Tiny Dancers Try Out for the Rain Drops

Thunder Girl Lateshia stood on a podium, looked at the rows of young dancers stretched before her on the Ford Center floor and smiled broadly. Sixty-eight girls and boys auditioning for the Rain Drops, the Thunder’s junior hip-hop dance squad, were showing off their best freestyle moves. As will.i.am’s version of “I Like to Move It” blared overhead, the tiny dancers -- all of them between the ages of 7 and 12 -- burst into a whirl of waving arms and stomping feet, somersaults and cartwheels.

Lateshia, who had been teaching the kids the routine for the first round of competition, was clearly impressed. “This is beautiful!” she told the young auditioners. “I need some private lessons on freestyle from y’all.”

Presented by Trochta’s Flowers & Greenhouses, the Rain Drops are a key ingredient of the Thunder experience. The pint-sized performers dance at six to eight home games throughout the season, and are among the fans’ most popular entertainers.

Dancing before an audience of 18 people can be a nerve-racking experience -- much less 18,000 -- but most of the kids who turned up at open audition Saturday were eager for the challenge.

“It’s fun being in front of the crowd,” said 10-year-old Will. A member of last year’s Rain Drops, he was determined to regain a spot on the 16-member roster. The boy said the audition wasn’t as stressful for him as it had been last year. “I’ve been dancing for a long time -- about two or three years,” he said.

He was hardly the only child vying to return. Another veteran, 11-year-old Jordan, confided her secret for dancing in front of a packed arena.

“I try to just imagine I’m dancing by myself in my bedroom,” she said, “and then dance really good.”

Jordan was with her 9-year-old sister, Camryn, another former Rain Drop wanting to earn a spot back on the squad.

Their mom, Cindy Fulkerson, joined the girls during a brief lunch break. “I think I’m more nervous than they are,” she said, laughing.

There were also plenty of first-time auditioners, of course. Eight-year-old Summer said the biggest draw to being a Rain Drop is simple. “They’re on TV,” said the diminutive dancer, flashing a big smile.

Thunder Girl manager Carmen Butler, who is coordinator of the Rain Drops, conceded that she and her fellow judges faced a daunting task.

“I’m impressed with all the kids who came out and aren’t afraid to show their personality,” she said.

“There’s a lot of energy. You can tell a lot of them love to perform. I’m really proud of them for coming out today. I know it takes a lot in any audition. I mean, they’re doing things that are difficult for some of us to do.

“Being part of Rain Drops is an opportunity for them to be part of the Thunder family. I’m really excited to work with them and for them to be able to work with the Thunder Girls, too. I think it will be a great relationship, and I’m excited to watch them grow and develop throughout the year.”

Phil Bacharach is Director of Corporate Communications for the Thunder.