Inside D1 Sports Training, 30 women perform a newly learned dance routine on a small basketball gym floor.
One woman, in the back, stops mid-performance to fix her top after realizing it had come undone. None of the other women notice because they are solely focused on their performance.
It’s the Dallas Mavericks Dancers training camp. After 300 women went through the rounds of auditions, 30 women remain, but only 20 will be chosen for the final team.
Trying out for and being on the team again means a lot to Emily Villarreal, a one-year veteran of the dance squad. Having already experienced the high of performing at sold-out Mavericks games and becoming best friends with her teammates, she knows how much she has to lose.
“Going into my second year means more than my first year because I know what I have to lose,” she says. “All of these girls are my best friends and just the opportunities that I’ve had with the Mavericks this year, I definitely don’t want to give that up, so it means everything to me to come back and make it my second year.”
About 45 minutes before the final night of training camp begins, Villarreal sits in a small room inside D1 Sports Training surrounded by her dancing peers. They are applying makeup, teasing their hair and changing into their clothes to prep for the last night of training camp before the squad is announced. Most have just fought rush-hour traffic driving from their full-time jobs or schools. But all of the prepping has gone on for a while. Prep classes were offered to the women, one hour Monday through Thursday. Even though she had made the team once before, Villarreal still attended the prep classes to feel extra prepared. With all of the time spent, she compares being on the team to a full-time job.
“It’s a lot of work. I feel like this is basically a full-time job as well, because we have practice every night or we have games or appearances,” she says. “I just feel like it’s a lot to handle, but it’s worth it.”
Outside of the small room, Mallory Mills, the director of the Dallas Mavericks Dancers, greets each woman as she walks in the training facility.
She is friendly. The women show her their respect by answering, “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am.”
It’s all familiar for Mills, however. Tall with short brown hair, Mills easily could be mistaken for one of the dancers. She was in their position years ago, performing as a Dallas Mavericks Dancer for seven years. She’s been director for six.
“I guess for me, being in their shoes before, it kind of pulls on my heartstrings a little bit because I can tell if a girl was awesome, you know, she was so good and then she came to auditions and her nerves just got the best of her,” Mills says. “So I’m kind of a sucker for that. I’m always like, ‘She was really good at prep class, I want to see what she can do after.’ Because for some people, it’s just like taking tests. Some people aren’t good at it.”
After stretching, the candidates shed a layer of clothing to practice and learn their routines in black shorts and a black half-top. Mills asks to see the women, 10 at a time, perform last night’s routine. She sits on the ground with a notebook and watches each of the women.
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Afterward, a veteran of the squad teaches the women a new dance she choreographed. She goes over every move with counts, as well as words. “So your butt is going out on 8,” she says to the women. “You’re going to do a stanky leg on 1, 2.”
The women pick up the routine quickly. After 40 minutes, the minute-or-so routine is taught and there are no major hiccups. The candidates’ hair is down and their earrings are in place. While they are sweating, they continue to smile and focus throughout.
“This week in training camp, we look for the performance,” Mills says. “I mean, obviously, we did as well on Saturday and Sunday, but they’re nervous, so this week, it’s more of, ‘Are they going to shine, are they thriving, are they getting better than they were on Saturday?’”
The final squad will be announced Thursday.