By Charlotte Cowles
The Brooklynettes do not walk, they bounce, and usually in unison.
When five members of the dance team arrived at Barclays Center's 40/40 Club before practice last Thursday night, they bobbed up to the table in a straight line, like birds in formation. They all wore gleaming black spandex tights, black Adidas sneakers, and black-and-white hoodies zipped to the same mid-chest height to show the tops of their sports bras, which were emblazoned with the Brooklynettes logo in graffiti-style writing. Their makeup was TV-ready, with thick strips of false eyelashes and liquid eyeliner. They looked like real-life Barbies, only with better posture and brighter smiles.
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The cleverly titled dance team affiliated with the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, the Brooklynettes began their first season at the new Barclays Center in Prospect Heights this fall. Ten of them stayed on from the former New Jersey team, although they all had to re-audition for the twenty spots in June, alongside 400 other Brooklynette hopefuls who came out for the grueling weeklong trial process.
For those unfamiliar with the world of NBA entertainment, it's important to understand these women are not cheerleaders. Many are professionally trained dancers with agents and long résumés. Two of the women I spoke to hold dance degrees from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and the Ailey School at Fordham, respectively. Some came to the Brooklynettes from other NBA teams, including the Knicks and the Sixers, and others have performed in Broadway shows.
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Although the team is only partway through its first season, it's already regarded as one of the best in the industry, mostly thanks to their location. "Everyone wants to dance in New York," said Kimberlee Garris, the director of entertainment marketing for the Nets and a former Knicks dancer. The team members commute from all over the tristate area, where they go to school or have other jobs during the day. "We still can perform here and go on with our other activities," said Megan Roup, a California native who joined the team this year. That morning, she woke up at 5 a.m. to teach a Tracy Anderson Method class in Tribeca, followed by a series of fit modeling appointments before practice. Another first year, India Bolds, works as a dance teacher; other team members are yoga instructors, college and grad school students, or full-time performers with agents and regular gigs in music videos and commercials.
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A Brooklynette's time commitment includes performances at all home games, three-hour practices twice a week, the occasional publicity or charity event, and international trips on behalf of the NBA during the off-season. Although reps declined to give a salary range, Garris says their compensation is commensurate with the New York City market. "They are among the highest-paid professional dancers in the league," she said.
The two captains, Jessica Goldstone and Siobhan St. John, are both in their seventh year with the Nets. Their status means they help lead practices and were exempt from the re-audition process this year. While they're both in incredible shape, they're also on the older end of the team, which ranges in age from 19 to 28. "The thought of moving on from this is scary," said Goldstone, who joined the team when she was 19; nevertheless, she's laid solid groundwork for a post-dance career. During the day, she teaches ESL classes at an elementary school in Staten Island and is pursuing her master's degree in special education. St. John plans to complete her master's degree in child psychology from the Chicago School of Psychology online in March.
Even though only four members of the team actually live in Brooklyn, the franchise is meticulous about incorporating local businesses. All of the dancers' cosmetics are supplied by the Brooklyn-based City Chemist, which also arranged for each girl to get a professional makeup tutorial. "We go for a really fresh, natural, beautiful look, not an extreme stage character," explained Adar Wellington, their coach, in a manner that made her description sound like something she'd said many times before. "A good old smoky eye, and always a lash, but nothing too theatrical." The same goes for their hair, which is dyed and styled at the Heights Salon in Brooklyn Heights. Starting January 9, team members will teach a dance class called "Center Court Choreography with the Brooklynettes" at Crunch Gym's Fort Greene outpost; they also do charity work around the borough.
If a professional dance team brings to mind screaming catfights, you'll be disappointed to hear that the Brooklynettes seem to genuinely like one another and act more like affectionate co-workers than Real Housewives (although reality-show producers have approached them "many, many times," according to Garris). "A lot of people are shocked to hear that we actually really do all get along, and we're really close friends outside of all this," said Goldstone. It probably helps that their physical positions on the team are all equal: their routines are choreographed to be seen from all angles of the bowl-shaped stadium, so there's no jockeying for the front row or the principal role. The dancers' interactions with the Nets players are similarly cordial. "It's just a professional relationship," Goldstone explained. "A lot of people ask if we hang out, but that's not the case at all."
Speaking of professional relationships, does Jay-Z, who often sits courtside with Beyoncé at Nets games, ever pull strings on their behalf? No, said Garris, who explained that Jay-Z isn't involved in day-to-day decisions, although his affiliation presumably adds cachet. Not that they seem to need extra help, though: Coach Wellington, who is striking and coffee-skinned with a light sprinkling of freckles, is well-known in the industry. You might recognize her as the principal dancer in Usher's new music video, "Scream," or from Kanye West's "Lost in the World." After three years of dancing with the Nets, she left in 2008 to pursue a solo career in L.A. and Las Vegas; she returned to coach last year.
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The team's long list of guest choreographers, including industry hotshots like Rhapsody James, Derek Mitchell, and Tanisha Scott, is a point of pride. "We want to make sure no one else has the routines that these ladies are doing," Wellington explained. "We build relationships with choreographers so they'll work just on something for us." A lot of dance teams will go to national conventions where they learn 30 routines in one weekend and wind up with the same moves as other squads, but not the Brooklynettes. That night, they put the finishing touches on a new routine choreographed by Rod Harrelson that involves nunchakus. "We want to be on the cutting edge, setting the tone for everyone else," said Wellington.
Also cutting edge are their new black-and-white uniforms, considered by some to be risqué but, in actuality, aren't much more revealing than your average dancer's outfit. The team's entire wardrobe was overhauled by David Dalrymple, a renowned costume designer whose clients include Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, and Britney Spears. When asked if they liked them, collective squeals went up around the table. "We love them," said St. John. "Everything is geared towards Brooklyn. It's chic, it's cool, it's a little bit edgy, and they read really well on court."
Indeed, the team's brand-newness is its most vital quality. The dancers are legitimately pumped to be part of the first professional sports franchise Brooklyn has seen in over 50 years. "The vibe is so different, just to walk around and see everyone rocking the gear," said Wellington. "In New Jersey, you wouldn't see that as much, but in Brooklyn, we're the star team. This is our season. It's really good to be a part of that first year."
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By Charlotte Cowles