Michelle Duggan is a force to be reckoned with. Both the ProMotion Dance founders, Brittany and Jessica had the pleasure of being coached by Michelle while on the Indiana Pacemates dance team in Indianapolis. She is a long time professional in the industry with a fierce vision for perfection and a strong team behind her.
Learn what words she lives by in our Q&A with Michelle!
Can you tell us about your dance history?
I started dancing at the age of 5 and fell in love with tap the first time I put on those shoes! I tapped around everywhere…the house, the grocery store, at school! I continued to dance at studio throughout high school and took ballet, jazz, modern and hip-hop classes along the way. I was also a member of my high school show choir and the cheerleading squad. Any group that performed…I was in it! I was hooked a very early age. I was a four-year member of the Ball State Poms (now the Code Red Dancers) at Ball State University and then auditioned for the Indiana Pacemates upon graduation. After starting with the Pacers in 2001, I danced for seven seasons. During my time as a Pacemate, I also coached the Code Red Dancers for 6 seasons. I have absolutely adored every part of my dance life and wouldn’t change any of it!
What goes into being a coach for a professional dance team?
The entertainment side of the business is obviously the most visible part of the job. My responsibility is to put the BEST product on the floor- from the look, entertainment value and approachability of the team. There is quite a bit of thought put into every song selection, uniform choice, and overall look of the team. The goal is to make deliberate decisions look uncalculated to the crowd. In addition to the obvious tasks of choreography and choosing uniforms, there is the business side of managing the Indiana Pacemates. Booking and marketing appearances, social media, photo shoots, payroll, team building opportunities, promoting workshops and auditions, recruitment, managing the individual personalities on the team…they are all important parts in making “the machine” function on a regular basis.
What key elements did you learn during your time as a professional dancer that were key in your success in this career?
Becoming a part of an organization like the Indiana Pacers gives you an opportunity to enhance your strengths. I feel that I became more professional, confident and flexible as I completed each year as a Pacemate. The opportunities that you experience force you to become better in all areas…if you lack in confidence, you’ll be forced to challenge yourself in an appearance setting. If you are not a person that is on time on a regular basis, you’ll learn very quickly that you need to be on time. If you’re not someone that has been pushed to do things a different way than your own, being around 16 girls almost 7 days a week forces you to listen to others ideas and see that there are different, and sometimes better, ways of reaching a goal. You have to figure out how to do it TOGETHER. So, I guess I feel that I just became a more confident and complete person.
What advice do you have for girls auditioning for an NBA team?
This is always a tough question to answer, but my best advice is do your homework. For example, if you were applying for a marketing position, you would look at the requirements of the job to see if you had the qualities and experience that you needed. Same with the job of being an Indiana Pacemate…know what the requirements are, work hard, and do your best to fit the job description. Will you be one of the best candidates for the job? Maybe. Will you know that you came prepared and did your best? Absolutely…if you do your homework and come prepared.
What are you looking for in potential Pacemates?
I’ve been asked this a lot and one thing that always comes to mind is a quote by George Balanchine: “I don’t want people who want to dance, I want people who have to dance.” I try to start the audition process with this quote in mind to keep me focused throughout the week and a ½ of choosing my team for the season. Fitness/wellness, overall impression, professionalism, dance ability…those are all very important parts of the audition process, but if a candidate REALLY wants to make a professional team, they come prepared with all of these things AND the desire to dance. I need them to make me feel like they won’t take no for an answer. They need to be hungry.
What is the audition process like? Do most teams do the same thing? What can someone who’s never been through it before expect?
Our audition process is normally a 10-day process. We have our preliminary night when the candidates learn a routine and the finalists are chosen. For the remainder of the 9-10 days, I try to run the candidates through mini-situations that they would participate in during their year as a Pacemate. I have them participate in an interview process, a group appearance, rehearsals during the week (to see how they handle the schedule), a team workout, and an onstage event where the team is chosen live. Some teams have a similar process and some only do a dance audition…it just depends on what the organization needs and/or wants to do that season. Expect to learn fast, arrive ‘game-ready” and to dance like you’ve never danced before!
Other than dance, what are the most important factors of a team candidate?
Professionalism is very important. This includes your preparation, overall impression, how you speak and use grammar and how you carry yourself in difficult situations. Being prepared, knowing what you are getting into and have a good solid dance background should be at the forefront of a candidate’s preparation.
Biggest mistake potential candidates or those looking to become a professional dancer make?
I know that I keep saying this, but not being prepared is NOT the way to make a professional team. You need to start working on your fitness at least a year prior to auditions if it’s not where you want it to be when you decide to audition. If you are not an organized person, start working on this prior to auditions so if you are selected for the team, it isn’t something that is a struggle once the schedule takes off. If your double turns, leaps or dance style aren’t on point, work on them. Recognize areas for improvement BEFORE you audition, not while you are auditioning.
During finals, what sets those that make the team apart from those that don’t?
Preparedness! Arrive at auditions ready to be a Pacemate if that is what you showed up to do!
What can someone expect from being a professional NBA dancer? How much time goes into being on the team?
Good time management skills are a must if you want to feel successful during your time as a professional dancer. Members of the team are full-time students or hold full-time jobs, have a social life and need to sleepJ, but in order to feel accomplished at all of these things, you must be able to manage a busy schedule. Expect to be busy AND have the time of your life! The Pacemates practice twice a week from 6-10pm and have anywhere from 2-3 games a week, plus appearances. It’s a busy schedule! You will also make life-long friends along the way- and get paid!
Any last word advice or wisdom you want to share with high school and college dancers looking to make the leap?
Start working hard now. If you’re attending college locally or out-of-state and this is a goal for you, do your research about your local team and start preparing now. If you are graduating from college and are job hunting and you want to audition for a team, look for jobs that have a professional sports team with a dance team. Get a feel for the program. Ask questions…call or email the manager/director. We love it when you do this!
Thank you Michelle for giving our dancers the inside scoop, we know this is tremendously valuable information for everyone auditioning this year!