Celebrate HerStory: Marina Ortega
Half of the experience in going to a Boston Celtics game at TD Garden is taking in the electric arena atmosphere. Right in the middle of it all, serving as a spark plug for that energy, are the iconic Celtics Dancers, who take center-court every home game and overwhelm fans with their drive and charisma.
Now meet the woman who is in charge of putting this talented group of women together: Marina Ortega.
If you know Marina, then you know she has the gift of working with people. Her diverse employment background, which included working overseas in Germany, has allowed her to draw from different experiences that enable her to get along with anyone in her work environment. She is open-minded and is willing to take risks. As she says, “no risk, no reward,” and Marina has followed her heart and taken those risks her entire life.
Growing up in a single-mother household in East Los Angeles, Marina and her twin sister Mina worked together from a young age to make a name for themselves in the entertainment and dance community. After high school, they were hired by the United Spirit Association, for which they taught choreography to numerous dance crews for professional sports teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, L.A. Clippers, San Francisco 49ers, Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers, and Atlanta Falcons.
Following a 10-year stint in that role, Marina accepted a position at Northern Arizona University to become the dance coach of the NAU Spirit line. She packed her bags and moved from her home in L.A. to Arizona and led that team for two and a half years, while being the youngest person employed in the NAU athletic department.
Marina’s next risk came when she turned down a job at the University of California, Berkley, only to be asked to become the director of the Frankfurt Galaxy Cheerleaders of the European League of Football. She then packed her bags and spent three years in Frankfurt, Germany, where she directed the cheerleading team while traveling the world with them.
She remained in Frankfurt until 2006, which was when the Boston Celtics came calling for her expertise in helping them to create their first dance team. After meeting with Marina, team owner Wyc Grousbeck and president of basketball operations Rich Gotham were sold and knew that she had the vision and creativity to accomplish something that had never been done within the organization. Marina described the moment as “love at first sight” with the Boston Celtics, and meeting with Rich, “felt like she was talking to a friend.”
After accepting her job as the director of the Celtics Dancers, Marina again packed her bags and moved to Boston with the idea of creating history for the team. Six months later, after recruiting, holding auditions, and then holding a training camp from August through October, her team was assembled and ready to launch. Marina was eager to see her vision come to life and a, “good luck, coach” from president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was all the validation she needed.
Fifteen years later, Marina is still leading the Celtics Dancers, while constantly taking new risks. As she says, “I want to be a change agent. I don’t ever want to be the one that is on the back burner. I always want to be the one making the change and leading the change.”
While Marina, has broken barriers her entire life, she finds that her strength and drive come from her team and the young girls she has helped turn into women along the way.
“It warms my heart to see the achievements of the dancers, not necessarily in their dance life but in their personal lives and who they end up becoming through the program,” she says. “I get them at a really important time in their lives. Some are leaving home for the first time, some are in a relationship for the first time, it’s their first big-time job, or they are trying to negotiate a salary and I get to be in their lives for that. I firmly believe that through the program that I implemented and evolved through the years, it has become an extension of their education. It becomes about life lessons more than dance. Dance is the icing on the cake, and they are more than just the costume, the hair and the makeup. It’s not what you see on the dance court; It’s how we got there.
“I find strength in the dancers: I’m their example, I’m their leader. So, they give me strength. When there have been moments of fear or when I felt weak in my profession, I have looked to them for strength. They don’t know but it’s the truth. How can I be asking this of them if I’m not doing it myself? For as much as I have been able to give them, they have been able to give to me.”
Marina Ortega isn’t finished taking risks, but no matter what her future may hold, she will always be known as the woman who created the tradition and legacy for the iconic Celtics Dancers.