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SANDY BANKS

Shaking their booty after 40

Sparks' cheerleading tryout reawakens some youthful dreams.

April 05, 2010|Sandy Banks

My resume was a little thin. My last cheerleading stint was in high school, and the only dance classes I ever took involved tap shoes and pink tutus 40 years ago.

Still, the invitation to try out for the Ole Skool Crew -- the over-40 cheerleading squad for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks -- was too good to pass up for a woman whose favorite exercise routine is dancing to Lil Wayne in the car.

So on Saturday, I joined about 30 women -- between ages 41 and 63 -- in the gym at L.A. Trade Tech, auditioning before a panel of judges that included some Ole Skool Crew veterans and a ballroom pro once on "Dancing With the Stars."

I figured I might be out of my league when I saw the warmup routines of competitors.

Like Darcel Wynne, who's 58 but moves like she did 30 years ago when she was a dancer on "Solid Gold." And the pair of lithe, leotard-clad gals who effortlessly bent to touch their toes and shimmied like they'd practiced on stripper poles.

I filled out the application, tucked away my reading glasses and tried to remember the dance moves that seem so cool when I'm grooving at home, alone in the kitchen as I cook dinner.

::

For the Sparks, the mature-and-lovely cheerleaders are more than halftime filler or a marketing gimmick. The squad visits schools, health fairs and community forums, promoting fitness among girls and women.

The women trying to join the squad ranged from the rail-thin aerobics instructor to a matronly grandma who "cuts a rug" at church socials.

Some came because they're Sparks fans, like 54-year-old Marla Glover, who dances in the stands during the team's Staples Center games. Glover didn't make the cut, but she was clearly having fun. "You're not the best dancer I've ever seen," one judge said, "but I'd love to go out with you for a drink."

And some came because they like to boogie.

Arlene Medina, 63, has never been to a Sparks basketball game. But she's always "the first one on the floor" at church dances, and dances nonstop at Pomona's concerts in the park.

The only dance lesson she's ever had was "country-western, 10 years ago," she told me.

But she did a smooth rendition of the electric slide for her impromptu freestyle routine. The song was a raucous "Get Off" by Foxy, "but I can do it to just about anything," she said.

She wondered if she should have done the power jam instead, when she learned that most of the other contestants relied more on shaking their hips and lifting their legs.

Medina bombed on the choreographed group dance routine. She was concentrating on getting the elbow move right while the others were doing the "booty roll."

But she wasn't the least bit discouraged: "I've just never done hip-hop before." She might come back and try out next year, or she might form her own dance troupe, she said.

"The Party Starters," she could call it, "because my girlfriends and me, we're the ones who get everything started."

::

Like Medina, I realized early on I wasn't going to make the squad. I was lost on my freestyle routine, when I drew a Justin Timberlake song.

Landing with the rejects turned me back into -- in the words of the choreographer -- "just another woman jamming in the bedroom in your bathrobe."

But the day was so much fun, it didn't matter. If getting older isn't always getting better, these ladies made it feel like a lot of fun.

We lamented the grinding that our children call dancing, and reminisced about house parties "back in the day," when we'd dance until we sweated our hairstyles out.

Still, it was clear that many of us were wrestling with the notion of getting old.

Like Virginia Watson, 53, a former USC Song Girl and original Laker Girl who told the judges she takes "16 dance classes so I don't get Alzheimer's."

And Elaine Gallegos, a 47-year-old empty nester from Pomona, who came "looking for something to do, so I'm not lonely and old."

Gallegos wowed the judges -- and the other contestants -- with hip-hop moves so stylish and smooth, my 21-year-old daughter wanted lessons from her.

Saturday's audition was about more than dancing for Gallegos. It felt like a last chance to catch a dream, to showcase a talent, to resurrect a sense of who she used to be.

She grew up dancing to Motown tunes. At parties, wedding receptions, clubs, people would gather 'round to watch her moves. "It always came naturally to me," she said.

She showed up at the tryouts dressed like the softball player she was in her youth, wearing a pair of baggy jeans, her "lucky" New York Jets T-shirt, her daughter's Converse sneakers.

And although the judges praised her style, her flash, her energy, Gallegos couldn't catch on to the dance routine -- which even veteran Ole Skool Crew members called one of the toughest they'd ever seen.

"You put everything you want to do on the back burner," said Gallegos, a meter reader whose two children are grown and on their own. "I just wanted to do something I love, something I'm good at."

All around, women nodded. It's the sort of midlife crisis moms recognize.

Gallegos felt "devastated," she said, when the judges brushed her off. But she wiped tears off her cheek, waved goodbye and said she'd try to prepare for the next time.

I'm hoping she headed home like I did -- with music blasting from her car, the soundtrack to dreams still alive in her head.

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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