These N.B.A. Dancers Bring Their High Kicks Courtside

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Set to Ciara’s “Like a Boy” — a song that explores double standards for men and women — the choreography simmers with force and power. It’s also forthright and sexy, especially when the women remove their sweatshirts by hooking a foot into their hoods and yanking them over their heads.

But as Ms. Wellington explained during rehearsal, “The only thing that should be feminine” — she marked the word with air quotes — “is this.”

She turned to profile with deeply bent knees and rose while arching her back. “Everything else should be grounded,” she said. “A more masculine approach.”

Though one is a glamorous throwback, the other urban and modern, the Knicks City Dancers and the Brooklynettes share a problem: How do you make a basketball crowd pay attention to dance?

“Dynamics is huge here,” Ms. Wellington said. “Because of the arena setting and it being in the round, it’s important that the choreography reads from the very top row. A lot of choreographers that are very established — they’ve worked in theater, in movies — don’t realize that it’s just very different here until they get in and are like, Oh wait — no one’s going to see this little movement unless they’re in the front row.”

She encourages outside choreographers to create big movement and prefers that transitions into new formations take as little as four counts. “There should never be any sections that are breathers,” she added, referring to less strenuous moments when a dancer can catch her breath. “The entire thing should be jam-packed.”

Photo

The Knicks City Dancers performing at a game in December in a Bob Fosse-inspired number by Serge Onik. Credit MSG Photo

The Knicks City Dancers at a December game. Credit MSG

Marc Bauman, senior vice president and executive producer for in-game entertainment at Madison Square Garden, was formerly the supervising producer at “Live from Lincoln Center.” Early into his job at Madison Square Garden, he came to the conclusion that the choreography needed improving. “Before me, it had been two or three people rotating through,” he said. “Sort of rinse and repeat.”

Now, higher-profile choreographers work with the Knicks City Dancers, including Mandy Moore who did the dances for “La La Land” and Serge Onik of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Mr. Bauman, who knows the dance world, would love it if Susan Stroman or Mark Morris would consider creating dances for the group. Ryan Heffington, who has choreographed Sia videos as well as the Netflix series “The O.A.,” is on his wish list.

With his theatrical background, Mr. Bauman has made other changes, like incorporating blackouts before performances to capture the crowd’s attention. “It’s all of it: The lighting, the costuming, the music selection,” he said. “It’s concise. The dance team has to have a shape.”

For him, shape refers to the choreography’s point of view. “Some of that is precision, grace, the beauty of the line,” Mr. Bauman continued, noting that for the great choreographer George Balanchine “the most beautiful part of the dancer’s body was the hand.”

Fittingly, gloves were used to striking effect in Mr. Onik’s recent jazz number, inspired by Bob Fosse and set to “Feel It Still” (by Portugal. The Man). In it, the dancers possess “that strong confidence that Bob Fosse’s choreography is filled with,” Mr. Onik said. “I really enjoy that kind of 1950s swing vibe, but then I wanted to give them a badass character on top of it. They’re strong, healthy, super talented, independent women.”

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