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Survivor: Luvabulls

It takes more than pom poms and a smile to make the Bulls' dance team

October 08, 2012|By Ryan Smith | For RedEye

Considering she'd just spent several weeks preparing for it, the seven minutes Ashley Piepenbrink spent kicking, twirling and dancing in front of judges in her bid to join the Luvabulls felt more like two seconds.

The 24-year-old from Wrigleyville hired a personal trainer to help her lose 3 inches off her waist and spent much of her free time practicing dance moves. But when one of the judges came backstage to announce who would stay for the second round, Piepenbrink's number was not called.

"Honestly, I knew what to expect, but that still felt like it was over very soon," she said.

As the Bulls open their preseason home schedule Tuesday, it's the Luvabulls' time to shine, too.

Time is of the essence when you're trying to earn a coveted spot on the Bulls' dance team. Of the 155 women who auditioned recently at the United Center, less than half made it to the next stage—making every moment spent performing freestyle dance moves, thrusting legs up in a kick line and answering a few simple biographical questions in front of the seven judges essential.

"The audition starts out the minute you walk in and you have to leave a good impression," said Jessica Piper, 22, of Brookfield. "It's very fast-paced but they warned us about that. It's good because no one wants to waste their time."

The dizzying speed left Erin Collier, 23, out of breath as she trotted off the United Center court following her tryout.

"That was an intense kick line right there," she said while bending down for air.

The new contenders were teamed up with Luvabulls veterans during the afternoon sessions, and those veterans are required to compete for their jobs again. By the end of the exhausting day, 50 were selected for a three-day minicamp. From there, only 25 dancers made the final squad.

Because there are so many potential Luvabulls in the morning session, the women each wear a number attached to their tops. The judges then study each woman's performance and take notes divided into three categories: appearance, personality and dance. Team director Cathy Core expects each Luvabull to score highly in all three.

"I always like to say that I'm looking for the total package in a person—looks, body, personality and performance level," she said.

Core said she looks for women who are height and weight proportionate and have a look that's glamorous, yet "girl-next-door approachable." Dance ability sometimes trumps all, however.

"If a girl doesn't have the right look, maybe that look can be changed a bit with the magic of makeup and hair coloring. Regular workouts can change a body very quickly," she said. "But if the girl can't dance, that's a problem. Some girls have good rhythm but can't follow choreography."

The interview also is important, said judge Tracie Marciniak, a former Luvabull dancer and choreographer, because the women are ambassadors to the community.

"This isn't just about grabbing some pom-poms and cheering on our stars and being a fan," she said. "We also need to know what's their background, what's their resume, can they multitask."

Still, even with a set of criteria of what makes an ideal Luvabull, narrowing down so many quality candidates is tough, Marciniak said.

"I always say that no one should feel a sense of rejection because there is so much talent and there's going to be quality people that slip between the cracks because there's such an amazing amount of competition," she said.

Piepenbrink believes she's one of them.

"I feel like it's almost luck a little bit to get them to see you," she said. "I wanted to be like, 'Hey, I'm over here!' But it's OK, I had a great experience and I'll be back next year."

Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.

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