While most Columbia College seniors are accustomed to spending the days of their last semester scouring the job market or idling at the West End, Helena Andrews will be spending the final days of her college life bussing to Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where she is one of thirteen dancers for the New Jersey Nets Power ’N Motion dance squad. Andrews’ journey from Port Authority to the Meadowlands is the fulfillment of an ambition that has taken her from her native Los Angeles through Levien Gym, with hopes of ending up in Madison Square Garden.
Although she is thrilled with her new job, some elements of dancing for the Nets still irk her.
“Dancing for the Nets is great now,” Andrews said, “but I’m not a fan. I’m a Lakers person.”
Last summer, after three years of Columbia cheerleading, Andrews tried out for the extremely competitive Knicks City Dancers, who, along with the Laker Girls, have revolutionized NBA half-time entertainment. At the tryout, Andrews was one of 99 women vying for seven coveted spots. Six of the 99 dancers had been on the squad the prior season.
Andrews performed well enough to make it to the final cut, which was a final interview. In the two previous days, she had executed sequences such as a double pirouette and toe touch and had mastered two company-taught routines. Unfortunately, Andrews did not make the final squad but was advised by her friend to participate in the upcoming Nets Power ’N Motion tryout across the river.
According to Andrews, it is common for dancers to try out for the Power ’N Motion squad after being cut from the Knicks City Dancers. Andrews hopes her stint at a Nets dancer will allow her to eventually land a job with the Knicks City Dancers, hopefully as soon as next year.
Andrews, who has been dancing since she was fours years old, made the squad and has since been balancing her studies with the Nets’ season. Andrews, who is also the vice-president of Columbia’s Delta Sigma Theta sorority, admits that the commitment was very arduous at the end of last semester but that it has eased now that she is a second semester senior. Regardless, she confesses that NBA cheerleaders enjoy very few luxuries.
“It’s hard work. We carry humongous bags with a lot of costumes,” said Andrews. “It’s a lot of waiting during the games, and the locker room is really cramped.”
Andrews’ success may come as a surprise to those Levien Loonies who deride the Columbia cheerleading team during their sideline performances at football games and at halftime during basketball contests. Andrews said she did not find her Columbia cheerleading experience fulfilling, even when compared to her high school cheering days.
“Coming to New York, cheerleading was a little disappointing, because cheering is so big in California, so cheering for the Lions got old quickly,” Andrews said.
The unexpected success of the Nets, who currently sit comfortably atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference standings, has also provided a breath of fresh air for Andrews. The arrival of point guard Jason Kidd has revived a sorrowful franchise and has helped the once-pitiful attendance at home games. The Nets have now overshadowed their cross-river rivals. Additionally, Andrews has not had to sit through painful Columbia losses in Levien Gymnasium.
“I couldn’t cheer for the Lions anymore,” said Andrews. “Thousands [of spectators] compared to hundreds. They win. The Lions don’t.”
Even though the Knicks appear to be headed for more rough times in the very near future, Andrews, who will graduate with a degree in English and Comparative Literature, still has her hopes pinned on eventually landing a spot on the Knicks City Dancers squad and playing to sold-out crowds in Madison Square Garden.