Bucks' Seniorgee! dancers draw fans
MILWAUKEE -- Clad in a sparkly headband, black leggings and a megawatt smile powerful enough to light all of southeastern Wisconsin, Marlene Russell is like any other Milwaukee Bucks cheerleader as she struts her stuff on the dance floor.
Except, of course, that she is 78 years young. And she has great-great-grandchildren.
"I shall always be young," she said with a laugh. "It's a state of mind. I have an attitude and a gratitude."
Russell was among more than 30 aspiring dancers ages 60 and older who spent a September Saturday afternoon at the Wisconsin Athletic Club auditioning for the 20 spots on the Bucks' Seniorgee! squad. The group performs at five home games each season -- the first of which will be Nov. 27, when the Bucks host Charlotte.
Coach Lois Koepke said the Bucks got the idea for the squad after seeing how fans responded to the Miami Heat's "Golden Oldies" dance troupe at the All-Star Game a few years back. Since then a number of squads have popped up across the league including the "Golden Grannies" in Phoenix and the "NETSational Seniors" in New Jersey.
During the tryout, Koepke puts her charges through the paces.
"We're gonna shake it down your body and shake, shake, shake," Koepke told them. Turning on the stereo, a thumping bass filled the room, and the seniors pumped their fists as they obeyed Peaches and Herb's instructions to "shake their groove things."
Shake and groove they did. Those that make the cut get a replica Bucks jersey complete with their name and age on the back. And when they perform, they will be the belles of the ball at the Bradley Center, often stealing the stage from the players on the court.
"It's the favorite entertainment value all year long," Koepke said. "Younger kids are pulling out their phones taping them. It's just awesome. They get a standing ovation every time."
Among this year's first-time Seniorgee! hopefuls was 70-year-old Pat Wolf. A spry, blonde-haired grandmother of nine, Wolf says she's never considered herself to be much of a dancer. But after talking it over with her granddaughters, she decided that now was as good a time as any to give it a shot.
"I feel like it's been fun and I think I'm much better at freestyle than I am at counting and keeping track at what the group is doing," she said. "I've never had a dancing lesson in my entire life but I love to dance."
So what really gets the crowd going?
Milwaukee high school biology teacher turned Seniorgee! dancer Jerry Friday, 68, said there's one hip-hop performance in particular he still hears about.
"When we did Soulja Boy, [the crowd] was completely blown away when we did that routine," he said.
Friday and his wife, Angie, have been shimmying with the squad since the beginning. And he thinks he's more popular with his students for his dance moves than his lesson plans.
"Sometimes it goes on YouTube so they'll ... see the performance or they'll say, 'When are you performing the next time at the game?' and they'll try and come to the game," he said.
But hopefuls need more than just slick dance moves to make the cut.
"If they don't have personality and they're not fun to watch, we can't have them," Koepke said "It's like you're cutting your grandma, that's not fun."
Matthew Lindner is a freelance writer for Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance writing network.