Petra Pope knows how to pump up the crowd at NBA games, and she thinks the Milwaukee Bucks can kick it up a notch or two.
The Milwaukee Bucks last week brought in Pope, who has 35 years of NBA experience, for an evaluation.
The review, said Bucks president Peter Feigin, is part of an effort to prepare the organization for the move next fall to the team’s new $524 million arena. Feigin knows Pope from when they both worked for the New York Knicks and called her “one of the best in the business.”
The Bucks promise that the arena will include major improvements to the fan experience. Seats will be much closer to the action, concessions upgraded, and the hoopla that takes place during timeouts will be more engaging, Feigin says.
“It’s a ‘street to seat’ experience,” Pope said in an interview. “Even if it’s a loss out there (on the court), we want folks to leave having had a great experience.”
One key, Pope said, is the work of the Bucks Dancers, the 16-woman group that performs during timeouts and works the crowd throughout the game.
It’s fair to assume her visit stirred some anxiety among the troupe.
Pope, 53, has worked with the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets dance groups. Her time with the L.A. Clippers Spirit dancers has drawn the most attention after it was the subject of a 2016 reality show on E! Entertainment.
In the show, Pope projects toughness and professionalism and delivers a message of empowerment for the dancers. She also demands excellence.
“I will fire someone in a heartbeat,” she says in an early segment.
Her job in Milwaukee, she said, was not to conduct auditions but to observe. She took in rehearsals and live performances, including one of the biggest home games of the year, Friday night’s sellout against the Golden State Warriors.
Pope was diplomatic with her assessment after seeing the dance squad perform for the first time.
“They try really hard,” she said. “I’m surprised at how good they are. And I want to make them great.”
Pope said that the performances aren’t limited to the dancers. It’s the music, choreography and costumes all synched to fit into a very tight window of time.
“It’s a package deal,” she said.
Pope says the first thing she would change is the dancers’ outfits.
“I think you can be super sexy without the crop top and the shorts,” said Pope who favors costumes that are “more fashion forward.”
“I just like things that are more creative.”
That would appeal to Bucks fan Andria Hoppe of Waukesha, who was at Friday’s game with Adam Hogden, 22, also of Waukesha, celebrating his birthday.
“They should be keeping up with the times and continuously doing something unique,” said Hoppe, 21.
“They should be keeping up with the music. And not doing the typical pom-poms. That get’s a little old.”
During Friday’s game, Pope dialed up a video of the Nets’ dance squad using a trampoline to make trick shots like those performed by the Bucks’ Rim Rockers group. She said the Bucks dancers could work the same kind of thing into their repertoire.
Members of the Milwaukee Bucks Rim Rockers acrobatic trampoline dunk team, looking for new talent, hosted auditions in 2013.
Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“They are gymnasts. They do great tricks and stunts,” she said of the Bucks Dancers while watching a rehearsal. “These women are athletes and this is just another form of athleticism.”
She said the Bucks need to be nimble when thinking about in-game entertainment.
Friday night, at the end of the third quarter, the crowd was roaring after the home team went up by two points over the Warriors, the NBA’s best team.
Out came the Bucks Beats drum line, an entertaining and skilled group of drummers who performed a piece that had a long build-up. The energy in the room seemed to dissipate.
“They should have just stuck with the D.J.,” Pope said.
Pope was on her first visit to Milwaukee and said she realizes it’s not New York or L.A.
“I know it’s more family friendly and we should be continually embracing that.”
Tricia Crawford, the leader of the dance group, said she welcomed the visit from Pope.
“It’s exciting that the Bucks care enough to help us grow,” said Crawford, who is also the manager of the Grand Dancers (older folks) and a kids dance troupe.
Crawford said the dancers serve as ambassadors for the Bucks at community events and team announcements.
“A big part of it is to make people feel welcome,” she said.
“We’re lucky to have her as a resource,” she said. “We want to be the best dance team in pro sports.”
“I think they want to show her what they are capable of,” Crawford said. “From a dancer standpoint, there’s always room to improve.”
Crawford and Pope said that the part-time job of a Bucks Dancer can lead to plenty of opportunities. Pope says she has dancer alums who work with stars like Britney Spears and on Broadway shows.
“You never know what doors are going to open for you for your next job,” Crawford said. “This is a hobby and it’s a very demanding hobby.”