What’s it like to try out for the Brooklynettes?

brooklynettes audition
You thought you could dance, until you wound up here. Photos by Gabrielle Westfield

When I originally heard about the Brooklynettes open tryout I knew immediately I had to see what it was like. I also wanted to see how far my background in gymnastics and collegiate cheerleading, and the 3.5 hip-hop dance classes under my belt, would get me in the process. My preparation for this tryout was simple: nothing but salads for the 2 days prior, attend Chelsea Piers adult gymnastics class to see if I could still tumble (flip), and watch videos of the Brooklynettes’ routines on YouTube the night before the tryout. This was about the most preparation I’ve ever done for a personal endeavor… and I felt like a well-oiled machine (cue the Rocky theme song). 

brooklynettes audition
Hardwood jungle that dreams are made of

Upon arrival at the Brooklynettes tryouts that Saturday morning, a sea of bedazzled sports bras and voluminous hair belonging to hopeful dreamers going out for the dance team for the oh so cool NBA Brooklyn Nets flooded the gym floor. Talking to a few of the contestants, the first thing that became apparent was that girls came from everywhere to tryout for this team.

brooklynettes audition
Mei (L) and Sachi (R)

Mei and Sachi had moved from Japan to Manhattan and had been in the US for all of 3 days before trying out for the team. In a struggle between languages, they explained that their incentive for trying out was that the Brooklynettes were “cool and powerful and sexy.”

This reputation for being cool, powerful and sexy isn’t the only thing the Brooklynettes legacy is known for… After observing a few of the veteran dancers that were helping with the tryout, its quite clear how a girl would aspire to be one of them: perfect curves, sculpted bodies, exotic features, and a feminine, confident demeanor that would make anyone admire them at first sight. Each dancer embodies a very different look; dark hair, blonde hair, red hair, curls, straight or long hair, petite and curvy, tan or not tan, allowing every girl to identify with whichever dancer they liked, like a dance team version of the Super Friends.

Adar, the coach and choreographer of the Brooklynettes, led the tryouts and taught us our sample routine. The tryout routine she taught moved at an incredibly fast-pace, giving a snapshot into the required quickness expected from being on the team. Despite my own athletic experience, honestly, I had no business being there but I decided to push it and see how far I could get. Looking around during one of our 5 second breaks, the faces of hope I’d encountered that morning became timid and panicky as they realized the challenge of having to learn the counts in just 20 minute before performing them across the gym floor.

brooklynettes audition
No one was stuck dancing on her own

Now came time for the first round of eliminations. They gathered us on the first floor to over to one side of the gym, while in two lines, girls would perform a loop of the two 8-counts across the floor, one right after the other.  Two women holding numbers waited for you at the end. If you received a number, that was your golden ticket to the next round, if you didn’t, adios amiga. I relied on my collegiate cheerleading experience and semi-decent bod to get me through the first round of eliminations, surprising myself when I didn’t completely botch up the counts, dancing just well enough to get by the first round.

After the first eliminations, the participant count had dropped from 300 to about 100 girls. The caliber of dancing was elite and nothing less than that was remotely acceptable. The combination of calypsos and 6-packs were intimidating enough to suggest that I was maybe out of my league. Fair enough, I pulled a hail mary with my calypso, left it all on the floor and came out the other side a winner.

brooklynettes audition
Victoria Wade (L) and Madeline Comacho (R)

Some girls worked to get a leg up on the competition, and paid for the privilege with a $50 bootcamp-like “Audition Intensive.” Regardless of the $50 price tag, Victoria Wade from New Jersey, 19, thought it was worth it as it “helped with building confidence in performing and gaining overall awareness of what the judges are looking for.” Madeleine Comacho also from New Jersey, 26, hoped it would help keep the family linage, as her older sister was dancer for team when they were the less hip “New Jersey” Nets.

After surviving the first round of cuts, I decided I had gotten my fill and decided to become a passive observer. You might see this as a thrown-away opportunity, but I just wanted to quit while I was on top, or before I hurt myself. The newly filtered dancers in the second round were seasoned tributes that had trained for this moment and it didn’t feel fair continuing. Also, the teaching pace had just been cranked to 11, destroying my faith in ever being able to keep up with them.

brooklynettes audition
Alexis, a hopeful from Miami, shows off some splits.

As I transitioned from dancer to casual observer, I noticed that the nerves and panic I’d noticed emanating from the girls in the first round had left when most of these girls were performing. Many of them exhibited nothing but confidence and sass when it was their turn, in contrast to the panic and nerves I’d felt while trying out. This invincible presence they projected while performing separated them from rest and while watching, your eyes immediately gravitated to those dancers. Few forgot a step here or there but would catch up quickly, smiling through the mistake. Even fewer would forget the whole routine and end up improving or repeating previous counts until they found themselves at the right count. Those were harder to watch.

Competition was fierce and was only going to get fiercer with such a high caliber of dancers and only 16-20 spots to be filled on the team. The dancers who survived this round had an even bigger challenge ahead: they were going up against the veteran dancers from last year, who themselves weren’t guaranteed a spot on the team.

brooklynettes audition
The competition was nothing if not fierce

I really wish I could dance at an elite level like these dancers, because make no mistake, it is hella cool to be a Brooklynette. Hell they perform for A-List celebrities including Queen Bey herself. Oddly enough, the tryout experience actually made me very grateful for my day job. I was able to keep the prospect of making the team a distant reality, which is much easier than leaving with shattered dreams and no options outside of dancing. In the end though, it was good go out for the Brooklynettes. It’s easy to become complacent in life, so it was important to get a reminder that nothing is owed to you, and that it’s a constant race (or dance) to take it yourself.

The new 2014-2015 team was just confirmed yesterday, visit the Brooklynettes page to see the new team and footage from the tryouts. The background blur auburn curly hair and a lime green sport bra is yours truly. Follow Gabby for more adventures in cheerleading at @gwestfield

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