The Sacramento Kings Dancers were surprised and saddened to learn last week that the organization is disbanding its longtime dance team in order to form a gender-inclusive hip-hop dance troupe.
They were particularly surprised because, evidently, someone briefly posted the announcement on the Kings’ website a day before the team informed the dancers. They were saddened because they believe the organization is making a mistake in eliminating a dance team that has influenced the fan experience in Sacramento for more than 30 years.
“It’s history. It’s tradition,” said Kings dancer Kellie Jackson, who moved to Sacramento from Los Angeles when she made the Kings dance team in 2016. “It’s people’s dreams and aspirations. A lot of people sacrificed a lot of different opportunities to do this. A lot of people put careers on hold.”
Some of the Kings Dancers are speaking out about the team’s decision to replace them with the 916 Crew, which will be comprised of men and women who perform hip-hop dance routines during home games. A change.org petition to save the Kings Dancers, titled “Bring back SKD,” had more than 1,100 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
“Your reasoning is, ‘We want to be gender inclusive’ or ‘We want to go all hip-hop,’” Jackson said. “OK, those are things you could have done while keeping the Sacramento Kings Dancers. They didn’t have to blindside us like this.”
Jackson said the Kings Dancers consist of 18 women, most of them in their early to mid-20s. Some go to school or work full-time jobs in addition to their duties at Kings games and community events.
Kings Dancer Ariana Hirschfield said she and her teammates discovered the organization’s plan for a new dance team when one of the dancers shared a screenshot of an announcement posted at Kings.com on May 14. That post was removed minutes later, but the dancers were formally notified during a conference call the next day.
“We were upset because of the way we found out,” Hirschfield said. “They posted it online the day before, so we were really blindsided. And their whole reason behind it, being gender inclusive, is just hard for us to grasp because we’ve never not been gender inclusive. Yes, there have only been women on the team, but we’ve never marketed our auditions for women only.
“The past two years, boys have auditioned and been welcomed at auditions, and one of them even made it to finals last year. The idea of being gender inclusive doesn’t sit well with us because we feel that, as an organization, we already do a good job of that. We have a Street Team that is guys and girls. We have breakdancers who are boys. ... If a guy can dance, put him on the team. I have no problem with the gender thing, but they didn’t even give us a chance to make that segue. They just completely got rid of us and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do instead.’”
The dancers say the team dates back to the team’s home opener at Arco Arena in 1985; the Kings say the dance team was more than 30 years old but they’re not sure exactly how old.
Hirschfield said the organization told the dancers they “aren’t fired” and are “free to audition” for the 916 Crew, but Hirschfield disputes that notion. She said the dancers’ contracts with the team will expire when the NBA league year officially ends June 30 and dancers chosen for the 916 will be employed by “a third-party dance studio,” not the Kings organization.
“Telling us we’re still invited to come but knowing we wouldn’t even technically be a part of the organization anymore is kind of a slap in the face,” Hirschfield said. “The whole culture of what we had is gone.”
Team officials said they had discussed the change for months. The 916 Crew will have about 18 members with even numbers of men and women, the team said. The organization described the move as the “evolution” of its entertainment team.
“We are excited to see the entertainment team evolve as we work to broaden our reach and ensure an inclusive environment for all,” John Rinehart, Kings president of business operations, said in a statement last week.
The Kings Dancers see the situation differently.
“People don’t realize it’s more than just an opportunity to dance,” Jackson said. “They’re taking away a lot from the community and the overall impact we had on the game-day experience.”
The Kings issued a statement Wednesday in response to the dancers’ concerns.
“We thank the dancers for their dedication and service to the organization and community,” the team said. “As we do every year, we invite all our dancers to participate in the annual audition process and have always encouraged them to explore open roles within the organization. This evolution builds on the long tradition of including dance in game entertainment and our entertainment teams will continue to serve as ambassadors in the community.”
Note: This story was updated at 10 a.m. to include an additional statement from the Sacramento Kings.