Sudbury showcased a new wave of talent in 2018 with the introduction of the city's first professional basketball team, the Sudbury Five of the NBLC.
The Five are known for exciting, fast-paced and high-scoring basketball, and several of the elite players have become household names. And part of that elite team, as much a part of the Five experience as the coaching and support staff, the mascot, Rock Monster, and the players themselves is the Five's own personal hype crew: the Sudbury Five Dance Squad.
The squad was revamped this year to include several new faces and is now comprised of Huntar-Shana Rodic, Jadah Elofson, Chelsea McLaughlin, Anikk Seguin, Manon Lacelle, Christine Coutu and Ive Velikova.
For their second season, head coach Jenn Ricker said she and squad choreographers Sammie Bourre and Sky Slywchuk were in search of individuals with previous dance experience, skill, commitment and, above all, performers who felt comfortable in front of large crowds.
Most importantly she said, they were looking for dancers who were coachable, positive, and understood the importance of their role with the team.
This is critical, as she said the squad is much more than a form of on-court encouragement, but an integral part of the spectacle that is a Sudbury Five sporting event.
"The Dance Squad is the hype, the vibe, the enthusiasm," said Ricker.
Performing with the Dance Squad is a volunteer position, but there are perks: swag and tickets, and a bonus if the dancer attends at least 80 per cent of the games in the season.
Participation is therefore driven by an individual's desire to perform, she said, as there are not many opportunities for a dancer to do so after they turn 18. This, said Ricker, is coupled with an applicant's desire to connect with their community, take their skills to the next level and be part of something bigger than themselves.
"It's really amazing to see how much creativity drives people when there isn't money involved," said Ricker. "That's what I think is true passion, commitment and work ethic."
Passion not only in the dance experience they bring to the team, but in the hours spent practicing to perform at their best.
For each of the four to six new routines performed per game, Ricker said the girls are required to participate in two, two-hour practices per routine in addition to any work done at home.
As the proud owner of Zen Fitness, Ricker likened this drive to that of an entrepreneur, whose goal has a similar level of uncertainty.
"At the beginning, you don't necessarily do it for the money, you do it because you want to put your offering out into the world and that's what these girls are doing," she said. "Maybe it will go a step further, maybe it won't, but either way they're going to have a wicked year."
Despite the commitment these young women have to their art, they do not always get the respect they deserve, Ricker said. In 2019, cheerleading harkens back to a less enlightened age in some people's minds.
"Sometimes people think that exposed skin or anything like that is maybe anti-feminist but nudity empowers some, modesty empowers some and I don't think that we can really put a label on what is feminine, what isn't feminism, what is right, what isn't right," said Ricker.
"To not give them respect because it might not be in line with somebody else's feminine views, I think is really short-sided."
"They're athletes and they deserve to be treated like that."