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Thursday July 9, 2009 7:18 PM

Sweet Susie Q&A


Everything you want to know about joining RPD and the Little Dippers

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer
HOUSTON - Do you go to sleep at night dreaming of an opportunity to wow enormous crowds with your moves, style and flair? Do you crave the camaraderie that comes from being part of a dynamic team with a rabid fan base and winning reputation? Do you bleed Rockets red? If you answered yes to those questions, then the opportunity you’ve been waiting for could be just around the corner.

On Saturday, July 11th, the search begins for the newest members of the red-hot Rockets Power Dancers. Then Sunday the kids get their turn in the spotlight when the Rockets hold auditions for the fan-favorites better known as the Little Dippers.

Nobody knows more about both squads than team coach and choreographer “Sweet Susie” Boudwin, and she was kind enough to sit down with Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman to share her insight into the audition process and the characteristics that make for a perfect candidate.

View the video posted above to watch the interview in its entirety or read on for a Q&A session which sheds light on the big weekend to come.

JCF: So auditions for both Little Dippers and the Power Dancers are right around the corner. Tell us what you’re looking for?

SS: Let’s start with the Little Dippers, since their audition is first. Little Dippers is a co-ed dance team, so we’re looking for boys and girls. The age limit is 6 to 14. We don’t require someone to have dance or cheer experience to audition, but they generally pick up the choreography faster if they have some sort of experience. Some of our kids are little B-boys, some of them are cheerleaders, and some are part of studio jazz, ballet, tap or competitive teams. So they have all different backgrounds, which is nice because it’s such a big group – usually between 30-35 kids – that during each performance we have a little bit of dancing, tumbling, B-boying and our crowd loves them.

During the audition, the parents are required to be there at registration because they’ve got to sign the release form. Then it’s just us and the kids. We teach them a pretty short routine. They perform for the judges and within a couple weeks we select the team here and then send out letters to the parents.

JCF: How many people are you expecting at the audition?

SS: Well, this will be the fourth year for the team. In both the first three years, we had about 250 people audition, which we were really impressed with because, especially in the first year, we started advertising pretty close to the audition itself. We didn’t know how it would go over having a kids team, who to expect, whether the people who showed up would be talented or not, and we were pleasantly surprised that they were. So we were faced with very tough decisions. Because it’s one thing when you’re dealing with telling grown women “You didn’t make the team.” But it’s really hard for the parents, and the kids, when they know their kid is talented. But we can only take so many.

JCF: How many actually make the team?

SS: About 30.

JCF: And how much does it cost to audition?

SS: It’s free of charge. You show up, and we ask that the parents bring a picture of the child; either full length or a head shot – it doesn’t need to be professional. If they forget, we’re there with a Polaroid, so it’s not a big deal. The parents also need to fill out a brief form, but they can pre-register now to save a little bit of time while they’re in line. And all the info is on rockets.com.

JCF: Now tell us a bit about the Power Dancer auditions.

SS: That’s a little more difficult. Starting with the age requirements: We have a minimum age of 18, and we don’t have a maximum age. We’ve had dancers going into their mid-30s. It’s really about the fitness, the ability and all that. Similar to Little Dippers, we ask that they bring either a headshot or full-length picture. It doesn’t have to be a professionally taken photo. But we do ask that the Power Dancer candidates bring a resume. It can be as short as one page, and it should include their work experience, dance experience, education… all the things you would normally add to a resume. Again, all the info is on Rockets.com.

One thing I tell people is: “Everyone’s intimidated. Everyone’s nervous, or they should be nervous. If you’re not nervous, you probably don’t care enough. So don’t be intimidated by everybody else trying out. And we also look for potential. If I see on somebody’s resume or application form that they were on their high school drill team, but it’s been a few years since they’ve danced, I know that they should have basic technique but their leaps may not be beautifully extended, and they need a little time and that’s okay – because we look at potential.

JCF: Okay, let’s talk a bit about the audition itself.

SS: During the audition there is registration and on the first day, the prelims day, we have two cuts. We’ll teach a basic routine, then have a cut. We have both internal and external judges. Some are dancers, others are some of our key suite holders, or ticket holders, or corporate partners. So we have a cut and a lunch break, then we come back and teach a second routine that’s a little more difficult and have another cut. At the end of this day, the approximately 50 people that are remaining are our finalists.

Then we have a training camp that’s a week and a half where we teach them a final routine that’s even a little more difficult and they have a few days to practice. The purpose of the training camp is similar to any athletic camp: It’s to see how the people then react in a team sort of situation. Just like a basketball team would practice, we have warm up, cardio, maybe weights, teach them the material, practice the material, and see how everyone works together. And these finalists also have background checks, drug screening, and a business interview with me.

JCF: How many make the team?

SS: 20.

JCF: And just because you made the team last year, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a spot this season?

SS: No, it doesn’t. The old members get a bye through round one. They join the mix the second half of the prelims day with the round two routine. Generally, all the old members make it through round two. But their spots are not guaranteed and I do have higher expectations for them than for the people coming off the street, because they should know the style, know the commitment, know how to project and connect with the judges and audience, and how to hit their moves hard the way they should when performing. On occasion, we do have a couple that don’t make it back.

JCF: So do you receive lots of bribes this time of year?

SS: (laughs) Well, I don’t know about bribes, but everyone is extra polite. If I send out an email to sign up for appearances, then everyone signs up. But, again, it’s good because that means they care.

JCF: What is expected of those who actually make the team?

SS: Commitment-wise, for the Power Dancers it’s a pretty large commitment. We do expect that everyone is either a full-time student on the side, or has a full-time job because we have found that the people who are more motivated in other aspects of their life, and more successful, tend to be able to manage a highly-stressful job like being a Power Dancer as well. And we want people who are well-rounded because part of the expectation is that they’re out in the community making public appearances. So in addition to being able to dance well, they need to be able to communicate and be personable, and to know information about the Rockets because you never know – at an appearance someone may ask how they sign up for season tickets. You need to know our team’s record. You need to have a genuine interest in the sports team as well as enjoying to perform.

The main part of the commitment – besides the games, of course – are the rehearsals. The dancers rehearse two to three times a week, which is about the average of most dance teams. Some dance teams rehearse every single night; we’re a little more organized than that, so we cram it into two to three nights a week. Also, one of the things that’s good about our team is that we only perform fourteen on the court. So at any given game, fourteen are on the court, four rotate in the suites and greet those customers, and six get the night off. So if you’re in a wedding, or you’re in school and have a huge final, you can request the night off and somebody will cover for you, even if you don’t already have your absence approved.

JCF: Now what about the Little Dippers? What sort of responsibilities do they have?

SS: Their responsibility is, whereas the Power Dancers perform at every single game, we have the Little Dippers perform at about fifteen games. And we try and concentrate those on weekend games, because a lot of kids are already part of their competitive studio team, or school cheer team, and we want them to be able to continue to do that, too. So we practice on Friday nights, and the games are usually Friday, Saturday or Sunday games.

JCF: So what are you actually looking for?

SS: For the kids, personality is just as important as dance ability. Because it’s an uncomfortable situation if you’re watching a child who looks terrified on the court. So the kids need to have an incredible personality.

For the Power Dancers, they need to be able to be excellent performers as well, but they also need to be incredibly well-rounded. They need to be motivated, disciplined, dedicated, well-spoken, obviously physically fit, and our dancers are beautiful. So it’s a big reputation to live up to, but we get hundreds of women who try every year and there are so many great candidates that I always wish I could take more.

JCF: What keeps you pumped up and energized about your role?

SS: Well, I love being a coach. I love seeing my students or employees grow. So by the time they’re finished being a Power Dancer, or even when they’re a Power Dancer, they have better interview skills, they’re more confident in their jobs, and they feel like they can go after their goals. Some of them may want to go dance on Broadway, and maybe this gives them the confidence to move away to New York. Others, it’s maybe the last time that they’re going to dance professionally – they’re getting married and having kids – so I want them to have a great experience. So, to me, the team dynamic is very important. It’s important to me that people are treating each other with respect, and that both the teams are highly-functioning teams where everybody is motivating each other. That’s what makes it easy to make the choreography a little more difficult every year; to add new styles from year to year – because you have strong veterans who return and help mentor the young rookies. And now that it will be my fourth year in this role, I have a very strong assistant coach and captains who know what it takes to be a team leader to the point that, if I need to miss a practice, it’s not the end of the world.

JCF: How do you keep up with the new dance trends so that you can keep the choreography fresh?

SS: Well, the last couple years have been pretty exciting for the dance world because there have been several dance shows on television and that makes the general public a little bit more aware of dance. It also means that if it’s the hippest choreographers doing the routines on So You Think You Can Dance, everybody can see that on TV so people in Texas aren’t doing a different style than people elsewhere in the world. So television is a huge medium, not necessarily for copying choreography, but for idea generation.

But I also go to a couple choreography workshops every year, just to make sure that ideas are new and fresh. We also bring in choreographers throughout the year, as well as having some of the team members do some of it – it’s good motivation for them.

JCF: Final thoughts?

SS: I guess I would say that, for those that love to dance and perform, it really is a dream job to be a Power Dancer. So if someone is thinking about auditioning, but they’re a little fearful, don’t give up on the dream because it’s so amazing to be performing in front of our fans, and it’s also wonderful to be dancing as part of a team. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.