Joining Laker Girls More Than a Dance

EL SEGUNDO-Aspiring models. Dancers. In-training actresses. College students. Professionals in just about every walk of life. They all come. They are all allured to the prospect of having the opportunity to become a member of the famed Laker Girls dance team.

Every summer hundreds of women pull out their leotards and dance outfits to show up and strut their stuff in hopes of making the cut to join the premier dance team in the NBA. Saturday, July 11, was no different, as the 2015-2016 Laker Girls audition was met with gleeful anxiety and jittery anticipation.

For Tara, a dance major at UC Irvine, the chance of becoming a member of the Laker Girls, is an exciting opportunity.

“The Laker Girls are such well-rounded, phenomenal women. They stand for a such a great organization,” Tara said. “I think you learn poise. You learn how to be involved in charity and dancing doing what you love all at the same time. I think they are role models for a lot of people.”

This participant works it out during the 2015 Laker  Girls  tryout on Saturday, July 11, 2015. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman
This participant works it out during the 2015-2016 Laker Girls audition on Saturday, July 11, 2015. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Several hundred women, hair and makeup appropriately done up for an open audition at the Los Angeles Lakers’ El Segundo practice facility, put their best game faces on as they tried to capture the essence of being a Laker Girl through kicks, spins and difficult dance moves. Yes, the Toyota Sports Complex was popping with sweat as the tryout session would be whittled down to 36 participants claiming a spot as a finalist.

As one might imagine, the daylong tryout was intense. Jitters swelled not just in the novice dancer, but also in the experienced performer. Dreams are lived out here. Then there is the other side where ambitious aspirations are put on hold. This was Taylor’s second go round trying out for the dance team. She made it all the way to final cut last year, and said she was just as tight coming into this audition as she did in her initial try.

“I felt pretty nervous,” said Taylor, one of the 36 finalists. “This is my second year auditioning, so I know what to expect, coming here and giving my best. I feel a little bit more prepared this year. It’s kind of nice knowing what to expect. I feel like I have a better edge, I guess. It calms the nerves, but makes them worst at the same time.”

Being a part of the Laker Girls has always been a dream for Taylor.

“It’s just been a dream of mine since I’ve been a little girl,” said Taylor. “I’ve been cheering and dancing most of my life, so I feel like this is just the next step in my dance career.”

Double trouble: Two performers looking pretty happy after surviving the first round of cuts during the 2015 LA Laker Girls tryout Saturday, July 11, 2015. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman
Double trouble: Brittany and Nicolette, two performers looking pretty happy after surviving the first round of cuts during the 2015-2016 Laker Girls audition Saturday, July 11, 2015. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

The exciting buildup of taking part in the exercise of joining the prestigious dance team in the NBA presents itself as a daunting challenge as cuts becomes the necessary evaluator of the talent pool. Current members of the dance team are not spared the audition process. For some, this is old hat.

For others, going through the yearly tryout can be just as nerve-wracking as the first time they went through the process. There are no free passes here. To be a member of the Laker Girls, everything must be right and tight.

After all, the Lakers, with 16 NBA championships titles, are the most heralded basketball franchise in the league with its worldwide appeal. All one has to do is drop some names. West. Elgin. Kareem. Magic. Wilt. Chick. Shaq. Kobe.

If you want to get into historical context, the Laker Girls became an embedded part of the “Showtime” era when owner, the late Dr. Jerry Buss, used his entertainment value vision to create the famous dance squad. Lisa Estrada, director of Game Operations & Entertainment and Laker Girls director, has taken Dr. Buss’ vision to a higher altitude with the team’s seamless, dazzling routines.

However, it takes a whole lot more than being a great dancer to become a Laker Girl. The Los Angeles Lakers are the consummate sports team brand, not just in the NBA-but in all of sports. Representing the organization is like grabbing a pot of gold. It takes a little more than a few kicks and a couple swivel of the hips to be part of the face of the legendary franchise.

Estrada briefly spoke on what the process encompasses and the yearly challenge to keep the Laker Girls elite and as goodwill ambassadors.

“It’s just a challenge all the way around, just like the basketball team,” Estrada said. “We want to obviously make sure that we pick girls who are: number one, good dancers; number two, good entertainers; and number three, good ambassadors. So today really is the open call on the dancing. It’s all the first two things that I mentioned, which is good dancers and good entertainment.

“If they make it past today, then we’ll go ahead and do interviews,  and that is when we get to meet them to see if they will be good brand ambassadors. We want people out in the community-Laker Girls-that are people’s people, that will represents us to the utmost ability. So that is what we’ll be looking forward to when it comes to interviews. It’s a challenge, but I love it. I love meeting these girls who want to be part of this organization.”

This 2015-2016 Laker Girls audition participant gets into the swing of things on Saturday, July 11, 2015. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

When you think of the Laker Girls, you think of them in the same breath as the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders as the elite dance squads in all of team sports. There’s the Laker Girls and Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and then there’s the rest., which annually puts out its NBA Dancers rankings, emphasizes that point by hailing the Laker Girls as the No. 1 dance team.

There are plenty of hot dance teams in the NBA. They’re all good. But there is just one Laker Girls dance squad. You make the cut here, you can call your shot elsewhere in the entertainment industry. Hollywood Walk of Fame inductee Paula Abdul and other former Laker Girls can attest to that.

After making it past the first round of cuts, Anabel gushed about the possibility of seeing her dream come true of being a Laker Girl.

“This is a big step for me to become a professional dancer,” Anabel said. “Overall, they’re so unified. They really stand out over the other NBA dance teams. They’re so well-known, and I think the way they move, the way their tradition stands and their family-friendly images…is really inspiring to me.”

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