As Gothamist has been working with the NY Knicks on this Sunday's Singles Night promotion, we had the opportunity to talk to some more people who are integral to any Knicks home game: The Knicks City Dancers. We asked Kimberlee Garris (whose nickname is "Harvard"), Erika Hamilton (a pizzaholic - alert Slice!) and team captain Michelle Marella a few questions about life in and out of Madison Square Garden.
How old are you and where do you live?
Kimberlee Garris (photo of Kimberlee in action): 25; Manhattan
Erika Hamilton (photo of Erika in action): 25; Long Island City
Michelle Marella: 25; Manhattan
How did you become a KCD?
EH: There were auditions in July.
KG: I first auditioned at an open call in the summer of 2002. Out of hundreds of dancers, I made it down to the final three women up for the "fan vote" spot on the team. I didn't end up winning the spot, but I was so excited to have made it that far. I worked hard over the next year to get in better shape and to improve my dancing and tumbling.
The next summer I went to the open call again, and I made the team.
MM: This is my 5th season. In college, I had a friend that danced on the Liberty Torch Patrol (the co-ed team for the WBNA). He invited me to audition for that team, and I made it! As I got to interact with the KCD that also danced for the LTP, I really wanted to dance for the Knicks. I didn't make it the first time I auditioned, or the second. So that was really hard for me, but I persevered and worked harder to become a better dancer, and eventually made it on the third try! So it means a lot to me to be here, let alone be the Captain!
Tell us a little about a day of a Knicks City Dancer.
EH: On game days, we have to be at Madison Square Garden four hours before the start of the game. We go through court rehearsal until we look perfect. Depending on how many dances we're doing, it'll take anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 hours. Which gives us enough time to eat dinner and get all glammed up for the game.
MM: Once our hair and makeup are perfect, we carefully get dressed and pin all the important items into place (Knicks logos, dance tights, hair, accessories) so that nothing peeks out or falls off during the performance.
KG: We will rehearse each dance in the back one last time before we hit the court. Also, we always huddle up with hands joined before we go out. Michelle helps us to get focused, and we do a KCD cheer as a group to get pumped up.
EH: We have 17 dancers, but we have a rotation schedule where only 12 dance at the games. We practice 2 nights a week for 3 hours, and we generally have 2 games a week.
How do you choose the dance routines? Who chooses the music?
KG: Our Director, Petra Pope, selects most of the music for our routines, but some of the dancers also will offer suggestions. We have a number of choreographers who come in and set routines on us.
MM: The selection has to be diverse for each game - we can't perform only hip hop routines in 1 game. A game will usually consist of a theme piece (e.g. a Country Western or Salsa piece), a hip hop routine (like 1-2 Step), and an athletic crowd pleaser (like Everybody Dance Now). Once a song is chosen, then a cut is given to the appropriate choreographer (we have quite a few), [who] will come in for one rehearsal and teach choreography. The next rehearsal, we all collaborate and adjust the choreography to make it "court-worthy" with different tricks and adaptations to the moves. By the next
rehearsal, we really drill the number and set it in formation for 12 dancers to perform at a specific game.
What's the best (or funniest) reaction to a dance routine?
MM: Ethan Hawke comes to many Knicks games and sits in "Celebrity Row". I distinctly remember being in the front of the formation for one routine, close to where he sat. When we finished the routine, he
jumped up and clapped and cheered so loudly. We don't usually get a reaction like that from celebrities - it was great!
EH: My favorite reaction was from LL Cool J when we danced to his song, "Headsprung." He seemed so psyched, he was grinning from ear to ear. But in general, the crowd's response when we're announced and run out on the court and to some of the crzy tricks we do is the greatest feeling. All the "oohs" and "aahhhs" make me feel really special.
Are there other places in city where you like to see dance?
KG: My favorite dance company is Alvin Ailey. I see them at least once every year during their season at City Center. I also love going to Broadway shows. Movin' Out is one of my favorites, because of the incredible dancing.
MM: I love American Ballet Theatre and Alvin Ailey.
What's something most Knicks fans don't realize about the Knicks City Dancers?
KG: Most Knicks fans don't realize that in addition to being great dancers, the Knicks City Dancers are all extremely intelligent and multi-talented women. I have a degree in cognitive neuroscience from Harvard, and some of the other dancers attended top schools such as Columbia, Boston College, Fordham, and NYU.
MM: They are usually surprised since they've never met a KCD before, so they're usually interested in how much time I spend doing this, what the perks are, and if we hang out with the players (which we do not).
EH: Most people are impressed. The best reaction I received was from two guys who were pretty well-known themselves. They made me feel like it was the collect thing in the world.
Do you have a full-time job?
KG: During my first season with the KCD I was working full time doing pharmaceutical research in psychiatry. While the Knicks were off-season, I took some time off from my day job to perform in a play. Currently I am working for a global marketing research firm that specializes in healthcare.
EH: I work at a market research firm, about 30 hours a week - thankfully my job is really flexible with my Knicks schedule.
MM: Yes, I'm a project manager at Seneca Design, a luxury packaging design and manufacturing company.
What is your dance background? What other kinds of dance do you like?
MM: I always took dance and gymnastics when I was younger, but I wasn't very serious about it until I got to high school and joined the pom squad. I also danced for the NYU Dance Team, so I feel like I've cheered/danced at basketball games my whole life! It's funny because I came to New York to go to business school, but somehow I became even more interested in becoming a professional dancer. I really love jazz, modern and ballet, but synchronized dance team style is my strength.
EH: I took ballet and gymnastics when I was younger. I went on to focus on gymnastics for 10 years. I danced for the University of Cincinnati for 4 years, and then the 76ers for 1 year. And I like jazz and modern dance. I like watching all kinds of dance - Afridan, salsa, ballroom, tap.
KG: I've been dancing since age 3. I've studied ballet, jazz, tap, modern, lyrical, musical theater, and acrobatics.
What is the best game you've seen?
KG: The games are always exciting, especially since we get to watch from some of the best seats in the house. The best games are always when it's down to the wire and the Knicks pull off a victory right at the buzzer.
MM: It would have to be the day the Knicks retired Patrick Ewing's jersey. It was really emotional and the fans were so pumped. There was such an amazing energy in the Garden that night!
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