As the Storm plotted their strategy against the Washington Mystics and the time-out clock ticked down, a group of kids decked out in mini–Storm jerseys and baggy shorts ran onto the KeyArena court. For the uninitiated, the first reaction to seeing the Storm Dance Troupe is often a patronizing "Awww." That is, until the hip-hop beats thump and they start to move. Stomp, clap-clap-clap, head-jerk, stomp! go 22 kids, ages 7 to 15, in perfect synchronization. This isn't just your ordinary amateur dance recital. "They're pretty talented," coach Sabrina Ellison says. That's an understatement.
While scantily clad women shimmying to pop songs has long been part of the pro-sports ethos, the idea to have kids in tiny jerseys and basketball shorts getting down at Storm games came in 2000. They're now as much an institution as the team.
Most of the performers also dance at studios and with other competitive teams throughout the year. Erin Anderson, 11, one of the tiniest members, does ballet-inspired twirls while waiting for instructions. "Just doing it over and over again" in rehearsals is the hardest part, she says. But the aspiring choreographer loves the performances—no nerves here. "I'm just really used to it."
Chris Carrington, 12, is a four-year squad veteran and one of the handful of boys. At rehearsal he's sitting by the mirror in a sideways ball cap, shaggy hair sticking out underneath. He's holding an ice-pack against his ankle—a victim of the kind of injury high-caliber dancers can expect. "I wanted to show everyone what you could do with dancing," he says of his decision to audition for the squad.
Perri Derousseau's daughter Nikki is in her second year with the troupe, and Derousseau is just getting used to watching her 11-year-old daughter prance out before the 8,000 fans who show up at KeyArena. "I get nervous for her, but she goes out like it's just a breeze," she says.
Drew Clark, 14, adds that it doesn't hurt that they also get a paycheck for their twice-weekly rehearsals and game performances.
Jennifer Carlson, whose daughter Alex is in her first year, says those paychecks are a big help to parents who usually find themselves shelling out for classes, uniforms, shoes, and traveling so their kids can cut a rug. But "I think all of them would do it for free," she says, laughing. "Don't tell the Storm."—Laura Onstot