Med student by day, dancer by night.
Sure, it sounds like a well-worn script from Hollywood, but it's real life for Jen Tserng. The 24-year-old South Toledoan is a second-year student at Medical College of Ohio and a member of Automotion, the Detroit Pistons' dance team.
It's a schedule that takes her to Detroit two to five times a week for practices and performances - a total of maybe 25 hours a week on top of the 25 to 30 hours a week in class, she estimates.
“I still have plenty of time to goof off,” she claims, explaining that her approach to time management is a combination of focus and a determination to carve out space on her schedule for the things that matter.
“Hardly ever does a person not have time - they just don't make time for certain things,” asserts Ms. Tserng, who took her first dance lesson at the age of 8.
The Cleveland native graduated in 1998 from Miami University of Ohio, where she danced at basketball games for two seasons and earned a double major in chemistry and zoology in just three years. Because she applied to MCO too late to start medical school right away, she went back to Cleveland, where she taught aerobic classes and joined the Cleveland Cavaliers dance team.
When Ms. Tserng started classes at MCO, she gave up the Cavaliers dance team to focus on school. But, she says, she found she had more free time than she expected.
And, she confesses to having “a pre-midlife crisis.” Looking ahead to increasingly heavy demands at school, Ms. Tserng says she decided to give dancing another shot. “I don't want to miss out on any opportunities,” she explains.
Last summer, she joined about 150 other young women at the Automotion tryouts. Nineteen were selected; two have since dropped out, she says.
The dancers perform during timeouts at all home games in the Palace of Auburn Hills. The regular season started in November and wraps up - 41 games later - in mid-April, when playoffs begin.
“We do all kinds of [dance] styles, from jazz to hip-hop,” she says. “We do theme dances like the '70s and '80s. We try to mix it up.”
They usually make one costume change per game.
It's not lucrative, but it's “a nice distraction,” Ms. Tserng says. “When I'm at a game or at practice I don't think about school or bills or anything like that.”
While she's uncomfortable saying exactly what she earns as an Automotion dancer, Ms. Tserng says the average in the NBA is between $50 and $100 per game. Some teams also pay dancers for practice time, and pay climbs with experience.
Automotion dancers' duties include public appearances and community service. Ms. Tserng has read to classes at elementary schools in Detroit as part of the NBA's Read to Achieve initiative.
Their duties also include staying trim, although Ms. Tserng says the Detroit team doesn't have weigh-ins for dancers. “We had weekly weigh-ins in Cleveland,” she recalls.
Ms. Tserng is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and mum about her weight.
“I like being at the games and performing, meeting fans, just getting that little taste of celebrity,” Ms. Tserng says. She'd like to dance for another year, or longer, if time allows.
“I thought after this year I'd be done with it, but I've just enjoyed it so much,” she says.