At 375 pounds, Everette Michael Jackson is the last guy you might expect, or perhaps want to see, getting down to LMFAO's macho dance jam "Sexy and I Know It."
But his larger-than-life physique and personality (he says he once started a spontaneous dance party at Moe's Cantina in Wrigleyville) are just the right size for the Matadors. They're a crew of primarily overweight male dancers who happily and humorously strut their supersize stuff at Bulls games.
"Of all the [Bulls dance] groups, they relate to every single person in that crowd," said choreographer Lisa Dajani, a former Luvabull and co-owner of Picture Us Different Dance Studio in Park Ridge. "For a minute and a half, the crowd can just have fun and release the tension and stress of the game."
When that next game will be is uncertain; after the NBA players rejected the owners' latest deal Monday, the entire season is in jeopardy. But the Bulls still held Matadors auditions recently at the UIC Flames Athletic Center for the 2011-12 season.
Even though Jackson, a 26-year-old North Center resident, has been a Matador since 2009, he and the other veterans had to go toe to toe against each other and four new hopefuls for spots on the squad.
At the auditions, Dajani led the red-and-black-sporting contenders through her swagger-soaked "Sexy" routine, step by step, section by section, before candidates and teacher busted their moves to the music.
There was a bit of belly rubbing here, some saucy hip shakes there, plus muscle flexing, self-spanking and a whole lot of wiggling. For the most part Matadors director Cathy Core silently judged from the sidelines, but she wasn't shy about pinching her nose when she felt the freestyling was flat.
Among those literally sweating through the audition was Corie Paige of Joliet, a 32-year-old forklift driver and a member of the Matadors since their inaugural 2003-04 season. Before the Matadors, Paige's dancing experience was limited to the shower. But as the self-proclaimed "life of the party" and "biggest Bulls fans ever," Paige had to audition that first year, and has every year since.
"I just wanted to entertain anyone who wants to see a big guy move," he said. "My kids think I'm an idol, my wife thinks I'm crazy half the time, so it balances out."
Also auditioning was first-timer Fielding Kalas, a 28-year-old industrial electrician from Schaumburg. "My dad actually posted [details about the audition] on my Facebook page as a joke," Kalas said. "I went on YouTube, looked some things up and thought it was awesome."
After 90 minutes of auditions, Core revealed the roster. Kalas didn't make the cut, but Jackson, Paige and the seven other auditioning veterans were Matadors once more, as well as 35-year-old newcomer Quentin Townsend of Joliet.
"Quentin came in with this positive attitude," Core said. "He had a smile on his face from the moment he walked through."
Townsend's time at the clubs also helped.
"People are surprised I can move so well for my size," he said.
If and when the Bulls season begins, the Matadors will perform at one game a month, plus special occasions such as the team's holiday party. There isn't much in terms of compensation—they get three tickets to every game they dance at, plus free parking and meals, Core said. Occasionally the group is booked to perform in other states and has danced in Greece and Turkey.
But the biggest benefit for these performers is entertaining tens of thousands of Bulls fans, said 34-year-old Kevin Blanchard of Bronzeville, a Matador since the group's first season.
"Seeing the smiles on the fans' faces … it's a high you can't get from nothing else," Blanchard said.
Piet Levy is a RedEye special contributor.