Breaking Down the Dance Auditions

A few weeks ago, we asked the question "So You Think You Can Dance" in our first look at the crop of dancers attempting to establish a place on the 2007-08 dance team. After three prep classes and two long days of auditions, the collective answer from the Wolves dancing brass is a resounding "Definitely."

As for the auditions themselves, if you'd like some adjectives to describe the two-days of tryouts, try strenuous, stressful or straining. Monday involved no fewer than four-straight hours of dancing, and Tuesday's 25 finalists went through one-on-one interviews, a professional photo shoot and a last-gasp dancing attempt to impress the judges enough to make the final 15.

That's difficult. It's like asking Johan Santana to strike 17 batters out in one game, or the Vikings to house three INTs in the first two preseason games.

Alas, throughout the two days of competition among more than 70 girls (on day one), the ladies had to look their best, stay composed under the pressure of learning and performing a brand new routine and try to stand out amongst an impressive collection of talent. Of course, dancing well is what many of the 70+ and all of the finalists do, so once the bass starts hitting...

“The second the music comes on, it’s just you and the judges," said former Wolves dancer and audition judge Natalie Kane. "You forget about the girls around you, put your nerves on hold, and perform. It’s one of my favorite moments as a dancer. It’s the moment when everything clicks.”

Kane was one of four former Timberwolves dancers judging the routine at auditions, charged by dance team director Abby LaDuke to help select the team:

Shannon Bruce: Former Wolves dancer and auditions judge
Natalie Kane: Former Wolves dancer and auditions judge
Stacy Reis: Again, former Wolves dancer and auditions judge
Emily Schiesl: Yup, a former Wolves dancer and auditions judge
Gina Cantrell: Former Phoenix Suns dancer and auditions choreographer

"I thought it was important to have former members of the Timberwolves Dance Team be the bulk of our judging staff this year," said LaDuke. "They know what type of girl we are looking for to be an ambassador for this organization."

As such, we spent some time speaking to the judges about the process in hopes of conveying exactly what goes on at a professional dance team audition.

At 5:30 p.m., more than 70 girls began to check in outside Target Center's main floor, presenting Wolves staffers with an 8x10 photo and filling out some paperwork. Afterwards, the girls began filing onto the main arena floor -- with music blaring and several people looking on from the stands -- before LaDuke took the mic to welcome everyone.

Seating alongside LaDuke on the raised platform above the wood court were game presentation supervisor Chad Folkestad and corporate account executive Lisa Bennett. On the opposite side of the platform sat the four former dancers, while in between was a flat area on which Cantrell taught her routine. A five-year veteran of the Suns dance team, Cantrell was flown in to choreograph a fresh hip-hop routine with which none of the dancers would be familiar. You know, to keep it fair.

"I just ran the Phoenix Suns auditions, and I think I made the dance a little too difficult," said Cantrell. "There is a range from beginners all the way to very advanced, and I went towards the advanced. Here in Minnesota, I wanted to make it a little bit slower, where the girls could show their personalities more."

Cantrell was most likely being modest there ... The routine, a tight-moving number to Eve's "Tambourine," certainly didn't look slow, which was confirmed by our former Wolves dancers turned judges.

"Gina has a great style, and is obviously very, very talented," said Reis from the platform as Cantrell was teaching. "It's a perfect tryout routine because I can see where she's going. I could totally see it on the court."

While up on the platform, we moved over to catch Kane's opinion of the dance:

"This is a really intricate, stylized dance with a hip-hop flair," she said. "It's probably clicking in parts, and the girls are probably frustrated with others, but you can tell that they're having fun."

While Gina was teaching the 70+ how to do the routine she created in her mirror, the judges were constantly conferring with each other and writing notes onto scorecards made by LaDuke.

"My main thing beyond memorization and the appearance at this point is looking for stage presence," explained Kane. "Appearance and technique are pretty black and white, so finding a stage presence is key."

"I know how nervous the girls probably are being in here under these lights," said Reis. "It can be really intimidating. I think most of them are doing a really good job staying focused, poised and composed. It makes all of us want to get up and dance, so it's really inspiring watching so many girls do well."

"It's going really quickly, and has been very smooth," added Bruce. "The score sheets are easy; some girls are having trouble, and some aren't. It doesn't take long to figure out."

Of course, Kane, Reis and Bruce remember being on the other side of the judge-performer relationship.

"It's fun to be on this end, but I'm nervous too," said Bruce. "I'm nervous for them, and that I'll make the right decision."

"I feel a big sense of responsibility in wanting to select the right girls to carry the traditions of the Wolves Dance Team and elevate it to the next level," Reis told us.

After Cantrelle finished teaching her routine, she broke down just how she did it:

"I try to go through it quite a few times slowly, and I'll take little glances back to see if a few of the girls that are more experienced are getting it," she explained. "I'll also make sure everyone is at least somewhat getting it. Some just take longer to learn than other. I also let them ask questions so I can clarify things when they need help."

Some girls picked up Gina's routine more quickly than others, but it's the job of the judges to determine if that makes them better dancers. In other words, just because someone doesn't pick up a dance as quickly as another dancer doesn't mean they aren't as good of a dancer.

And so, with the routine taught, the girls were put into groups of four and charged with performing in front of the panel. With the judges intently taking notes, the prospective dancers went for it until the last group completed their collective last step at about 9:30 p.m.

"Some people don't learn as quickly, but that doesn't matter as much," said Kane. "That's what practices are for. Come game night, do they have a presence? Are they looking good, and are they a skilled enough dancer? I'm not judging them based on how quickly they learn choreography."

Shannon remembers what many of the girls must have been thinking while performing: "I was scared to death. Are they watching me? Am I getting this? Am I sweating? You want to stand out and make sure that they'll look at you."

Why not just wear a wristband, I suggested?

"You mean a sweatband?" countered Bruce?

Just saying that a wristband would have helped someone stand out (because no one was wearing one) plus you could wipe the forehead once in a while, because boy, it's hot in there. We digress.

After that last group, LaDuke took her crew back to Target Center's underground to make the first round of cuts. Inevitably, there wasn't a 100% consensus on many of the girls, but the group managed to collectively cut the list down from 70+ to 35. Subsequently, the crew returned to the court to read off the numbers of the girls who'd be asked to perform the routine in a two separate groups. After those performances, the girls were thanked and dismissed before LaDuke and her support staff met yet again to cut 10 more girls.

Finally, Wolves interactive services manager Scott Spiridigliozzi posted the 25 numbers on the web so that the dancers could see who was invited back Tuesday evening for interviews, the photo shoot and another performance.

Check out LaDuke's on-camera summary of how things went on Tuesday right here: CLICK HERE to check it out.

The final group will be announced Wednesday afternoon right here on