While I’m a dancer strictly on special occasions only (read: open bar weddings), I can’t imagine even the most weathered expert being able to completely nail a dance routine in a limited amount of time and an even more limited amount of space. Oh, and don’t forget to add in the pressure cooker environment that is RPD Auditions. Preparation is key.

11:03AM – Round One of Auditions Begin

For the first round of auditions, the process could not be simpler. Each RPD hopeful will perform in a group of eight to ten for the judges. They will receive a simple “Yes” or “No” from each judge to continue to the next round. This is based on each lady’s dancing, fitness, look, personality, etc and whether we think they have potential to perform before 18,000+ Rockets fans on more that 41 nights this season.

Luckily, with my amateur judging experience, I have been placed next to a long-time member (and former captain of RPD) Carrie. Upon asking her for advice during today’s proceedings as a non-dance expert, she gives me this simple tidbit: “Look for those who stand out in the crowd. You’ll know who can do this and who can’t.” Pretty good advice I’d say. Thankfully, I was able to lean on the thoughts of Carrie and Rockets Game Operations Coordinator Jackie Maldonado all day.

The process is a whirlwind. Group after group after group enter the court. The best comparison I could think of all day: a cross between “So You Think You Can Dance?” and Speed Dating.

1:15PM – Round One of Auditions End

After a two-hour plus process, the judges’ tallies have been calculated and we know who is moving on to Round Two of preliminary auditions. The judging panel is scaled back in the next round to a much smaller group of Rockets employees, RPD Alumni and coaches. Fortunately, I’m still included in this group. Susie announces that we’ll need to be back at 4:00PM to continue with Round Two. A welcome surprise. The scheduling gods looked down on us today. I’ll get to watch the entire World Cup Final!

4:00PM – World Cup Thoughts

Perfect timing. Andres Iniesta of Spain broke Dutch hearts with his classy finish just as we were being summoned for the next round of auditions. This is something I can actually offer a somewhat educated opinion on. Clearly not the best match, but the Final rarely delivers in that respect. Too much pressure on the players, combined with too much fear of making a fatal error. The referee Howard Webb is taking lumps for his performance, although other than two or three of the early yellow cards, I thought he managed a physical (and sometimes dirty) match quite well. Cesc Fabregas changed the game when he came on for Spain in the 85th minute. Why he wasn’t given more time in the tournament is beyond me. Ok, back to RPD.

4:10PM – Round Two of Auditions Begin

Things are changed slightly for Round Two. Again, the group of judges is cut in half. While I was reveling in the World Cup Final, the ladies who advanced were busy practicing a routine set to OMG by Usher. Trouble. Big trouble. This one will be in my head for eternity. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Ohh my gosh. Thanks, Usher.

Our scoring process has also changed. For each dancer, there are three categories to judge. Court appeal, showmanship, and dance ability. Each is scored on a scale of 1 through 5. A score of one meaning “Poor”, a score of five meaning “Excellent”. Only four to five ladies perform in a group during this round.

6:00PM – Round Two of Auditions End

After much deliberation and debate (plus one dramatic callback for five contestants), Susie informed the 32 finalists who will compete in RPD Final Auditions on July 20 at House of Blues. These 32 will join the returning group of RPD veterans to compete for spots in the 2010-11 Rockets Power Dancers. Among the finalists: Brittany, our first original member of Little Dippers to compete for a spot on RPD. Brittany was a member of Little Dippers in their first season four years ago and has returned to the Rockets with the hope of reaching the next level with RPD. Also included are Kirsten and Kristen. You guessed it. They are twins who are identical in look, outfit and dance style. Clearly auditioning as package deal, even their registration form and submitted pictures were borderline indistinguishable.

After seeing the fresh talent on display today I’m confident that after the final competition at House of Blues, Susie and co. will have a great team that Rockets fans will enjoy all season long.

I left Toyota Center with two final thoughts in my head on Sunday:

First, it takes some serious courage to come out and put it all on the line and try to become a finalist for an RPD squad. To perform and be judged in such a high pressure situation is reason enough for praise. All 200+ participants should be lauded for that alone.

The second comes courtesy of Usher, who is lodged in the forefront of my mind for at least the rest of the day: Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Ohh my gosh.

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