By Cary Shuman
The next time Ashley McCormack dances for real, it will be before 19,000 fans and on the most famous floor in the world.
McCormack is a new member of the Boston Celtics Dancers, a dance team that performs during Celtics home games on the parquet floor at the TD Garden. Just a couple of months after graduating from Winthrop High School and one month before she enrolls at Salem State College, McCormack has become a professional dancer for one of the most storied franchises in all of pro sports.
Making the team was no easy feat, even for someone as accomplished as McCormack who has 15 years of dance experience, owns numerous national dance titles, and has an appearance in North Shore Music Theatre’s “High School Musical” on her resume.
More than 300 young women participated in auditions in Los Angeles, New York, and Boston, with the hope of securing a spot in the final tryouts which were held three days last week at the House of Blues in Boston.
Interestingly, McCormack almost wasn’t going to be at the original auditions. The 18-year-old Winthrop resident returned from a vacation in the Bahamas two days before the auditions were to take place. The auditions were also scheduled on the day of her graduation party.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to go,” said McCormack. “I made the decision at 2 in the morning, and I asked my father if he would take me in the morning to the auditions at the Waltham Sports Club. I woke up at 6:30 and we went.”
With 100 others auditioning before a panel of judges, McCormack displayed her superior dancing techniques and athleticism in a series of dances such as hip-hop and jazz, and in a solo routine in which the women were to display their best skill.
“I did backflips, forward flips, and cartwheels, which come from my dance training,” said McCormack.
McCormack received word that day that she had earned a berth in the final tryouts. The tryouts were held last Tuesday and Wednesday and culminated in a show Thursday night before a huge crowd that included Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and JAM’N 94.5 radio personality Ramiro. Kiss 108’s Bill Costa was the host of the show.
One of the toughest tasks for McCormack in preparation for the show was actually finding a red, white, and blue swimsuit to go along with the swimsuit competition’s patriotic theme.
“It had to be red, white, and blue, and that was so hard to find,” related McCormack. “It was right after the Fourth of July so finding a red, white, and blue bathing suit took some searching.”
With the spotlight and the pressure on and knowing only 17 of the 44 finalists would be selected to the team, McCormack delivered a performance worthy of the Celtics tradition itself.
She performed an opening dance with the group for a Blues song, teamed with two other women for a newly choreographed piece, and then participated in her first-ever swimsuit competition.
Next was her solo dance performance, and McCormack chose Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” for her personally choreographed routine. “I love Michael Jackson’s music because it’s always upbeat and you can dance to it,” said the physically fit 5-foot-5 inch McCormack, who executed the late King of Pop’s famous Moonwalk step flawlessly during her routine.
McCormack’s finish was a dazzler as she soared high off the stage and landed in perfect unison with the music as the crowd roared in appreciation. “I felt like that was the time to shine in front of everybody,” she said.
Each of the 44 candidates wore white dresses as the judged announced the names of the new Celtics Dancers – one by one.
“I was just waiting up there and getting kind of nervous,” admitted McCormack. “The names weren’t called in any particular order, but they didn’t call my name until toward the end. I heard my name and I was so excited. [Celtics Dancers Director] Marina Ortega handed us flowers, gave us a hug, and told us, ‘Welcome to the Celtics’.’’
McCormack will be reunited on the Celtics Dancers with Jennafa Martone, an East Boston resident with whom she danced as a youth. “Jennafa is a beautiful dancer and someone I looked up to,” said McCormack.
The daughter of Stuart and Annie McCormack, Ashley said she’s received a lot of congratulatory phone calls and text messages since being selected to the Celtics dance team. Some of her neighbors, including Martha Ruggiero, her dance teacher, Paula Terenzi, her high school classmate and boyfriend, UNH-bound football star Chris Beranger, and other friends attended last Thursday’s show.
Winthrop’s newest celebrity has an exciting year ahead with the Celtics, who usually sell out the Garden for all home games and should be a legitimate contender for the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship. In addition to performing at all home games, McCormack will be called up to make promotional appearances, where she’ll pose for photos with Celtics fans and sign autographs.
McCormack said she started dancing at the age of 2 1/2 at the Eleanor Rubino Academy for Performing Arts, where she became a student of Paula Terenzi. She traveled to national dance competitions in Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Atlantic City, and New York City, often returning with the highest individual and team awards.
“I used to play basketball, softball, and soccer, but I never stopped dancing,” said McCormack. “I’m very grateful to my dance teachers because I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.”
McCormack and her Celtics Dancers teammates will begin rehearsals for the upcoming season next month.