2008-07-10 / Community

WHS alumna gets close to Celtics

By Joann Groff joann@theacorn.com

Alex McElroy Alex McElroy A Westlake High School alumna saw last month's NBA championship games up close, although she didn't score floor seats. A dancer for the Boston Celtics, Alex McElroy, 22, took the same court as team standouts Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

This season, McElroy's first one dancing in Boston, was one of the most exciting in recent Celtics history. The team beat the Los Angeles Lakers in six games to win their first NBA championship since 1987.

"It was an interesting dynamic because I did grow up a Lakers fan," she said. "But in the recent past I was so into college sports, I really started following SC basketball and SC football, so it wasn't too tough to choose my loyalty. But it was interesting to have all my friends and most of my family being Lakers fans."

In particular, McElroy's dad has been a "huge, lifelong" Lakers fan.

"We had our share of heated discussions, but in the end, we're okay," she said. "He called and congratulated me."

McElroy was able to travel to L.A. for Game 4 of the series.

"It was really cool to be able to come home for Game 4," she said. "To see that big comeback, that historic comeback, was really an interesting experience."

The entire season was a thrill, McElroy said.

"Every time we went to the next round we would just say, 'You know what, we have to live it up, dance like this is your last game, last series and leave it all on the court,'" she said. "We do a huddle before every game to get everyone pumped up. . . . At the last game, we realized we were the last dance team standing. We just thought, 'How fortunate are we?'"

McElroy pointed out that tryouts were held before the Celtics acquired power players Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

"We thought we were trying out for the former Celtics, which were the worst in the league last year," she said. "No one ever expected this to happen. It was a magical season."

McElroy said she credits all of her dancing success to the foundation she built at Westlake High School.

"Everything that I ever had or accomplished was a result of my high school dance team experience," McElroy said. "My coach back then, she kind of took a chance on me when I was young and not very experienced. I didn't know if I wanted to dance, if I was good at it. She thought, 'This girl could maybe take this somewhere in my life,' and I did that."

When McElroy was 3, she began dancing at the Academy of Dance in Thousand Oaks and later at the California Dance Theater in Agoura Hills.

"I did all kinds of dance when I was younger, and then I kind of gave it up until middle school when I got really serious about it," she said.

McElroy tried out for the Westlake High School dance team as a freshman and made the junior varsity team. She moved up to varsity in her sophomore year and eventually became a team captain.

"My experience on the Westlake dance team was really different than anything I've done since," she said. "It was competitive dance, so that was our focus. We were basically preparing from the very beginning of the school year for competitions in the spring, so I got a really good background in that area."

McElroy said in high school they worked with choreographers who went on to be very successful, including some who work for the hit TV show "So You Think You Can Dance."

As a senior at Westlake, McElroy auditioned for the USC Dance Force and made the team. She graduated from WHS in 2003 and went on to USC as the only freshman on the team, which took first place at the national competition.

"Most of my college experiences are defined by my commitment to the Trojan Dance Force," she said. "I made a lifetime of memories and great friends. It was while on that team when I really knew I wanted to dance for the rest of my life.

"It was a point in my life when I was away from home for the first time, in a different element," she said. "The team pulled people from all different walks of life, but it was like a big family. No matter what else was going in your life, you knew for those couple hours a day that there were going to be people there for you."

McElroy had a coach at USC whose sister coached the Celtics dancers.

"Because I had such a good experience at USC, I thought what better way to continue dancing than go out to Boston and dance with my coach's sister," she said. "I had known some girls who had gone out there to dance, and they just raved about their experience."

Upon graduating in 2007, McElroy auditioned for the team, only in its second year. The Celtics were the last in the NBA to get a dance team. Of the 50 dancers that were invited to the final audition in Boston, McElroy was one of 21 chosen to become part of the Boston Celtics Dancers.

"I was born and raised in Southern California and went to USC, and I was ready for a change in my life," she said. "I was ready to do something out of the box, out of the ordinary for me. And when I made it, I had to get serious about moving out here. I mean, my whole life was back in the Los Angeles area, all my friends and family. When I made the team, leaving really became a reality."

McElroy doesn't deny the move to Boston one year ago was a tough transition.

"Right when I moved out here, it was a shock," she said. "Everything was so different. But it was almost like moving into a builtin family. And Boston is such a special city."

The team practices on evenings and weekends three times a week. McElroy also has a day job- she works full time as a financial analyst in the city.

"I like to say I have a double life," she said with a laugh.

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