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Senior Sun dancers bring the house down

Published 10/19/2011 12:00 AM

Timeouts at Connecticut Sun basketball games make most carnivals feel quieter than afternoon tea. Music blares, sort of like a melodious jackhammer. Cheerleaders, team employees and other assorted happy people toss T-shirts into the crowd. T-shirts also are rifled into the crowd by what looks like a confetti gun on amphetamines.

You never know when adults will ride tricycles between road cones, kids will dress like the players and try to make a layup in sneakers 12 sizes too big, or even when there might be an alarmingly competitive game of musical chairs.

But even if you concede that expecting the unexpected is part of the charm … who would have ever predicted seeing 17 women and one man, all with AARP cards, shaking various body parts to the Black Eyed Peas?

Now you know the rhythms of Mohegan Sun Arena on game nights. This is when 7,000 fans – sometimes more – gather to watch the WNBA. And then the real show: The Senior Sun Dance Team.

OK, so the Sun's 15-3 home record from this past season was the primary reason the fans left the place smiling most nights. But the true entertainment portion of the program comes in the occasional two-minute driblets when the Seniors, who just completed their fourth season, draw wild ovations.

"I think the best way to describe it," said assistant team coordinator Kayla Groccia, "is like a roller coaster. It looks kind of scary until you do it and then you want to do it again. The looks on their faces when they come off the court to the big cheers are priceless."

Groccia, a former member of the Solar Power Dance Team (the franchise's more traditional dance team), is an elementary school teacher in Rhode Island. But one practice night a week and for assorted games throughout the summer, she joins choreographer Andrea Ricci to create Senior moments.

"I saw an ad in The Day for it," said Nancy Moore of Uncasville. "I said to my husband, 'I think I can do that.' I only live five minutes from here. But we have people from New Haven."

"I'm a dance-a-holic anyway," said Nancy Smith-Tefft of Columbia, a tall blond who goes by the nickname "Butter." She says it's because she churned butter at a fair once, but who's to say it's not because her moves are smooth?

They dance to every genre, in lockstep precision. But it's when Elvis turns to Hip Hop that the place rattles with approval. It was "Boom Boom Pow" to the Black Eyed Peas this year. Their first year, they used "Crank That" by Soulja Boy.

"When I heard (the song) I thought it was the Shirelles," Moore said, breaking into the sing-songy version as the Shirelles sang it. "I didn't even know who 'Soulja Boy' was."

But at the end when the artist raps, "Now watch me you," the troupe pointed to the crowd, as if to say "Watch us, you."

Standing ovation.

"I think when we started we were all petrified," said Terry Reilly of Gales Ferry. "The first time we ever went out there, the music was so soft we didn't hear it. We were all kind of looking at each other. Then Jackie (a member of the team) said in her English accent, "Dahnts." (Dance!) From that time, we've loved every minute."

And why not? They've become local celebrities.

"A lot of people probably look at them and think there's no way they could do it," Groccia said. "There's a lot to admire. It's not easy to go out there and strut your stuff."

The season ended for the Sun last month. It's a long winter ahead. But it'll be warmed by the thought of fun summer nights at the casino, watching games and watching "Soulja Boy" performed in a way no one ever fathomed.

Meantime, the dancers have the winter to enjoy their fame.

"We'll be in the store wearing our jackets then people will stop us," Reilly said, and say "We saw you last night!'"

Mike DiMauro is the sports columnist for The Day.