Wake Up, Makeup & Smile

It’s 6:51 in the morning, and the clothes come off.

It’s 58 degrees outside, the sun is about to rise and you can hear the shivers coming from four barely awake Thunder Girls.

“It’s all going to be worth it. We’re going to look great and people are going to buy our calendars,” Jada says.

We’re on location at the second-to-last photo shoot for the Thunder Girls calendar. So far, they’ve been photographed in an Arcadia wheat field and at Lake Hefner – check that, in Lake Hefner. On this crisp Sunday morning, we’re on 4th Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City, on a patch of grass where townhouses will be developed.

This year’s calendar is about glamour, class and style.

Stare at it, gawk at it or – gasp! – actually write on it.

But know that while the women in the calendar look strikingly gorgeous, professional and poised, this doesn’t just happen. It takes time, guts, patience, precision, dedication, nerves and caffeine.

It takes your alarm clock buzzing at 3 a.m. and having your hair and makeup done an hour later at DK Salon, where half-asleep stylists are straightening hair and applying makeup in their bunny slippers to groggy-eyed dancers.

Being a Thunder Girl is more than just prancing and dancing around the court, non-stop smiling, waving at everyone in sight and looking fabulous.

The calendar shoot was just one example of how this isn’t for everyone.

It was a series of: “Hold that pose.” “Look this way; Now that way.” “Smile.” “Stop smiling.” “Chin up.” “Hips out.” “Now hold it.”

“Lindsay, ooze into your pose,” says Dance Team Manager Sabrina Ellison, who gives her best Marilyn Monroe impersonation, lips puckered, hands on thighs. “I know it’s cold.”

It’s so cold that Erica can’t feel her ears. But it isn’t anything out of the norm. These women get used to it, especially after performing 41 nights a year inside the Ford Center.

Out in the open during the shoot, the women are relegated to fishnet stockings, tube tops, one-pieces, high heels, shiny earrings, makeup and enough hair spray to make the immediate airspace toxic.

Less than an hour later, it’s on to the next shoot site. And after navigating through downtown Oklahoma City, a few hours before massive amounts of church services could cause some semblance of car traffic, the Thunder Girls party arrive at the rooftop of the Montgomery Building, with City Place, Oklahoma Tower and Chase Tower in the background.

For the shoot, Ellison and marketing assistant Christina Brigida’s job is a cross between micromanaging and keeping the big picture in mind. It’s about taking the calendar to the next level. Who gets photographed with who? Who takes better photos?

“Are they on, are they off?” Ellison asks.

Right now, it’s Krystal’s turn in front of the lens. The three other girls are staying warm in an SUV, waiting their turn.

Quinton, the photographer, has taken hundreds, if not close to a thousand, pictures through the shoot’s first three locations.

“I want that face again,” he tells Krystal, who twists her head, licks her lips and says, simply, “OK.”

The shot is just what Quinton wanted. And just like that, Krystal is ripping your heart out in a pink ensemble.

The funny thing is, Krystal, a rookie, hates wearing pink.

On this day, though, costume preference is the least of their worries.

Imagine dancing for hours straight in white cowboy boots with 3 ¼-inch heels

“It’s definitely not easy, but if you practice in them it’s fine,” Shereka says nonchalantly. “Mine had some strange malfunction. The soles split or something, so I have a huge blister on my foot right now. It’s not easy to dance in them, but they look amazing in my uniform.”

And really, it’s all about being amazing – in costume, with dance routines and in the community.

That’s why the Thunder Girls go through rehearsals that can last up to three hours. That’s part of the reason why Shereka and her teammates have blisters on their feet from practicing in the boots they’ll wear in a routine this season.

But let’s start from the top.

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The Thunder Girls arrive on the arena floor at 8:30 p.m., shortly after a three-hour staff meeting. You might call this the calm before the storm. The women appear to be in their own little worlds, going through routines by themselves, making sure they have the moves down pact, all without music. It’s like a silent disco.

Soon, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” is pumping through a boom box and the ladies are working up a sweat.

“You have to dance bigger,” Ellison tells them. “You guys have to practice this. We have 13 days left.”

Only 13 days till the Thunder plays its first exhibition game at the Ford Center, and everyone seems to know this. Just a friendly reminder.

The women work out regularly with a trainer, which comes in handy for long nights of rehearsal like this evening. And just because you’re a Thunder Girl doesn’t guarantee you a spot dancing on the floor during games. Those have to be earned. A routine must be performed to perfection for one of the women to dance it during a game. Get it right, and you’re in. Can’t do it, then try harder for the next game.

Ellison is a perfectionist. A former NFL dancer herself, she demands the most out of the team. On this night, she must have pleaded for the women to “get low” more often than the Ying Yang Twins.

“I want to be an elite dance team in the NBA,” Ellison said. “I want to be the Dallas Cowboys of the NBA. To be that, a coach has to realize that she has to grow as well as the dancers and work with people that understand and have the same vision and same passion for our team, and our organization does. They want to build our dance team to be bigger than just a dance team on the court. So I want to be the best.”

Throughout the rehearsal, the coaches and women go through one song, one routine after another.

It’s quite technical:

Chin at a diagonal. Hip-hip-hip and a hop. Boom, boom with the hips. No chicken legs! Flat back on the rolls. Don’t even break – just open swing. Sometimes it’s a big up-and-down, others a touch-touch.

Still there?

All the repetition tests not only their ability to retain information and follow instructions, but just how badly they want it.

It’s not for everyone.

Want to be Thunder Girl?

Here’s what it takes, in a nutshell, according to Ellison:

“We’re looking for the whole package, but obviously you can’t be perfect walking in the door. So we’re looking for someone with the ability to train or someone who has the attributes to be an ideal Thunder Girl. So first and foremost you have to understand dance, because that’s what the girls do out on the court. So I would take dance classes, jazz and hip hop. I would come to our audition workshops before auditions are held in July. You have to be fit because you’re wearing a two-piece costume or fitted dress. So you have to look good in costume. But that means being fit for your own body – it doesn’t mean being someone else’s fit. So you have to be in-shape for your own body. And being a role model – so having something going on in your life, either being a full-time student or working full-time. Having aspirations and goals. You can’t just be this pretty girl who’s just a pretty shell. You have to have more to you because we interview our girls and we want to make sure they’re going to be good ambassadors and good role models to the little kids they encounter; they’ll be able to speak when they’re talking to media or our fans, so it’s that whole package that we’re looking for.”