When Sandy Nguyen stepped onto the court for the first time as a Washington Wizards dancer in 2001, the 28-year-old wasn’t thinking about the last two months of exhausting rehearsals, weekly weigh-ins, or the fact that she’d never worn so much makeup or so little clothing in public. And the fact that Michael Jordan had packed the stadium for his NBA return, well, she wasn’t letting that get in the way of what she had to do.
Like everyone else in the MCI Center, Nguyen was thinking of those who had died just weeks before in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Her task at hand — help unfurl a massive American flag across the entire court.
“I was so emotional — everyone was,” Nguyen Vogelman says now, from the Rockville home she shares with her family. “It was surreal, totally unexpected from what I imagined, and an honor.”
Vogelman retired in 2003 as a Wizards dancer, a job that earns little money and respect in a button-down town like Washington but that hundreds of young women pursue with the intensity of a first-round NBA draft pick.
Minutes after making the squad in 2001, Vogelman was flipping through the squad’s calendar of on-the-beach and back-of-motorcycle poses, and she told this Washington Post Magazine writer: “I hope I get a cold month.”
A grad student and teacher, Vogelman got October — but she also got used to being one of the least-clothed people in the room. “There were just so many other things to worry about — getting the routines down, getting to practice on time after work, not falling asleep while making lesson plans ... not messing up!” She admits she sometimes cried from exhaustion.
Just months after hanging up her uniform, she married her boyfriend, Danny Vogelman. The couple had a son, Ethan, now 6. Twins Jace and Trey came along six months ago. Vogelman teaches full time and has a part-time business, Bliss, through which she sells diapers and baby accessories shaped into “cakes.”
She doesn’t slither across the floor now much, except to pick up toys, but she’s still close with her fellow dancers. She says she remains thankful for her experience as a Wizards dancer.
“I honestly think this made me a better person,” she says. “I gained a newfound confidence as a woman, a person and an athlete. ... I am still noticing the difference.”
And if she wants a reminder of just how good she looked in her old uniform, she needs only to take a trip to the principal’s office of a local middle school, where her husband keeps a framed copy of her Wizards dancer trading card on his desk.
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