Dancing in front of thousands of people under the bright lights at Staples Center, wearing purple and gold, is an honor bestowed upon 22 girls each NBA season. The job of a Laker Girl, however, is much more than meets the glittering eye. This summer, hundreds of dancers auditioned at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, CA to become part of this season’s coveted Laker Girls squad. Every Laker Girl is required to re-audition for a spot. Eleven of the 250 women who auditioned were returning dancers from the previous season. Twenty-two women made the final cut.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Makayla, one of the returning Laker Girls. “It has changed my life for the better because this job is all about the community and meeting fans.”
Now in just her second season with the Laker Girls, Makayla is considered one of the veterans on the team. It took her three times before she made the team. She vividly recalls the moment she learned that she was officially a Laker Girl.
“It was a time I will never forget,” Makayla said when she received the call. “I was at my other job and having all my friends around me, I just burst into tears on the phone.”
Makayla moved to Los Angeles from her hometown, Orlando, FL, a month after graduating from high school, to pursue her dance and modeling career. When she was eight-years-old, she made the Magic Mini dancers, the junior dance team for the Orlando Magic. It was her first taste at a NBA dancers’ lifestyle.
“I wanted to pursue the NBA experience because I loved it growing up,” said Makayla.
For the Laker Girls, each dancer must be 18-years-old to audition.
“I was young,” Makayla reminisced on her first Laker Girls tryout. “I didn’t know enough about the team, about the organization or the job completely. I had to keep pushing myself to finally make it.”
The young dancer is no stranger to resilience or the dance culture. Makayla first started dancing when she was three-years-old at the dance studio owned by her mother, Julie.
“My mom is my role model, a strong and independent woman,” Makayla said.
Watching her mother’s work ethic has inspired Makayla. In many ways, she is mirroring that same drive. While being a Laker Girl can be considered a full-time job, with appearances at community events, performances, and practice, Makayla manages to find time to be a student studying child development.
“I wanted a backup plan since you can’t dance your whole life,” said Makayla. “I love kids and teaching them to grow up in a good environment is important to me.”
Makyla’s aspirations of becoming a preschool teacher started when she taught dance classes at her mother’s dance studio. Having to juggle her schoolwork and responsibilities as a Laker Girl comes with a high level of dedication and discipline.
“The dance lifestyle is all about training; you have to take dance classes up to 40 hours a week,” she added. “It’s a full-time job that you’re going after. You have to workout everyday.”
Dance is a profession that runs through her veins. She comes from a family of performers. Her father, Derrick, was a dancer at Disney World, the same place her mom was hired as a choreographer. Both of her stepparents also worked at Disney World, along with her grandparents, aunts and uncles.
“I still have a Disney pass for Disneyland out here,” Makayla said laughingly.
As she awaits her second season opener against the Clippers on October 19th, she is excited to have that first on-the-court rehearsal three hours before tip off.
“We go out into the tunnel about 15 minutes before the game, take photos with our season ticket holders,” recounted the veteran dancer. “We all circle up as a squad, we hold hands, jump up-and-down about eight times and then we walk onto the court.”
Makayla channels the energy of Laker Girls both past and present.
“There are legends who have been on that court like Paula Abdul,” Makayla said proudly. “Knowing you have a job that those legends have had before, it’s surreal.”
She was fortunate in her first season as a rookie to have gracious veterans for times such as her first performance at Staples Center.
“The first game, your anxiety level is at a high,” she remembered. “Having 21 other girls around you to pump you up. The veterans were so sweet to me, pinning up costumes, makeup and retouches.”
Makayla hopes this season to share her experience and knowledge with her new teammates.
“This season, I am excited to be a veteran with a bit of knowledge. I hope I can help out the new girls,” she said.
While many see these women as glamorous entertainers, Makayla is just one example of how multifaceted NBA dancers truly are and how many of them uphold various roles. Whether they are mothers working two jobs or full-time students pursuing long-term careers, Makayla is proof that achieving your dream job is attainable if you stick with the twists and turns life hands you.