By J’na Jefferson
After graduating magna cum laude from Rider in 2013, Michelle Figueiredo has found her footing as the newest co-captain of the Philadelphia 76ers Dancers for the 2014-15 NBA season.
“I never saw myself becoming an NBA dancer, but I am obviously more than happy with where my dance career is and how far I have come,” she said.
Figueiredo, a double major in behavioral neuroscience and dance performance, has been on the Sixers since her senior year in college. Not only was she able to hold down numerous performances at the Wells Fargo Center for home games, but she was also a member of the Rider Dance Team, a dancer and choreographer for the Rider Dance Ensemble and trained at the Princeton Ballet School for her dance major. All of these activities were in addition to her busy life as a science major and as a member of various honor societies.
“From the minute she came here, she gave 100 percent to her academics, dance, fellow students and the program,” said Dr. Kim Vaccaro, an associate professor in Rider’s dance program. “She uses every part of her brain and body. Her mind, which is totally embedded and embodied, is firing constantly, taking in information.”
Vaccaro said Figueiredo’s incredible passion and energetic nature were just a few qualities instrumental in her success.
With the Sixers, Figueiredo has done some extraordinary things, including a trip with her teammates to Lanzhou, China, in the summer of 2013 and a recent audition and photo shoot in California. Earlier this year, she was the lucky dancer chosen to represent her team in the All-Star game in New Orleans. Only one dancer from each of the NBA teams was selected.
“The amount of choreography that was learned within a few days was pure insanity but totally worth every second,” said Figueiredo. “We were dancing for about 15 hours every day, and not only did we perform at the All-Star Game, but we also performed at the celebrity game and other events throughout All-Star weekend.” During this event, she and the other All-Star dancers performed with Pharrell Williams and Vanilla Ice.
When she’s not on the court dancing, Figueiredo is still keeping busy doing her favorite things. She teaches, subs, and hosts master dance classes, and tries to improve her dancing if her hectic schedule permits it. She also has plans to go back to school to pursue a career in the healthcare field.
“Once it is time to hang my shoes on the wall, I definitely plan on going back to school, I just am not sure for what yet.”
Figueiredo urges dancers with big goals and dreams to attend classes regularly, apply corrections in dance classes and to “just go for it!”
“It’s a pretty big sacrifice to dance as a career, but it is a sacrifice that you must be willing to make and it is totally doable.”
Vaccaro agreed, saying that dancers should “always take dance seriously. You don’t know where the road may lead.” Besides great stage presence and technique, a strong support system is extremely important when choosing to pursue a career in a topsy-turvy field such as dance.
“Some people tell me that I need to go back to school before I forget everything I learned, but for the most part, everyone is very supportive of me which I appreciate beyond words,” said Figueiredo. “Fortunately, my family is extremely supportive of my dancing which is more than I can ask for.”
Figueiredo also has support from members of her alma mater. When it comes to Figueiredo’s success, Vaccaro says she knew that Michelle always had it in her. So was she surprised? Not at all, but “very, very proud.”
printed in the 9/24/14 edition.