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Totally Totesome

Contemplating tweenspeak, Ted and sartorial splendor during a day as an RPD judge

HOUSTON - “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man: I get older; they stay the same age.”

Movie quotes don’t come much creepier or more lascivious than that memorable one-liner courtesy of the uber creepy David Wooderson (played to perfection by Matthew McConaughey, who may or may not have been merely playing himself in the role) from the 1993 classic film Dazed and Confused. It basically serves as a manifesto of sorts for the type of dude everyone has unfortunately known at one point in life: the guy who never grows up, never matures and remains forever governed by the same impulses that drive many of the thoughts and actions of your stereotypical 16-year-old male. 

Remove the inherent lechery of that statement, however, and one realizes that Wooderson also inadvertently stumbled upon one of life’s fundamental truths: The more things change, the more they stay the same. No matter the name, no matter the place, the tides of time eventually rush in to wipe the slate clean, making way for the next cycle to have its day and run its course. This phenomenon is particularly fascinating as it pertains to the aging process: the basic tenets of what it means to be an infant, toddler, teenager, adult or elderly effectively never change; it’s only we who do, (hopefully) evolving as we enter and pass through life’s various stages (unless of course you’re a vampire, in which case it’s then apparently okay to be a Wooderson-type, permanently preying, quite literally, upon girls 100 years your junior all in the name of true love -- yep, as you can tell I still have a serious bone to pick with the Twilight and True Blood sagas, but I’ll spare you that rant for now).

Such were the thoughts swirling ‘round my head leading up to Sunday’s Rockets Power Dancer auditions. When I first endeavored to write a running diary of this process four years ago, The Dark Knight was breaking box office records, critics were questioning the American men’s basketball team’s ability to bring home Olympic gold, and the political rhetoric leading up to the 2008 Presidential election was growing increasingly vitriolic and tiresome. Now, a new Batman movie is blowing people’s minds, people are still searching for reasons to poke holes in Team USA, and the dialogue driving the upcoming election is as divisive as ever. Meanwhile, here I stand, looking out over a sea of approximately two hundred aspiring dancers, oozing all the same youthful energy and ambition I first witnessed on the Toyota Center practice court four years ago. I get older, they stay the same age, and the cycle of life inexorably continues.

There is one rather significant change this time around, however: The Rockets Power Dancers now have a brand new coach and choreographer. Natalie Alvarado is a Houston native returning to her roots after compiling an impressive resume which includes dancing as a member of RPD, a singing and songwriting career that produced a pair of albums, and most recently a stint as the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Dance Team Director. Watching her work as she takes the dancers step by step through the first routine of the audition process, two things stand out right away: Natalie’s coaching persona is fun but fierce; and she brings with her a style all her own which places a heavy emphasis on hip-hop. This, then, promises to be a new look and new era for the Rockets Power Dancers, making it only appropriate to mark the occasion with yet another edition of the running diary that annually doubles as my random, rambling thoughts on life from the RPD judges’ table.

11:00 AM: Round one begins. The dancers hit the floor in groups of five, with each group getting two cracks to perform the routine they’ve spent the last hour or so attempting to learn and perfect. Something to keep in mind for reflection purposes later on: Everyone's hair and makeup look flawless and pristine at this point. I have a feeling that won't last long, however, given the intensity of what's to come.

And for those curious: this year’s edition of the song that gets played so many times that later listens immediately provoke intense bouts of nausea, convulsions and, in rare instances, raging paranoia is “Girls Talkin’ Bout” by Mindless Behavior. Whether you previously loved a tune or hated it, there’s nothing quite like hearing it roughly 18,000 times over the course of a single day to permanently eradicate any and all feelings aside from lasting revulsion. Having done this for four years now, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the origin of the Incredible Hulk could be made far more believable if Bruce Banner’s monster within was unleashed not by gamma rays, but instead by repetitive exposure to Soulja Boy.

11:08 AM:  It doesn’t take long to figure out that apparently animal prints were a popular choice for dancers’ audition outfits this year. And not just the standard leopard or cheetah styles either, but zebra as well. Now far be it from me to bash someone else’s sartorial splendor, but I’m not sure girding myself in the pattern of an animal that frequently finds itself getting chased down and devoured during National Geographic specials would really be among my top choices when I’m deciding what to wear for an event in which I’ll be competing with nearly two hundred women out for blood (or at least a chance to clad themselves in Rockets’ red). Then again, I refuse to allow animal print to come anywhere near my closet until butt-kicking creatures like honey badgers and direwolves start seeing their fur patterns properly represented on clothing. Tim Gunn, make it work.

11:28 AM: Also apparently big this year: untied shoelaces. Look, I get this being a fashion thing and all, but how on earth does this work from a dancing standpoint? Couldn’t leaving your shoes untied actually adversely affect your performance? Seriously, somebody please help me out here. Clearly I’m missing something though because in a truly bizarre twist, a seemingly significant percentage of the best dancers are doing the untied shoelaces thing; an observation confirmed by one of my fellow judges who noticed the exact same thing. What follows is a rough approximation of the conversation that just took place between us:

HIM: All the best dancers seem to be doing it. I think it’s supposed to be gangtsa. Here’s my question, though: Would the same thing work in basketball?

ME: (insecurely feeling the need to step up my lexicon game after he just busted out the word “gangsta”): It would make you the best player ever, obvi.

That’s right, I just dropped an “obvi” on him as coolly and casually as if that word were part of my everyday speech (which it may or may not be). Understand this: I don’t mess around when it comes to tweenspeak. I’ve had a special fascination with it ever since I was a kid growing up in the mid-80s using ridiculous words like “radical,” “gnarly” and “bogus.”

And now that we’re on the subject, I might as well go all-in and express my disappointment with this generation’s chosen lingo; kids these days don’t so much as attach themselves to absurd words or even bother to create their own, but rather they seem to opt instead for simply shortening them. “Totes” is used in lieu of “totally.” “Presh” takes the place of “precious” and so on. It’s just plain lazy. Even the Rockets’ own Chandler Parsons is spreading this virus (not surprising, given the fact few have full-on embraced their inner Bieber the way he has), having just recently sent out this linguistically-mangled tweet that references a “steam sesh.”

My response: Reading that sort of ridic writing totes makes me want to vom (Am I doing it right?).

(Note: I blame this generation's declining vernacular on the dumbing down of America (GRUMPY OLD MAN ALERT! GRUMPY OLD MAN ALERT!) that can best be witnessed by the fact that lowest common denominator comedies like Ted continue to be box office gold. Seriously, that movie is so mind-numbingly awful and unfunny that I have spent the last month plotting revenge upon the “friend” who somehow convinced me to see it against my better judgment. Let’s just say that what ultimately transpired between Walter White and Gus Fring may end up looking tame by comparison once my plan has been put into action.)

11:29 AM: Still visibly reeling from my totesome (hit up urban dictionary, dweebs, if you can’t figure it out) “obvi” blast, the judge next to me frantically attempts to change the subject by asking if the girl currently auditioning while sporting a jean vest straight out of the Russell Westbrook collection happened to borrow that choice article of clothing from my closet. I regret to inform him that when it comes to denim, I still don’t see the need for anything beyond a snug-fitting pair of cut-offs that effectively hide my thunder.

11:52 AM: I know I’ve taken a few playful jabs at particular outfit choices but in all seriousness I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that there are just as many selections that are eye-catching for all the right reasons. Clearly a significant amount of time (and cost, too, I’m guessing) goes into this day’s attire and one can’t underestimate the impact a stylish, sexy ensemble can make when attempting to separate oneself from the pack in 60 seconds or less.

As if reading my mind, my partner in judging crime leans over and asks if I’ve contemplated what my color scheme would be if I ever auditioned for RPD, before adding that my obvious affinity for teal suggests that would be the way for me to go. There’s no use denying it: Teal makes me shine. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about that color which gives me the same sort of glow pregnant women have; just, you know, without the whole baby-in-my-belly thing. In fact, I express that exact sentiment to my cohort which inadvertently sets us off on a debate about what would happen if I actually were pregnant (I’m sad to admit this actually happened. In fact, everything about this entire paragraph pretty much lays to waste the soapbox on which I was standing while railing against the cinematic abomination that is Ted. Turns out I’m probably firmly entrenched in that film’s target audience after all). My colleague thinks a pregnant guy would be guaranteed fame and fortune. I, however, have seen enough movies to know that an expecting male would rapidly find himself abducted by a secret government agency which would turn him into a veritable lab rat, conducting one horrific experiment after another in order to discover the source of his unique fertility and thereby exploit it for their own profit (Yep, Ted clearly was in my wheelhouse. Just kill me now).

12:31 PM: No lie, one of the dancers in this group has what appear to be bra-strap tattoos. There’s no other way to describe them. Good gravy I’m old (as if my use of the term “good gravy” weren’t enough of a dead giveaway).   

12:46 PM: Round one comes to a close. From here the judges excuse themselves to deliberate, ultimately trimming the field down until just 51 dancers remain in contention for round two which is slated to start after a much-needed lunch break.

3:15 PM: We’re back and getting our first true taste of the hip-hop element that Natalie will be introducing to the team this year. It takes all of about two minutes while watching her teach the round two routine to recognize that this style is going to take many of the dancers out of their comfort zones. The moves are tough, complex and come fast and furious, and everyone on hand is going to be severely tested this time around. It promises to be a stern appraisal of not just ability, but adaptability. And it should also look absolutely sensational when mastered.

4:00 PM: Round two is now underway. This time the tune is a remix of Kanye’s “Mercy” which is nothing short of a sonic explosion designed to be played in arenas at ear-splitting levels. And because of its repetitive nature, it’s also the first song I’ve experienced within this environment that doesn’t make the listener want to perform a double Van Gogh upon the thousandth rendition. So score one for Yeezy, I guess.

Also, as predicted, most of the dancers who remain look like they've spent the day in the brutal conditions of a Bikram Yoga studio; they're drenched in sweat, their hair is all over the place and their makeup's a mess. This routine is not for the faint of heart. And with only 45 minutes to learn it, hardly a soul even dared to waste precious seconds to stop for a water break. One last observation about Natalie's hip-hop style: Core strength is your friend, future RPD hopefuls; now might be a good time to upgrade from that Shake Weight.

5:35 PM: The finalists have been chosen! The bad news: With so much riding on this round and the competition so fierce, the opportunity for wacky hijinx and tangential thoughts was significantly lessened. The good news, however: After intense deliberation and the occasionally heated debate, we’ve got 20 tremendously talented dancers who now have a little more than a week to put on one heck of a show at the House of Blues.

On August 8 (admission is free and doors open at 6:30 PM) the new era of RPD will begin. It will be hot. It will be fresh. It will be, in a word: totesome.