For the past several years, the Phoenix Suns have held a preseason game in the city of Indian Wells, California, which is just a stone’s throw from Palm Springs. One interesting aspect of this game is that it is played in the outdoors at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, better known as the home of the BNP Paribas Open. So, I was interested in covering this event since it would be played in a unique setting and would feature the Phoenix Suns Dancers, one of the hottest dance teams in the NBA.
Kari Herrick, the Manager of the Suns Dancers, allowed me exclusive access to the squad as they prepared for their Indian Wells visit. In this article, we will give our readers a glimpse into all that is involved in preparing for game day from the perspective of a Suns Dancer. What is it all like? Long hours, hard work and being an ambassador of the organization from the moment you arrive. So, please enjoy our article on a day in the life of a Suns Dancer.
Though the game was scheduled to tip off at 6:40 pm, the Suns Dancers were scheduled to arrive at 2:00 pm to begin rehearsing their pregame and game performances. They were joined by the world famous Gorilla mascot, the verve Sol Patrol, the APS Solar Squad and the PHX Percussion. Game night entertainment is a tightly coordinated and choreographed series of performances under the direction of Kip Helt, the Vice President for Game Entertainment. The Suns Dancers are only one aspect of game night entertainment and they work very closely with the other units to ensure a festive and fun filled evening of entertainment.
So at 2:00 pm, the Suns Dancers along with all the other entertainment units began to rehearse the pregame ceremonies, which included the unfurling of a gigantic American flag. Rehearsing this portion of the program was important as you can imagine because the logistical constraints of playing on a tennis court. It is not easy moving the flag in and out with all the people court side in such a confined space, so practice was necessary to ensure no disruption would entail.
The Suns Dancers were scheduled to take the court from 3:00 pm – 3:30 pm to rehearse their game night routines, but several dancers were involved in other aspects of game night, such as in game contests and giveaways, and were expected to practice with the other units. So, the squad stayed court side through the long and very hot rehearsal session.
When it was there turn to take the court, Kari Herrick led them in a run through of the two primary routines to work out any last minutes details…like where and when to enter the court. Simple things like that can be very complicated in the small confines of center court at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
The rehearsals were completed at 4:00 pm and the Suns Dancers retired to their staging area…a rather smallish lounge adjacent to the weight room that they shared with the other entertainment squads. The rest rooms would serve as the dressing rooms. They had 45 minutes to freshen up, put on their make up and dress for their next assignment, VIP meet and greet.
Shortly before 4:45 pm. Kari led half her squad to the VIP reception area and positioned them to meet and greet various influential persons to this night’s event. They included members of the owner’s family, corporate sponsors, media partners and special guests. This is a very important aspect of a Suns Dancer’s responsibility, taking care of the people who take care of the Suns.
There was some down time as the VIPs slowly filtered into the reception area and I could not let this opportunity go to waste. So I took a few posed snap shots of the Suns Dancers. That’s part of their responsibilities as well…posing for photos with fans…and credentialed media.
After 20 minutes, Kari escorted the other half of the squad to the VIP reception area and I continued to try to find new and creative ways to photograph the girls, but inevitably I came back to that little corner off to the side.
I must say the Suns Dancers were resplendent in their purple mini dresses. It’s the type of outfit that flatters the feminine form, but I was disappointed to hear they would not be performing in these lovely outfits. They are a little too confining for a dance performance and tend to ride up. Disappointed as I was, I understood.
A little before 6:00 pm, the Suns Dancers reconvened in their staging area to change into their first half uniforms and to do some last minute touch ups to their hair and make up. Then it was off to court side to prepare for the pregame festivities.
While we awaited the start of the pregame, there was a celebrity sighting in the tunnel. Lurch from the Addams Family was resting on one of the golf carts.
At 6:32 pm it was time for the national anthem and the presentation of the gigantic American flag. By now court side was packed with fans (those fortunate to have court side seats), print media, television media, security, and event staff. The house was full with excited fans as the Suns Dancers pumped up the crowd during the player introductions.
As I mentioned earlier, the time out periods are a carefully coordinated schedule of events designed to create a fun filled game night experience for all. Everything from the in game host (Cedric Ceballos) to the video board and sound system to the on court entertainers are coordinated to full effect, so that when it’s time to perform all goes smoothly.
And at the under three minute television time out in the first quarter, the Suns Dancers took the court and performed a country inspired routine to the song, “Shut Up and Let Me Go”.
The Suns Dancers quickly made their way to a very small room off of the tunnel to change back into their regular attire. Though their next on court performance wouldn’t be until the second half, several of the dancers were involved in other game entertainment festivities and their presence was required court side.
At half time, the Suns Dancers retired to their small dressing room to change into their second half uniforms, a orange two piece outfit. I stayed court side to take in The Gorilla and his half court shot attempts. But soon, it was game time again and I took the opportunity to snap a quick shot of Suns guard and future Hall of Famer Steve Nash.
At the third quarter under three minute television time out, the Suns Dancers took the court for a second time. They performed their audition routine to the Miley Cyrus song, “Can’t Be Tamed”.
As the fourth quarter rolled around, I realized that the Suns Dancers would be on court for a third time and made sure I was in position to catch the other side of the squad. There aren’t too many places to sit court side, but I had found an unoccupied seat on the side opposite the team side and sat there for most of the game. But, at the under six minute television time out, I made my way to the other side to shoot the Suns Dancers. This routine is called a split where half of the squad performs to one side and the other half the opposite side.
As evening turned into night and the game ended, the Suns Dancers performed a few freestyle routines as the Suns players tossed t-shirts into the stands. It was officially post game and the Suns Dancers were still on court celebrating the victory as the crowd made their way to the exits.
And then it was over. Kari and her girls left the court to gather their belongings and made their way to the bus for the long ride home. It was near 9:20 pm. The drive to Phoenix would be at least three hours, so for the Suns Dancers their game day wouldn’t end until well after midnight.
It was long day and a hard day, but one that was memorable. Being a Suns Dancer is not all glitz and glamor. As I learned, it’s a lot of long hours and hard work just to be able to perform three two minute routines on court. You have to be dedicated and willing to sacrifice in order to be a Phoenix Suns Dancer.
But it has its rewards as well, so the girls tell me. Rewards like the chance to perform in front of large crowds, meeting the all fans and representing the Phoenix Suns organization in the community. For me, it was a reward just to get a glimpse into a day in the life of a Suns Dancer.
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I would like to express my deep gratitude to Kari Herrick and the Suns organization for allowing me this unique opportunity to cover their squad.