Jitterbuggers Go Hip-Hop

Bustin' a move wit' the NETSational Dancers

“There is a lot of very fast thinking you have to do,” says Joan Wright, 67, of Westfield (left and, below, in front). “You change your step, your focus, on almost every count. Other forms of dance are much more continuous.”

Catch Joe Bianco at a Nets game, and you’ll find him bustin’ up center court during half-time in his Nets #63 jersey, a ball cap cocked to one side. One of two men on the thirteen-person NETSational squad, Bianco says that the street-cred bravado and exaggerated facial expressions of hip-hop come naturally to him.

“I’m a city kid originally, from Flatbush, Brooklyn, so I know a little bit about neighborhoods,” says Bianco, a long-time Ramsey resident who runs his own commercial real estate business.

Though he played sports in his youth, his dance experience was limited to weddings, cruises, and CYO dances with his wife. He auditioned on a dare from his two sons, who are Nets fans, and made the team easily last season, its first year.

In this season’s tryout, he says, “the first routine I performed, one of the security guards told me, ‘You must be the Johnny Sack of the Nets senior dancers.’ I never got to thank him. Then three months ago, I was in a local restaurant, Brady’s. At the next table was Vincent Curatola [who played Johnny Sack] and his wife, Maureen. I got up and said, ‘I owe you a thank you.’ He didn’t understand it. When I told him about the guard’s remark, he laughed.”

Senior dance teams are catching on in the NBA, including with the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks. Nets management says it’s their way of bringing new entertainment to their expanding fan base. NETSational weekly practices span nearly two hours and commence with lunges, calisthenics, body rolls, and stretches tailored to aging joints. Then it’s time to perfect moves like the snake (a wavelike motion from head to toe) and the butterfly (a rapid flapping of bent knees) set to tunes like “Bust A Move” and “Why I’m Hot.”

The dancers will perform on April 1 and in the playoffs, if the Nets qualify. Just after Wright made the team last November, she found the gold N megaphone charm she wore as cheering captain of her Pennsylvania high school some 50 years ago. The N stood for Norristown. Now it also stands for Nets. “My motto is keep moving with the times,” she says. In true hip-hop fashion, she’s got the bling to prove it.

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