First, team choreographers Marina and Mina Ortega and Andy Vaca comb the nation for talent, swiping girls from New York to L.A. and a few places in between. Those who make it through the technical dance audition advance to the next round. It’s Dancing With the Stars on a slightly smaller scale. Hundreds are whittled down to 36, who participated in final auditions at the House of Blues on Thursday night in Boston.
Then, the judgment truly begins. By the end of the night, 18 of them would remain standing as the 2010-11 Celtics’ dance team.
"[They’re looking for] a strong dancer — good presentation overall, especially because on game day, it's so important to be able to get your presentation out there," Leahy said. "Obviously, they need to be in shape — very tight bodies. They've already been interviewing girls all week, so they kind of already know their personalities. They have to be ready to make the commitment."
Leahy knows what the judges should be looking for, but whether they would ultimately make the right decisions is always a gamble. Just in case the Boston celebrity panel needs a little professional expertise, the members have the team choreographers to fall back on.
"It's all in [Marina Ortega’s] hands," Leahy said.
While some of the judges may not know what makes a great dancer – "I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but I’m the worst dancer in the world," Miss Massachusetts Lacey Wilson joked — Comcast SportsNet’s Greg Dickerson and New England Revolution star Taylor Twellman are not among them. They consider themselves to be experts.
"As someone who's watched four seasons of Dancing With the Stars, I'm pretty in tune with what [good] dancing should be," Dickerson said. "I've got kind of a keen eye as to what they should do."
Twellman, for his part, has judged similar competitions before — talent and dance shows, for the most part — but a final audition to become a Celtics dancer is all new to him.
The 36 finalists performed in a group routine, a swimsuit competition and a brief solo number before the judges whittled the group in half to find the 2010-11 Celtics team. Aside from Dickerson, Twellman and Wilson, judges included Ayla Brown, comedian Kelly MacFarland, Patriots running back Sammy Morris and Celtics forward Brian Scalabrine.
The girls were judged on court presence, execution and physical fitness, and according to Scalabrine, who has judged the competition before, the nerves may have gotten to some of the dancers who were performing at the House of Blues for the first time.
"You can tell the difference from the dancers who have been here before and the dancers who are new," Scalabrine said.
Dickerson, Comcast’s courtside reporter for the Celtics, knows what to look for, but sometimes it’s hard to articulate. It just takes a trained eye to pick out the most talented.
"I'll know when I see it," he said before the competition. "I'll know when I see quality dancing."
Twellman said it’s important for the judges to be honest, even if it means being a little bit ruthless. As a result, physical fitness is high on the list of priorities for those who hope to put on the Celtics dancer’s uniform, especially given a grueling schedule that rivals that of the actual players. Though most of the dancers are in school or working full-time, they practice for three nights a week for three hours, and the other three nights, they’re performing on the parquet floor.
Staying in shape certainly helps them reach their highest potential.
"You have to be realistic," Twellman said. "They're going to be on the Garden floor. It's important they be in shape."
Twellman, though, has a bit of an ulterior motive for preaching the honesty-is-the-best-policy credo. He’s hoping it may help him land another job come this fall.
"I'm really looking to take Simon Cowell's job," he said. "This is my debut. It's me against Howard Stern."
In the end, it is that mentality that will help this year’s chosen ones accomplish the ultimate goal. One hopeful, who auditioned last year and didn’t make the cut, summed it up the best.
"I worked twice as hard this year," she said, "so we can be twice as good as the Laker Girls."
Check out photos of the event by clicking here.