Tamara Moore is a performer. More specifically, dancing is everything to her. Since the age of four, she hasn’t really known anything else. Growing up in New York City as a performer, she had her first role in an off-Broadway play at the age of seven. Through her school years, she danced every opportunity she had. Her parents always supported her. She would be at school, leave at noon for an audition then come right back.
From the time she was a sophomore in high school, Tamara’s parents encouraged their daughter to expand her abilities and begin to focus on something other than dance, a skill which she had mastered. As the time approached to decide on a secondary education, Moore became interested in casting and television production. As she looked at schools that matched her interest, she landed at Syracuse University, a school with a wonderful communications department, and enrolled with the goal of being a television producer or casting director. But while at Syracuse, what did she do? She danced.
Interestingly enough, her roommate was a dancer on the Syracuse dance team, but Tamara wasn’t interested in that kind of dance. (Oh, the irony.)
Coming to Memphis
Upon graduating college, in 1999, she knew that moving to Los Angeles and auditioning multiple times a day was not the path she wanted to take. She took a job in television production which started as a way for her to find her niche in the world.
At the same time, Tamara started a part-time job dancing or the NBA dance team. (The NBA Dance Team is a dance team that is used for generic appearances, All Star games, international events and those that don’t require a specific NBA team.)
What was meant to be merely an “on the side” gig, didn’t end up being that easy. She started going on international trips with the NBA, and as the trips got longer and longer her television boss told her she needed to make a decision about which path she preferred to make permanent. It just so happens, NBA Entertainment was recruiting her for a position in the office, as a full time production coordinator; so in 2000 she started working for the NBA full time.
Part of her responsibilities with the NBA were to go out and visit each NBA team and asses the production and entertainment part of the game; the mascots, dance teams, player integration, etc. She would show up unannounced and survey what the franchise was doing. As she developed relationships with the teams, some of them would ask her to come in and help with auditions for their dance teams and choreograph routines. This got her interested in working at the team level.
In 2007, she was made aware of two opportunities, Minnesota and Memphis, to work at the team level in a role as a choreographer and entertainment manager. When the opportunity came, she jumped at it. “Being a native New Yorker, I didn’t want to go anywhere it was colder than New York so I chose to apply to Memphis,” Tamara says. She submitted her resume and dance reel and upon hiring was given a week to move from New York down to Memphis, and immediately start auditions for the Grizz Girls.
Living in Memphis
Her first season was the 07-08 season; and those first 2 seasons were brutal for her. “It took a lot to get dancers motivated not just to perform at the games, but to audition in the first place,” Moore added. And who could blame them, nobody likes to perform in front of empty arenas.
However, that all turned around in 2009-2010. As the old phrase goes, “Winning changes everything.” With the Grizzlies winning on the court everything surrounding it gained more national and international exposure. For Tamara and the Grizz Girls that meant more competitive auditions with girls coming in from all across the country. It also meant international invitations to dance globally. (Of Note: For the past three seasons, the Grizz Girls have gone to Asia every summer.)
Moore’s professional experience comes from her years of traveling internationally with the NBA dance team. She grew up on modern and contemporary dance, but her favorite dance is tap. In fact, she teaches tap dance three or four times a week, in between her busy Grizz Girls schedule. “If I were offered a job tomorrow to tap professionally, I’d take it.”
Life with the Grizz Girls
In the meantime, though Tamara and the Grizzlies dance team meet together for practice 3 times a week for the bulk of the season. Then in mid-Feb they drop practices to 2 times a week. Each practice leasts about 3 hours at a time. In addition, they have games & appearances, so depending on the week they could see each other every single day. Moore tells the girls, “These are full time hours for part time pay. So this has to be something you really want to do because it’s a big time committment.”
In a usual practice there are new dances to be choreographed, setting a routine, and preparing for upcoming special events. The girls usually take 2 hours to learn and set a new routine. One of the obstacles that Moore has to overcome is that only twelve girls perform for each game but there are 19 girls on the team. With each routine, the girls who perform it during a game may be different, so trying to fit those girls into the routine and having them learn positioning is tough and very time consuming. With a full schedule and to-do list for the rehearsals, she is always chasing the clock.
In addition to teaching and choreographing the routines, she also designs the costumes and selects the music for the routines. Usually early in the season she will choose a list of songs to attack and get the girls’ input on which songs they want to perform. They also pull from prior seasons’ routines. Most of the music is top 40 music or something that is recognizable, relevant and fun to the Memphis fans.
Being a small market team and having limited funnels for dancers, I wonder where these dancers come from and what criteria is used for selecting them.
Most of the ladies come from the tri-state area, and abound a third each year from The University of Memphis pom squad, but some girls have come from California and Chicago too.
The criteria used in selecting the Grizz Girls are “One, you must be a great dancer. Two you must have the look. Three you must have charisma.” However, according to Moore, “charisma is more important than the other 2, because being a Grizz Girl is about performing and entertaining, and if you don’t look like you’re enjoying yourself on the court, and it’s not genuine then the fans can tell it. So every time you hit the court, you have to love what you do.”
Finding dancers with all three of those criteria has been a “growing process.” While some dancers don’t come in the way she’d like them to be, she has spent time trying to develop their talent and bring them to perform at an optimal level. “It’s been fun seeing them grow over the years and go onto do other things,” adding that it’s “very rewarding” for her as their coach. But don’t think that she isn’t harsh on these ladies. While she doesn’t perform anymore, she tells the dancers, “If I can get into one of those costumes, I’ll out dance every one of y’all.” And everybody that watches their practices tells her she is very serious and intense.
Tamara tells her dancers, “Nobody cares if you’ve had a bad day, if your stomach hurts, if your boyfriend broke up with you or you failed a test. They just want to see you happy and enjoying what you do. So when you walk into the arena you’ve got to put it all behind you.”
If you’re interested in becoming a Grizz Girl, auditions are held every summer in late June or early July. Last year the auditions were late June because there was an opportunity to travel in July overseas to China, and she didn’t want the girls to miss out on that opportunity. If you or someone you know would like the same opportunity watch www.grizzlies.com for more information on dates and times for this year’s auditions.