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Meet the NBA dancers strutting into their Golden years

The Hardwood Classics perform at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif.
Joshua Leung
/
Golden State Warriors
The Hardwood Classics perform at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif.

It's halftime at the Golden State Warriors' arena, and the stars are realigning.

Steph Curry and his teammates have gone to the locker room, giving up the floor to a crew of sashaying, strutting, seasoned dancers ranging in age from 55 to 77 known as the Hardwood Classics.

"You see 20,000 fans. And sometimes they'll even stand up in front of us and start dancing too. It's just electric. And we're so, so lucky," said Jan, the most-veteran crew member, who turns 78 in August.

The Golden State Warriors organization has a policy of giving only its dancers' first names, for their privacy and security.

Jan was part of the inaugural Hardwood Classics team. This is her fifth season with the group.

"The very first time we went out, we didn't know how we would be received. The fans really were behind us and applauded. And some of us, me included, came off with tears in our eyes. It was just such an emotional, wonderful experience."

The dancers come from varied backgrounds. Jenn is a season ticket holder with the Warriors, and she has a day job in healthcare. She saw the Hardwoods and tried out as soon as she qualified. At 55, it was the first audition of her life.

If the Golden State Warriors make it to the NBA Finals, the Hardwood Classics will give one last performance to cap off their season.
Joshua Leung / Golden State Warriors
/
Golden State Warriors
If the Golden State Warriors make it to the NBA Finals, the Hardwood Classics will give one last performance to cap off their season.

"I have to admit I was a little terrified in the beginning. In my first season, I had a little bit of imposter syndrome," Jenn said. "How did I get here? How am I getting to do this? But now that I'm doing it, I can't imagine not doing it."

Jan, on the other hand, said she began her professional dancing career when she was 14. She described working on chorus lines, on television, and as a contortionist in an acrobatic act. She says she still does the splits to limber up — "at a moment's notice, wherever I go."

The group's routines are morsels lasting a single minute and belying its diligent work ethic. Each requires several hours of learning, then perfecting, the choreography.

"You just eat, sleep, and drink the routine," Jan said. "I try to do it first thing, before I brush my teeth."

The dancers say they feel grateful for the community they have found among their fellow Hardwood Classics, and for their enormous stage at half-court in San Francisco's Chase Center.

"We all love each other so much," Jenn said.

Jan adds that they visit each other in the offseason to see movies, watch games, and celebrate grandchildren.

"At this stage of your life, usually you're rather sedate. You're not, you know, making new friends and things like that. This is just the complete opposite."

If the Golden State Warriors can pull out three straight wins against the Los Angeles Lakers in the semifinals — Game 5 is Wednesday night — the team will proceed to the finals.

That would give the Hardwood Classics a chance at one more performance to cap off their season.

Audio story edited by Jacob Conrad.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Taylor Haney
Taylor Haney is a producer and director for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First.