Student journeys from pipe dream to dance team

By Rachel Stengel

Senior Michelle Figueiredo poses for her official 76ers photo.

On the night of July 12, senior Michelle Figueiredo tossed and turned while clutching her cellphone in hopes of receiving a call that could kick-start her dance career.

After a tiresome two-week audition process with more than 100 girls vying for one of the eight open positions, Figueiredo landed a coveted spot on the Sixers Dream Team, the Philadelphia 76ers dance team. She and her family couldn’t contain their enthusiasm when she received the good news.

“My parents were listening while I was on the phone,” she said. “They knew that my coach was calling me, and as soon as I got off the phone they gave me a big hug. It was really exciting.”

Figueiredo found out about the audition via the 76ers Twitter account. She said it was something that sparked her interest and thought it would make for a good side job while still in school, but she wanted to keep the audition a secret. She only told her parents, her boss and her best friend from home that she was auditioning because she wanted to do it without pressure from others.

The news came as a pleasant shock to senior radio and TV major Jeanette Rudnicki, one of Figueiredo’s closest friends and roommate at Rider, who found out through social media before calling to congratulate her.

“I saw it on Facebook amongst hundreds of the other people [commenting on her status and liking it],” Rudnicki said. “I saw it and I was like, ‘What is this? This is crazy.’”

Freshman arts administration major Tiffany Reyes, a member of the Rider Dance Team with Figueiredo, also saw the news on Facebook. Reyes looks to her as a mentor and was thrilled for her success.

“I literally screamed for joy [when I saw it on Facebook],” Reyes said. “Michelle is a role model to me and when I graduate college I want to try out for the New York Knicks Dancers. She really motivates me and helps me believe that anything is possible in life.”

Figueiredo’s passion for dance began at 4 years old and has continued ever since. As a dance major, it is natural to see her sashaying across the studio floor, but she feels just as comfortable in a leotard and tights as she does in a lab coat because she also majors in behavioral neuroscience (BNS).

Figueiredo juggles a full course load and participates in activities such as Rider Dance Ensemble, Dance Team and the Leadership Development Program. Now her balancing act becomes even more complicated as she heads to Pennsylvania Monday and Wednesday nights for Dream Team practice and gets ready to perform at the 76ers upcoming home games.

“It’s really hard,” she said. “I don’t sleep much. It’s a lot of allocating time properly. I really just take one day at a time. I’m a very planned person so I know exactly what I’m doing; I just need to plan each day properly.”

Dr. Jonathan Karp, chair of the Science Department and Figueiredo’s BNS adviser, describes her as a hardworking, motivated student. He is pleased about her academic and dancing accomplishments.

“She’s doing something beyond the classroom, outside science so that’s even better that she can still do the science stuff,” Karp said. “What she’s doing is very unusual. She’s unique [because] she’s doing all this professional stuff outside of school.”

Because of her diverse majors, Figueiredo does not have concrete plans about how to include both dance and science into her career, but she has some ideas.

“Currently I’m applying to nursing schools,” she said. “I’m considering graduate school and either way, if I do nursing or sports medicine, I still want to incorporate dance.”

Dr. Kimberly Chandler Vaccaro, assistant professor of dance and Figueiredo’s other adviser, has high hopes for her student.

“She’s really a superstar,” she said. “If there are 30 people in a crowd dancing, people will pick her out; she has so much energy. Michelle probably has an exceptional chance of getting commercial work once she graduates because she’s such a great performer.”

Rudnicki said that she’s confident that whatever course of action Figueiredo chooses, she will follow her passions.

“I don’t know how the timing’s going to work out, what she’s going to do first or if she can do both at the same time like she does [at Rider], but I’m confident that she’ll be a dancing nurse one day,” she said.

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