Behind the Scenes with Rockets Power Dancers


Financial Coach and Price of Business contributor and co-host, Chris Kidd, recently had the opportunity to sit down with the All Stars of the Houston Rockets Power Dancers. He joined RPD captain RPD Paige, and Entertainment Manager / Choreographer / Dance Coach, Natalie Alvarado at Houston’s Toyota Center to talk about the duo’s experience with the Rockets and the 2016 NBA All Star weekend.

CK: “What is a normal day like for you?”Natalie Alvarado

Natalie: “We rehearse every day of the week except when the Rockets play. My day normally starts when everyone else is leaving for the day. On game day or rehearsal nights I usually come in at 2:00. We rehearse until 10:00 or 10:30. I have manager meetings on Wednesdays, so on those day’s I’ll come in at 9:30. On top of that, when I’m home I work from home, so I’m working on a mix or a dance or something.”

CK: “How long have you been with Rockets?”

Natalie: “I danced for seven seasons, and this is my fourth season in the game presentations department, so collectively that is almost twelve years. I started when I was 19 years old.”

Paige: “This is my 5th season. I was here 1 year before Natalie came, and then Natalie came in my second season.”RPD - Paige

CK: “When did you start dancing [Paige]?”

Paige: “I started dancing in middle school, but I have more of a gymnastics / cheerleading background. I took dance classes for a few years in middle school, but then I switched to cheerleading, so I have mostly a cheer background.”

CK: “What do you like most about being a Rockets Power Dancer?”

Paige: “It’s awesome being at the games and performing. I think all of us, every girl, would say their favorite part is performing, because you get such an adrenaline rush, like a high off of performing in front of all those people and the pressure, but we feed off of that pressure. So that’s probably the best part, just performing, and just the opportunities that come from RPD. I’ve been to China twice, I’ve been to Argentina, we performed in the Rio Grande Valley for the D-League games. There’s a lot of extra curricular opportunities that come out of it.”

CK: I know salaries are not anything like a player’s salary, so they have regular jobs too right? What are some of the requirements to be on the team?

“Going back to the salary, if I could ever fight to pay NBA dancers more money — If they could ever get a player’s salary that would be amazing! These girls in the life of an NBA dancer, in participating and even being involved within the NBA, not just the Rockets, but I think all across the board, it’s so fun. You get the opportunity to be a very small, select, elite, few people that get to work for one of thirty teams. I think just overall, women who dance for the NBA period, do it because they love it. Its fast paced, and its high energy, and the perks that come with it. They are not on a salary. I like to say that it’s a part-time job that feels like a full-time job, plus the extra hours, but they do get paid. Here for the Rockets I actually give the girls a raise the longer they’ve been on the team. Paige is a captain, so she gets paid the highest out of all the girls. We do a lot of community appearances and charity work, where that’s extra money for the girls as well. So whether it’s a department within the organization booking them for one of their events or one of the numerous amounts of people that write in to have them at a party or a corporate function, there’s extra money there that could easily be a nice check, after working four appearances a week plus rehearsals plus games. The girls literally are the next best things to one of our players, so if James Hardin or Dwight can’t make an event, the next person they’re going to ask for is a Power Dancer. That’s why they keep getting booked for overseas trips and representing the Rockets all around the world, without a Rockets player even having to be there.”

CK: “What kind of things have you seen dancing lead to from starting in the NBA? I know they always talk about how the Laker Girls would dance for free because they might be discovered by an artist or a movie producer at the games.”

Paige: “I do it because I enjoy it. This is probably as high as I want to go in the dancing world, but a lot of girls on our team have dreams of being backup dancers, so this is kinda like a stepping stone for them, and I would say it helps you get noticed. You are in the public eye more. There’s a girl on our team that wants to pursue backup dancing or a career in dancing, so she did this, and hopefully she’s on her way to making it.”

CK: “Natalie, You also had a singing career, did that come from being a Rockets Power Dancer or how did that happen?”

Natalie: “For me with my singing thing, I didn’t get noticed at a game, but because I was a dancer, its all that I did, and I started choreographing for a local Hip Hop artist. My story was literally at the right place at the right time and meeting the right person. And then they found out I was a dancer for the Rockets. It’s funny though because a lot of people in the music industry that used to come to games, when I was a dancer, that I would see on the road or that I would have a show with and they remembered me and we remembered each other. I believe that wherever you are, whether you’re a dancer here or at the gas station pumping gas, Your destiny is going to find you.”

CK: “Both of you went to the All Star Game; Paige what was it like and have you ever been involved in an All Star Game prior to this?”Nat & Paige - All Star game (crop)

Paige: “Yeah, in 2013 All Star was here. It was Natalie’s first year, and my second year, so we actually got to dance at the All Star game. So I have been a part of a local All Star game, but it was a lot different traveling, which was exciting, especially to Canada. I had never been to Toronto, and working at that, but it was really neat being with all the other girls, and we spent a ton of time comparing and contrasting what they do at their arena and how their program works. It was a lot of fun getting to talk to the other dancers, because you just don’t get that opportunity, because we don’t travel or anything, so it was really cool.”

CK: “How do they do the All Star selection? Do they take a girl from every team or how do they work that out?”

Natalie: “Each team was to submit 2-3 dancers of their choice, and collectively a board if you can say chose the dancers, one dancer from each team.”

CK: “What was it like working together for at the All Star game?”

Paige: “It was a treat, because I have worked under her for so many years now, so it was kinda like being at home in a sense which made more comfortable, and I thought it was really cool to have that experience with my own coach.”

Natalie: “It was good to have her there because with lots on my mind and a lot behind the scenes, Paige as the team captain, helps me out with remembering the choreography a lot, and she’s a great demonstrator as well. Going up there as the selected choreographer it was more than just staying involved with the dance team and just choreographing. Day to day I had so much to do and so much on my mind, much like here, but it was like times 10,000. So it was great to have Paige there kinda as my backbone, like she is here.”

CK: “What was your favorite part about the All Star Weekend?”

Paige: “For me it was being behind the scenes all the time. What you see on TV, you get to see it with your own eyes there, live. And seeing the different celebrities that we got to do little bits with was really neat.”

CK: “[Natalie] You had a great video on your Instagram page from the Slam Dunk Contest!

Natalie: “To be there and rehearse that day, like Saturday night, we rehearsed that so many times and it’s so repetitive, but I love practice. What person or coach doesn’t love practice? But to see it come to life, and everyone that was behind the media table and the producers and the directors of ‘the show’ of All Star Saturday Night and being involved with it, and just seeing it all come into play, and they kept — we didn’t know the dunk contest was going to be that great! And so for everyone to keep running with it, and I’m running around wearing the headset, so I know what they’re saying, what they’re going to do. It’s a great thing to be behind the scenes on that stuff, because you do watch it, and you do remember it, and you see those dunks, and you can tell your friends ‘I was there.’ The reason that video was so awesome is because I was standing there with one of the dancers that was about to do a timeout, so I just happened to be there, and I’m like ‘You know, let me take my phone out because I feel like this is going to be an amazing dunk, and sure enough it was.’”

CK: “How much time did you have to prepare for the routines for All Star Weekend?”

Natalie & Paige at All Star copyNatalie: “The girls actually received a video of myself doing the choreography and teaching it via video. Paige actually recorded me, but where Paige had a one-up, she learned it directly from me maybe a week or two before we left.”

CK: “Paige, how many hours a week do you put in, outside of your normal job, just dancing, working out, and the games and practice?”

Paige: “The thing about the NBA schedule is that one week you can have no games, like this week, so we just have practices twice a week from 7:30-10:00, but we usually arrive an hour or thirty minutes early so we can be there from 6:30-10:00 or 7:30-10:00, but then one week you can have three games in a week, like next week, so that’s practice then three games. Games, we get there at about 3:00, and you’re there till about 10:00, so its about seven hours on top of coming from work that morning. I show up at work at 8:00 then go to the arena at about 3:00, so those can be pretty long days. It just depends, some weeks you’ll be exhausted because you had three games, and some weeks will be a little bit lighter.”

CK: “What are the requirements to be a dancer in the NBA?”

Natalie: “Each girl is to have either a full time job or be a full time student, so a lot of the girls — like we have an engineer on our team, so she has to be at work at 7:00, and she has to make up those hours that leaves early, so can get to work at 5:30am on a game day. It seems really grueling, but it’s a choice and these girls want to do it. And the reason the girls would say I run a tight ship is because you have to be more than just a dancer to be a Power Dancer. When girls make this team, I remind them that their life is about to change. It’s a lifestyle change. You go from eating McDonald’s to eating healthier foods. You go from not ever working out. I’ve had girls on this team who have the greatest bodies, but they’ve never worked out, because they’re just dancers. So you workout with a trainer on this team and its like a cardio blast, and it changes everything about you, and you just become a different person. Its like a coach with a football team, it’s changing lives. They change mine, I change theirs, and together that’s why we’re such a good team. We have women from all over coming to audition for this team. They know its hard, but it’s totally worth it. I always remind the girls, ‘We have to keep up with our team. They want to be champions, so we can’t have a champion caliber team with a mediocre dance team; it just doesn’t match.’”

CK: Speaking of habits and eating right, and all that stuff, I’m sure you get a cheat day right? What is your favorite cheat day food?

Paige: “Pluckers! Buffalo Wild Wings, Pluckers, and pizza.”

Nat: “I love wings and pizza. I could do pizza and wings all day!”

CK: “What are some obstacles you have faced from when you started dancing to now?”

Natalie: “I think as you go through life you start to go through things and you feel devastated because something didn’t work out, but then as you get older you just realize okay that just wasn’t for me at that moment. For me more recently was the transition between the whole music thing and coming back to the NBA, because music is still my life, its still my passion, I still write, its still something I do, I still record, it has not stopped. Where it has stopped is out there, but behind the scenes it hasn’t. It took me a little while to knock my pride down and say, ‘Hey it’s ok.’ A job like this has come to me and come my way four times before I took this job, and I kept turning it down. I kept turning it down, and turning it down, and turning it down until I realized there’s a reason why people keep reaching out to me. And once the music kinda slowed down; I was living in LA and nothing was happening and I just was stuck, I was just in a stuck position, so I was like, you know what I’m going to do this. And so I worked for the Timberwolves. I never thought I would live in Minnesota. I just got up and left in a matter of a week or two, and I worked in Minnesota for a year and a half. And because I got that taste again of being part of the NBA all over again, not as a dancer, but as a creative person, I just got this bug. I just got this fire lit under me, and I started getting involved in so many things outside of just the dance team, and then I came here. This organization is by far the most supportive! They love my background, they love what I’ve done, and so it allows me to not only be involved with RPD and all the other entertainment groups, but you can come to a game and watch a video that I had something to do with, or you could go to an event and see a live program that I had something to do with. It’s amazing, because I got through that step of letting go and not being afraid to move on to the next chapter of my life. Everything comes back around full circle too. Our in-house DJ T Gray is actually the one who recorded with me on my biggest song. And now we’re back together, and we’re working with other artists, and now I could potentially write songs for a new artist. So it comes back the way its supposed to.”

Paige: “I wouldn’t necessarily say an obstacle, but I just think RPD in general, just the life balance and figuring that out and how you put your time into Rockets. I was in college full time for basically all of when I was in RPD, and then having a job on the side. Then also, just the dancing part of it and growing and getting critiqued a lot, and battling yourself like ‘I’ve got to get better, I’ve got to be better.’ I never would have been the dancer I am today if it hadn’t been for Natalie. I never would have thought I would be a captain. She saw something in me that I had a leadership quality and then she gave me the opportunity. I feel like I’ve grown up here a lot in the Rockets, and it has helped me in my professional life as well. It has been challenging but it has been the best experience.”

CK: “What are your future plans after RPD?”

Paige: “I just started job with Sente Mortgage, so I am a loan officer right now and I’m excited to pursue that.”

CK: “How many girls do you have on the team? And is there a performance team, and others that may not perform or are they all out there every game?”

Natalie: “We have a team of 14, so I keep it small; 14 with 12 girls dancing every game. There’s s rotation that we do for the entire season, so with work and school and life — we have a full time mother on the team — it gives them a chance to have a game off.”

CK: “How many girls usually show up for RPD tryouts?”

Natalie: “We average about 100. It used to be more than that, but I think once the city realized the style of the choreography or the… I like to say is it in the most positive way… We’re looking for the best of the best, so unfortunately it cuts out a lot of people who have no dance experience or might not know what it’s really like to be in such a rough and busy atmosphere of dance. Sometimes you get women who just dance, and they don’t do anything else; they don’t go to school, they don’t have jobs, so it’s a tough thing to do and it’s a tough team to make. But I’ve also found diamonds in the rough out there. I’ve had 19 year old girls who have never had dance experience, but you can see their hunger and their passion, and they make the team.”

CK: “What is your favorite Rockets moment?”

Paige: “I would say just going so far last year. That was so exciting! I also love traveling. Thats definitely one of the highlights, traveling with my teammates going on awesome trips.”

Natalie: “I have a lot of fun moments, but I think working with the organizations and the charities we work with. When I was a dancer, one of my favorite groups to work with was the Sunshine Kids and I remember a story and I was probably 20-21 years old, just living life, and I met the most adorable little girl that just looked at me like I was Wonder Woman, like I was a superhero. Due to cancer she lost all her hair, and here I was with this full head of hair, just living life, and that one little girl just touched me so much as a dancer. It was one of my favorite moments as a dancer. But I think one of my favorite moments, now behind the scenes, is the stuff like that, is to see one being a coach and transforming and being a mentor and molding these women who I believe in so much that sometimes they don’t believe in themselves that much, so to be on this end like ‘You can do this! Do it! Push!’ that’s a great thing, but again working with the organizations and meeting people when we volunteer, me volunteering as an employee. I’ve painted walls and I’ve planted trees with underprivileged children and I’ve fed the homeless. Those are the things for me that where sometimes I’m like, ‘Geez this truly is the best organization!’ I know a lot of people out there do it, but this organization from the top, from the owner, from our CEO, down; everyone cares! Even our part-timers, they work here and bust their butts like they’re full time, down to our interns, who don’t get paid, they do everything they can to make this organization truly one of the most talked about and one of the best organizations in the NBA.”

Also check out Natalie Alvarado’s recent radio interview with Chris Kidd and Kevin Price on the Price of Business