Chalk Talk: Get to know Amayrani

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Duncan McElroy
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
(This interview is Part 3 of an open-ended series featuring question-and-answer sessions with members of Team Keesler.)

If you're into a good morning workout, chances are you've seen Amayrani "Amy" Smith attending the front desk at the Blake Fitness Center. Chances are she's also sporting a blue zip-up jacket with 'Nola' stitched onto it.

While she may be your smiling, talkative Blake employee by day, by night she's someone totally different - a professional dancer with the New Orleans Pelicans Dance Team.

It takes a special kind of energy to juggle two jobs and a family, but Smith does it with pep in her step and enough laughs to brighten up even the grumpiest of early-morning physical training sessions.

Luckily, Smith found some time out of her busy schedule to visit my office and have a chat.

As it turns out, her life is as interesting as it sounds.

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico and moved to the U.S. when I was 4. When I started school at 5, my parents just threw me into it - I didn't know any English! My older sisters knew it, but my parents and I didn't. Now I can barely remember how to speak Spanish.

I went to school, grew up and met my husband, Jerremy, in college. He's a senior airman in the 81st Medical Group, and I've traveled all over with him. I've been trying for a while to find a place where I could use my 'art', and I ended up with the Pelicans.

How long have you been dancing?

I've been dancing since 2005. My family didn't really have money for me to go to dance school, so I found out what YouTube was back then when it first started and taught myself from online videos. Then I joined my high school dance team, danced in college and I've been professionally dancing since 2012. First, I performed for the Austin Toros, now called the Austin Spurs, and now with the Pelicans.

In college, I majored in dance education and minored in mathematics - weird combination, I know. But I wanted to teach high school and also have the ability to open my own studio if I wanted. The math background helps me manage my money.

So you work the 4:30 a.m. shift at the Blake, and also have late nights with your dance team. How do you balance it all?

People ask me if I ever sleep - I tell them no! Balancing both jobs and my 4-year-old son is tough, but once you're at the games, you forget about all that hard stuff because it's just all about the game and the fun of it all.

This is my second year dancing with the Pelicans, so last year I got to experience being a part of the first-ever Pelicans Dance Team since they changed their name, and it was also All-Star weekend; that was absolutely amazing. It's probably one of my favorite memories.

A few weeks ago my team got to film a movie scene with Will Ferrell at a Lakers game - he was so nice! We got to meet Mark Wahlberg, too - he played some basketball with us.

I know it sounds cheesy, but when you're following your dreams, you're not thinking about anything else. You're just happy to be there in the moment.

What's your favorite part of dancing?

My favorite part is the performing - the adrenaline of running onto the court when there are a million people watching you. My friends still text me sometimes when they see me on TV. It's a very cool and unusual feeling - nervous but excited at the same time. There's nothing else like it.

You've been dancing for a decade now; you must have a favorite style. What is it?

Hip-hop, definitely. It's the most energetic and fun to watch. I also like ballet. As a dancer, you can kind of watch any style of movement and become dazed by it. Dancing can draw you in and make you feel all sorts of different emotions.

My husband and I saw a music video the other day and he asked me why the dancers were moving around so weirdly, and I said, "Can't you see the story behind it?" There's so much feeling that goes into a dance - you really don't even need words to tell a story.

And, of course, the obvious follow-up question: What's your least favorite style?

Tap is definitely my least favorite, and it was the very first style I learned. It's not fun - it's hard! It's like you're just walking and making noise to me.

Between working at a gym and being a professional dancer, physical fitness must be important to you. How do you stay fit?

Yes, it definitely is. We train in the gym for an hour before practice, and then we have three hours of dance practice. I also work out at the Blake on my own, too.

I'm also working on my certification to become a personal trainer; I want to help other people get in shape, too.

Do you have any words of encouragement for someone who's trying to get in better shape?

 Just stick with it, and don't think so much about it. Getting up, getting ready to exercise, going to the gym - just go for it. Do it for you, not for anyone else. Once you start seeing results, that's all you're going to want to keep doing. It will pay off.

What's the greatest benefit of working at the Blake?

All the Airmen that come here - it's awesome but kind of sad to talk to all of them and hear where they've been and where they're going. Some are only here for a bit for school, they graduated from one of the officer schools. They're all heading to their new bases, some in Florida, and some in Portugal. They're going all over the place. It's kind of sad that you see them every morning and then they're gone, but I absolutely love to hear their stories of where they've been stationed.

They like to give me pointers too, I really like that. They're always telling me to make sure my husband puts this place or that place on his dream sheet.

I love being a part of the Air Force family; it's like having a support network around you all the time.

How long have you been on the Gulf Coast, and how do you like it down here, compared to Texas?

We've lived here for 2½ years. I really like it down here, but the weather can be kind of confusing. Sometimes it's cold, sometimes it's rainy, and sometimes it's hot. Before this, the Air Force told us we moving to Nebraska and I checked the weather - it said 8 feet of snow! I've never even seen snow - I'm from Texas! It's not even that cold here and I was shivering earlier, so I'm pretty happy we ended up here and not somewhere with snow.

The food is really different here compared to Texas, too. Before every game the organization feeds us, and there's always gumbo and super New Orleans fare. Everyone always gives me a hard time when I say I've never had gumbo! Gumbo, jambalaya - I've never had any of it. It's so different than Texas cooking.

All right, one more question. Who do you look up to?

Smith: I
'd have to say my dance coach, Ashley Deaton. When I started looking into NBA dance teams, I just loved the style that she has. She does so much, she helps manage other dance teams and works with choreography for movies - I want to do all that one day. She's such a positive force.

I lied - this is the last question. Who's your favorite NBA player?

He was hurt, but he's back now - Anthony Davis! My son is obsessed with him.