College Dance Team Central

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Feature On Former ECU Dancer

Williamson on Bobcats Dance Team

By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
Washington Daily News

Jennifer Williamson used to get a rush performing in front of the Minges Maniacs. But that pales in comparison to how Williamson feels when she struts her stuff in front of thousands of fans.

Williamson, a former ECU Dance Team member, is now a performer with the Charlotte Bobcats Dance Team.

While several eyes follow her every move, Williamson says the most gratifying feeling she gets is putting a smile on a little girl’s face.

“The most exciting part is all the fans that truly love us,” Williamson said. “There are people that love the dancers as much as the team. They want our autographs, pictures with us, or just to talk to us.

“The little girls look up to you and want to be just like you. I remember being that little girl myself once. Now I’m the one they are looking at. It’s such an inspiring thought. For me, that is the best part.”

While Williamson has danced in front of large audiences before, she still remembers her first performance at Charlotte Bobcats Arena.

“Performing in an NBA arena for the first time was unbelievable,” she said. “After doing this for so many years, you try to fight the nerves with thoughts like, ‘It’s just another stage, just a different place," or ‘I’ve got this; I’ve done it a million times before; I know what I’m doing.’ But in all actuality, our arena seats over 20,000 people. It’s a whole new level of excitement.

“There are thousands of eyes on you from all directions in the stands, cameras right in your face trying to capture close-ups for the big screens and for television, photographers lined up along the sidelines and the giant-sized NBA basketball players sharing the stage with me. It is so loud from screaming fans. I am smiling and dancing, feeling the adrenaline throughout my body, and trying not to trip over the camera guy and his cables.”

Williamson and her teammates do much more than just perform at games.

“The Bobcats organization plays a huge role in the Charlotte community, so we are constantly being asked to do things outside the arena,” Williamson said. “We do many charity events, general promotions for the basketball season, traveling promoting the team, parades and attending other local sporting events on behalf of the Bobcats.”

Williamson had to go through a rigorous tryout to make the team. She was one of over 400 applicants who signed up for auditions.

“The actual audition process consisted of a series of learning routines, performing them on the spot and casual interviews,” Williamson said. “A group of 35 finalists were chosen to go through the next two weeks of practices, drills and a formal interview with the coach and judges.

“Our interview was filmed to judge us on how we came across on television, due to the extensive media we are around. On the final night of auditions, we had to perform five different routines, perform with the group and sit rather impatiently waiting on the judges decisions.”

The judges and coaches picked 19 team members and four alternates. Williamson still remembers her reaction to hearing her name get called.

“I heard the words, ‘Contestant No. 4, Jennifer,’ and I completely forgot that was me,” she said with a laugh. “I was completely speechless. I ran down to the court, got my ‘Welcome to the team t-shirt’ and started taking pictures for the first time. It was during those first photo-flashes that it really started to sink in. All I could think was, ‘wow.’”

Now that she’s made the team, the attractive, athletic performer constantly works out to stay in shape.

“To even be considered at this caliber, you have to come with a certain ‘look.’” Williamson said. “You have to be physically fit from the beginning to make it anywhere near the finals. I usually go running two to three times a week. I have different aerobic routines I do on my own once in awhile, and each practice is basically two hours of cardio. It’s tough sometimes but, in the end, it’s worth it.”

It takes much more than simply being pretty and physically fit to compete at the next level. Going from high school to college is a giant step in its own right.

“To get to the next level in anything takes determination, discipline and a true commitment to whatever it is you want to accomplish,” Williamson said. “It takes a lot of work to continue performing in college. You are walking into a much bigger playing field, with more people who are just as good as you, others not so much, and some that are just too talented for words. You have to be physically trained as well as mentally prepared for the competition you face.”

Once an athlete has reached the next plateau, the work doesn’t stop.

“The work has just begun once the next level is reached. Goals are not only attained, but maintained. To stay where you are takes as much focus and responsibility, if not more, than what it took to get you to that next level. You sacrifice your personal time for practices, games and workouts.

“Most college dance teams support their football, men’s and women’s basketball, as well as baseball programs. They are spokespersons for the athletic programs, ambassadors for the college and representatives in the community. It is an honor, but with honor comes responsibility.”

Along with the physical work, Williamson said getting to the next level also takes a commitment and hard work in the classroom.

“Grades are very important in reaching goals,” she said. “Good grades are simply the result of persistent study, discipline and focus. You need good grades to get accepted into colleges in the first place. but the habits developed from good study carry over into dancing on a collegiate level.

“Most collegiate athletic programs require a minimum 2.5 GPA from each athlete, dancers included. You have to be able to commit the time and energy to all of the dance requirements as well as keeping good grades as a full time student — all without having a parent or guardian standing over you telling you what to do. You need to develop good habits, time management and self discipline to keep a good balance between being a student and being a collegiate athlete.”

Through her hard work, Williamson is now performing on one of the biggest stages imaginable.

“Dancing for the NBA has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Williamson said. “By achieving this level, I am now a representative in the Charlotte community, supporter of professional sports and dance in front of thousands of fans two to three nights a week.

“I have 21 years of dance experience, (but all) were not always easy. I had to keep going through the good and the bad if I wanted to keep pursuing a dream. My dream was to be a professional dancer. It takes passion, dedication, commitment, hard work, focus and persistency. I did it, one goal at a time.”

Williamson is living her dream as a Bobcat dancer, and that dream gets all the sweeter when she can put a smile on a fan’s face. Especially a little girl’s face.

“For me, there is no greater feeling than being out on the court knowing that there is a little girl somewhere in the crowd, watching and saying, ‘Mommy. I want to be just like her one day,’” Williamson said. “I used to be that little girl, and now I have been blessed with the opportunity to inspire her to always strive for the next level.”