A typical day in the life of a HEAT dancer seems to have two parts: the part where you’re a HEAT dancer, and the part where you’re not.
Almost every one of the 25 women on the Miami HEAT Dance team either goes to school or holds a day job. Some are nine to five, some are seven to three. There are realtors, bartenders, baby-sitters, and dance instructors, among a plethora of others. Some pull double duty, with multiple jobs, some with a job and school. Some choreograph for others, and some hope to work with world-famous choreographers. Days are filled with alarm clocks, auditions, traffic, and sometimes, clients who don’t cooperate with already jam-packed schedules.
When you look at them this way, when you hear about their day jobs, and their daily routines, these women are not very different from you or me. These ladies seem like every other woman you see on the street – albeit very, very fit. There is one crucial difference though, between these sexy ladies and the average Jane: These women are Miami HEAT Dancers.
These women are a part of the four-years-running Most Popular Dance Team in the NBA. They represent and support Miami’s own HEAT. Some of them have been dancing since they were 3 years old, and some started much later. But with all their differences, and all their normalcy during the day, when the clock strikes game time—or practice time, which is more like it—all else falls away, and they become the dancers they’ve always dreamed of being.
Ambition and Determination
It starts with a week-long audition process that sounds equal parts grueling and brutal. Two-hundred-plus girls are whittled down to roughly 25 – depending on how many the team is taking that year. “You have different rounds,” explains Sari, a five-year veteran of the team, who has gone through this process all five years. Oh, yes, you have to audition every time, no matter how long you’ve been on the team. “So the first round, you have a group of eight, and you’re in numerical order, and they just throw on music,” she continues. “They want to see your freestyle and see how you move to different styles of music. Then they say, ‘Number 2, 6 and 8, please stay. The rest of you all, go.’”
Clearly, the pressure’s on. Countless hours of choreography, a week-long boot camp, butt-kicking trainers, and judges-watching-every-move-you-make later, there’s a runway show. Maria, a rookie to the team who recently went through the experience for the first time, explains: “For the Miami HEAT, you’re setting an example, you’re a role model for many people. They want you to be fit, healthy girls who are able to perform in front of thousands of people.”
It’s more than just the dancing that’s being judged. “It’s the style that you put into the dancing,” says Maria. “You have to have personality. You have to have your own unique something that sets you apart from everybody else. You could have a different look, but it’s what you do through dance that makes you stand out even more.”
“Whatever you do, just bring out you, and you’re okay,” adds Shea, a two-year veteran of the team.
After all of that comes the waiting. Three hours or more for the judges to make their final picks from the 40 or so women who have survived the week, to the ones that will be representing the Miami HEAT. “The scariest part is just waiting for ever and ever and you can’t do anything else. Your audition is over and now it’s in the judges’ hands,” says Sari. “When they called my name, I didn’t know if they called it for not making it, or making it!” she laughs.
It all becomes worthwhile when they finally set foot out on the basketball court for the first time. “It’s hard to put into words,” says Shara, another rookie. “It was almost overwhelming, but at the same time I felt like I was home. Like I found that place where I feel completely at home.” She goes on: “I remember the veterans telling us about what it’s like, before the season started, and they couldn’t even explain it. It brought tears to their eyes because they remember that feeling. But it’s just so hard to explain.”
“It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been doing it, I always get butterflies, and I always get nervous,” says Sari, one of those veterans. “It’s just the most amazing feeling to know that you’re going to walk out and dance on the court, and everybody’s attention is going to be on you.”
Fierce and Style
So what does it take to keep up with the Most Popular Dance Team in the NBA? Practice. Lots and lots of practice: four days a week, three and half to four hours a day, at least, along with the classes and training they do on their own. Not that these women are complaining. “It’s nice when you have a stressful day at work, and at the end of it getting to dance, and getting to perform,” explains Sari. Maria agrees, “Sometimes when I’m having a horrible day, I just want to dance, and it’s therapeutic. It helps me. Dance has always been there for me.”
Bonding with their teammates isn’t bad either. “You would think: 25 women, practicing four days a week, three hours a day, there would be some drama – but it’s really not like that,” says Shara. “We have a great group, and everybody’s very supportive and we all get along. We’re like a sorority.”
“The bond that you create with the girls, and being able to perform on the court at games and knowing that you’re a part of the NBA and the HEAT organization, I think that’s the most rewarding,” says Sari. “Out of all the girls who try out, you made it. You have a special place on that team … and you’re getting to do – and perform – what your passion is.”
Spend some time talking with the Miami HEAT dancers, and you’ll hear a lot about passion.
“I feel like all of us are so passionate about it,” says Shara. “It’s not just the few of us, every single one of us is wanting to be there. We know that, for whatever reason, things happen and it doesn’t last forever, but we just hold onto it so tight and just hope that we continue to excel at and continue to be a part of this great experience and wonderful group of women. We hold on to it, and we cherish it.”
Ask four different Miami HEAT dancers what it takes to be a HEAT dancer, in one word, and you get four different words: “There are so many words to choose from,” says Sari. “Because we’re so much more than just dancers, but I would just say fierce. From head to toe, in and out.” “Style,” adds Shea. “And that can be with anything. You just have to bring this presence about you, about the way you dance, the way you carry yourself.” “Dedicated,” says Shara simply. Maria’s got a different take: “Ambition.”
Fierce + style + dedicated + ambition = HEAT dancer?
“It’s still amazing,” says Shara, of making the team. “Every time people ask me, ‘How’s everything with the HEAT?’ I just light up. It’s the best feeling to be so passionate about what you do for a living. I love it. I feel like there’s something missing if you don’t love what you do. I’m just so glad I’m able to find that, because not many people do.”
“If you can wake up doing something that you love and enjoy,” says Sari. “And you have a passion for it, then follow that, because that’s when you’re really, fully, happy and content.”
Ah, of course. The magic ingredient: passion.
“Dancing is my happy place,” says Sari. “If I can go anywhere with it, I’ll go with it. But just to know that when I put that uniform on, and I’m a HEAT dancer. It’s just an amazing feeling. I’m doing something that I absolutely love.”
And what of the future? Like their current lives and typical days, it’s split between dreams and ambitions ranging from traveling the world, to becoming diplomats, crime scene investigators, entering the medical fields and teaching, and the always, ever-present constant in each of these women’s lives: dance.
“I just can’t see myself doing anything else,” says Maria. “Dancing is all I know and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. It’s who I am.”
Sari adds, “I think you have one life to live, and why not try it all? So long as there’s dancing, I’m good.” -DUO
The Miami Dancing Heat
"A Typical Day in the life of a Miami Heat Dancer"
Written by Francesca Franco