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Local dancers compete for coveted spots on Warrior Girls team

Two Danville residents move on to final auditions on Thursday

For many aspiring jazz, ballet or hip-hop dancers, garnering a spot on a NBA dance team can be a dream come true. This dream may become a reality for 18 women with skills, style and pizzazz enough to join the Warrior Girls.

Nearly 150 dancers arrived at Club Sport in San Ramon on Saturday, July 21 for the first round of auditions for the Golden State Warriors dance team. The weeklong audition process includes two days of boot camp and a final round of tryouts on Thursday, July 26.

"There are nine to 10 returning veterans and each year they have to fight for their spot. You always want to have the best talent each year, much like the players," said Dance Team Director Sabrina Ellison.

Two Danville residents and veteran Warrior Girls showed up with spirit on Saturday, making it to the final round of auditions. Casey and Amira, both 21, will continue to fulfill their childhood dreams should they make the team for their respective fifth and second seasons.

"I saw their style and I loved it…that they were so confident and just looked so together on the court. It was such a team," Casey, a San Ramon Valley High grad, said of her desire to join the Warrior Girls. "You looked at them and just saw beauty and talent and they were just so exciting to watch. Their energy and the way they moved together was so great to watch."

A Warrior Girl since she was 18, Casey has been dancing most of her life. She danced with the Danville Ballet Company and studied at the Contra Costa Ballet Company before focusing more on jazz, funk and hip-hop techniques. In addition to learning the Warrior Girl style -- which she describes as fun and energetic, often combining new moves with older songs -- Casey said the past few years on the team have been crucial in her life.

"As a woman, I grew up on this team…. I learned dedication, professionalism, how to represent yourself in the best way, how to network, so many crucial tools to not only become an adult, but a business woman as well," she said.

During the season break and summer vacation from studying dietetics at San Francisco State, Casey said she has done a lot of physical and mental training. In addition to taking dance classes, she works out four to five days a week and watches her diet.

"I try not to think about not making (the team). I try to just focus and say 'this is the year you have to prove yourself. You have to fight harder…have to give it your all, do the best you possibly can,'" she said. "When a dancer wants to be there and really truly wants to perform and loves what she does, you can see it on her face. You can see how much I love to dance."

With one year on the team, Monte Vista grad Amira said she was excited to audition and see who else would try out. Having training in several forms of dance and two years on the Phoenix Suns dance team, Amira exudes passion on the court.

"I get to do what I love as one of my jobs, it's great. I'm performing in front of thousands of people on a weekly basis and I'm absolutely doing what I love," she said.

Although last year's audition process was radically different due to the NBA lockout, Amira said her experience and commitment to the team's various community service projects will work to her advantage.

"It shows my commitment level…but also I have a very strong technical background as a dancer and (Sabrina is) going for more jazz this year and more technique, so I hope it'll give me a little more advantage," Amira said, adding, "Being on various NBA teams on the past never hurts."

In addition to talent, time management and the ability to remember up to 80 routines each year, Warrior Girls must be dedicated to the community and the Warriors brand. Dancers routinely visit food banks and hospitals, and recently helped clean up the Alameda water line.

"We're not only dancers, but brand ambassadors as well. You have to learn how to represent your self in a certain light and bring that authenticity and respect of the organization to that," Casey said.

Part of the audition process includes an interview portion to ensure that dancers are polished and will get along well, Ellison said. Dancers should be approachable with a positive attitude because they are put in front of everyone from fans to media personnel, she added.

"You have to be able to converse with people, it's not just standing out on the court and looking pretty and waving our poms," Amira said. "We're out in the community…It makes you a better, well-rounded woman. And Sabrina really emphasizes being professional and always looking your best; it grooms us to be the professionals we want to be."

Warrior Girls are encouraged to keep that business-minded attitude on various trips around the world, including Italy, Japan and China. In June, Amira and six other dancers went to Wuhan, China to perform at a car show for one of the sponsors of the NBA. The women performed for seven days, but also had the opportunity to sightsee and relax.

Similarly, Casey visited Shanghai and performed at another auto show. Casey said it was the best trip she had taken and enjoyed the time she spent exploring the city and culture with other dancers.

"We bonded a lot on the trip. Being able to perform in front of people who are from a different culture was amazing too because they really, truly appreciate what we do because there isn't as much of it where they live as in America," she said.

While dancing for the Warrior Girls does come with perks, it is a grueling schedule that has the team together nearly seven days a week. The Girls usually practice three days a week but can practice every day if there is a game. Casey said the team will usually arrive at the arena by 4 p.m. on game day, dance twice, and stay until 11 p.m. In addition, the team will participate in over 100 events each year.

As a result, the team members are extremely close. Both Amira and Casey said the Warrior Girls are like a family -- one that they see more often than their blood relations. If they earn spots on the team for the 2012-13 season, both said they are most looking forward to seeing old friends again and making new ones.

"I have met girls every year and I have met some of the best friends I will ever have in my life. They go from being acquaintances to family; there about 10 girls that I know will be at my wedding and will be there when my kids are born," Casey said.

In the meantime, Casey, Amira and 34 other finalists -- who made it through two rounds of dance as well as interviews this weekend -- will participate in a final audition on Thursday. This year's team will be announced on July 27.

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