The Timeless Torches, New York Liberty’s 40-and-over dance team, are out to prove that just because they don’t look like average cheerleaders doesn’t mean they can’t move like them.
“It’s important to us to show people that just because you may be a certain size, you shouldn’t think that you can’t do a dance move,” said Margaret Hamilton, a 46-year-old legal secretary. “We may be older, but we’re not old with one leg in the grave. We can do everything.”
Hamilton has been with the 13-member team since it began entertaining fans at Madison Square Garden in 2005: a longtime veteran, like many of the dancers. In addition to twerking, breakdancing and twirling at nine regular season home games, the Torches have performed at Knicks games, NBA All-Star games and in those lucky years, the playoffs.
The Torches aren’t the only team of its kind. Among others, the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic have senior dance teams as well, the Used-to-Bees and Silver Stars, respectively.
Through intense practices and performances in front of thousands of people, what stands out to the members of the Torches is the sense of camaraderie that comes with the uniform.
“This team forms an extended family,” Hamilton said. “And to be on the court with people you consider brothers or sisters, that’s what’s amazing.”
Denise Bellog, a 62-year-old theater teacher and Torch for seven years, added that the different walks of life found on the team is what gives it the character fans love.
“We’re from all over the place,” she said. “We never would have ever met. We’ve got bus drivers, we’ve got nurses, we’ve got teachers, we’ve got a little of everything. And yet, we all come together for a common cause.”
The team is coached by Knicks City Dancers captain Criscia Richardson.
Richardson, who has been the Torch coach for three years, emphasized the talent and dedication the dancers had despite their age or size.
“It almost gives me more life to want to dance myself, to see people this age get out there and take it so seriously,” she said. “They put so much passion into it and really enjoy themselves.”
Hamilton said this capacity to inspire is what keeps her and her fellow Torches coming back. “We touch people in ways we don’t even know,” she said, describing a time a fan came up to her after the game and told her they had inspired her to start dancing again.
In preparation for MSG mascot Maddie’s 19th birthday celebration at Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Sparks, the Torches prepared a routine melding classics like The Beatles’ “Birthday” with more contemporary music, like Trey Song’s “Say Aah,” where the Torches will showcase their skills with choreography ranging from hip-hop moves to air guitar pantomines.
Finding the child within is the key to success for the Torches, Bellog said. “It’s all something innately within us. We just have to cross the line and get into a different character. We have to go back to playing, like we did when we were kids.”
The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Liberty, Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns amNewYork.