Dancing With Purpose

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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The most remarkable dance was the one that kept her hopping 18 hours. The one that unfolded at 6 a.m., skipped across the city, spun through college classrooms and clinicals, rehearsals and running trails, through an evening performance at the AT&T Center and ended, finally, at home, after midnight.

This is how full-time nursing student and part-time Silver Dancer Janelle Brownstein spent game-day during the Spurs postseason: climbing out of bed, going to class, studying, rehearsing, exercising, dancing and and falling back into bed.

“Then I’d get up at 6,” Janelle says, “and start all over again.”

Did I mention she’s married? Janelle’s husband, Mike Brownstein, is a recently retired minor-league baseball player, who’s pursuing a career in coaching.

So how does she balance dancing, studying and family life? Focus, drive and an ability to multi-task. While jogging in May, Janelle would listen to music for her Silver Dancers performance on headphones and visualize each move in her routine. During break from dance rehearsal at the AT&T Center, she would open a book and study, sometimes while doing stomach crunches.

“I’d be killing two or three birds with one stone,” she says.

Yes, the long days can be hard on the body. But Janelle says she’s driven to excel at everything she does, and when she completes her schooling, a vision will be within her grasp. Nursing. “I wanted to go into physical therapy,” she says .”But I switched to nursing last fall.”

Janelle earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from the University of New Mexico, where she graduated summa cum laude. In December, she was accepted into the Accelerated Nursing Program at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and began classes in May.

“It’s very intense,” she says. “I’m in class about 40 hours a week. During the playoffs, I’d be at school from 8 to 5 and then go straight to the arena. It’s been challenging but it’s been a wonderful experience dancing with the Spurs and pursuing my dream of nursing.”

Her energy and work ethic impress those who know her. “What an inspiration on and off the court,” says Gretchen Luistro, Game Operations and Special Events Manager for Spurs Sports & Entertainment. “From being a full-time student pursuing a second undergraduate degree, attending all Silver Dancers team practices, performing at all Spurs home games, participating in local Silver Dancers community appearances and staying in top physical shape, Janelle achieves all this because she is a passionate, committed, driven and focused individual.”

At the behest of her mother, Janelle started Mexican Folkloric dance at 4-years-old in Albuquerque, N.M. She went on to train in ballet, pointe, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical and flamenco.

“I grew up in a dancing studio until my freshman year of high school,” she says. “We won the national dance championships at Disney World. After that, I took a little break and did cheerleading for the rest of high school.”

In her early teens, Janelle helped care for her maternal grandmother who needed assistance while recovering from surgery. Janelle cooked and cleaned the house. She folded laundry. She felt something stir. “That was a turning point for me,” Janelle says. “I wanted to go into the medical field. The only question was what part of the medical field.”

At the University of New Mexico, Janelle studied exercise science and nutrition. She joined the Chaparral dance team and danced for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds of the NBA’s Development League. In college, Janelle met Mike Brownstein, a star New Mexico shortstop who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. They married during mid-terms of her final semester.

After becoming the first in her family to graduate from college, Janelle flew to San Antonio to audition for the Silver Dancers. She reached the final round but didn’t make the team. She succeeded after a second audition.

The competition is fierce. Janelle attended Prep Classes where she was coached and tutored by Silver Dancers choreographer Raquel Garcia. Prep Classes for aspiring Silver Dancers will be held July 18, 23, 25 and Aug. 1. Auditions are Saturday Aug. 4.

The Silver Dancers begin their 21st season this fall and Janelle can hardly wait for auditions this August. If she makes the team, she will use her earnings to help pay for books and school.

“It’s so rewarding,” she says. “Dancing and performing have been my passion since I was 4. Being on the court for this organization is a dream come true. I’m dancing for the best team in the NBA with the best fans and look out and see almost 19,000 people in the crowd. I literally get chills when they announce the players and people are screaming and I’m performing. It’s an absolutely unforgettable experience.”