Ask Brooklyn Nets Kids dancers Mario Braxton, 11, and Tymell Hubbard, 10, who works harder -- the Kids dancers or the Nets professional basketball players? -- and their answer is immediate and unequivocal.
"Us," they say in unison.
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Mario, a seventh-grader from Shirley, and Tymell, a sixth-grader from Wheatley Heights, are the two Long Islanders on the 17-kid dance team that performs for nearly 18,000 spectators at weekend basketball games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Kid dancers rehearse one night a week and are tapped to appear on television shows such as "Live With Kelly & Michael." Tymell, for instance, helped teach the famed TV duo a dance routine on air. Were Ripa and Strahan good dancers? "Half good," Tymell says diplomatically.
Every year, Nets Kids dancers and newcomers alike must audition for coveted spots on the squad. Tryouts this year are on Aug. 20 at LIU Brooklyn.
SEEKING NEW TALENT
Before the audition, the Kids dancers' coaches are offering optional preparatory workshops on Aug. 6 and 13, when wannabes between ages 6 and 13 can become familiar with the types of routines they'll be required to showcase on Aug. 20. Last year, more than 500 kids tried out for the 15 to 18 spots; about 25 percent were boys and 75 percent girls, although the team wound up split 50-50.
"We are always looking for new talent," says Kimberlee Garris, Nets director of entertainment marketing. The judges seek stage presence, showmanship and star quality. "We've had kids who come in with amazing raw talent who don't have the intense technical training. And we have kids who dance every day. I would encourage any kid with talent to come out and show us what they have."
The Kids dancers still attend school and pursue other hobbies -- Mario, for instance, plays basketball and trombone and draws graffiti. Tymell favors baseball and plays the bass. "The instrument is taller than me," he says.
The audition has three parts. First, contenders are taught a dance that moves across the floor. Each dancer performs solo; if judges like what they see, that child gets a number and moves on. That narrows the field to 150 within 30 minutes, Garris says.
Then, the same night, in teams of five or so, candidates learn a more complex dance. Those who shine -- "They really have to attack it," Garris says -- advance to be photographed. The 40 to 50 kids who make it to that point are dismissed at about 9:30 p.m. to await decisions.
Tymell was in bed sleeping the morning his mom came in, jumped on his bed and told him he made it. "Then we just went to IHOP," says Tymell, where he celebrated with pancakes.
'DON'T LOOK DOWN'
Mario and Tymell, who are both trying out again this year, have advice for fellow hopefuls: "Give a lot of energy and personality," Mario says. "When you mess up, don't just stand around. Freestyle."
Offers Tymell: "Don't look down. We have formations -- you can bump into somebody and fall. You need to look up and see where you're going."
Kids chosen are paid hourly for rehearsal, games and appearances, but it is Nets policy not to disclose amounts. Dancers can anticipate learning about nine different routines and rotate performing at about 15 or more games from October to spring.
Mario's favorite number this year was "Jiggy," during which he had a break-dancing solo. Tymell liked "Playground," where, in addition to their usual black-and-white costume ensembles, the Kids wore comical and colorful Flipeez character hats. Tymell's was a monster; Mario's was a dog.
Current and former Brooklyn Nets Kids have performed with recording artists such as Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey, danced for President Obama and appeared on the MTV Network and The Disney Channel. Several current members, including Tymell, will appear in the remake of the movie "Annie" coming to theaters this winter.
Brooklyn Nets Kids Dance Team Auditions
WHEN | WHERE Optional practice workshops 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 6 and 13; audition registration begins at 5 p.m. Aug. 20, with tryouts from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Advance registration is required for workshops but not audition. All events are at the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Athletic Center at LIU Brooklyn, 1 University Plaza.
INFO Workshop sessions are $40 for one or $35 each for both; audition is free; 718-942-9613; nba.com/nets/brooklyn-nets-kids-auditions.