Everyone does it.
Whether it’s singing into a hairbrush or playing air guitar in front of the bathroom mirror, everyone has – for at least one fleeting moment – dreamt of what it would be like to be a rockstar. Even Michigan athletes – many of whom already have celebrity status on this campus – want to get a taste of the rush of being onstage. And once a year, they get to live out that dream by putting on a variety show called Mock Rock. The proceeds go to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. But what’s special about the event for the fans is seeing the stars of Michigan athletics show off their other talents – or just make fools of themselves.
Michael Jackson . again?
It’s 8:00 p.m. on a Tuesday, and Michigan volleyball players are strolling into Cliff Keen Arena for practice. Some wear jeans, and some wear sweatpants and slippers. A bag of volleyballs sits untouched on the floor. They won’t be used at all. The nets stand in the middle of the court, but nothing will be bumped, set or spiked over them tonight. Instead, the nets will serve as a visual aid.
“This is stage right,” senior captain Erin Cobler calls out, pointing to the nets. “We’re going to go on and off there.”
The team is having its final night of practice before Mock Rock. Song selection, choreography and costume decisions have already been made. Right now, the athletes just want to get the moves down and clean up the routine.
The team decides to name its performance “Michael Jackson . again,” as a way to poke fun at itself. Two years ago, the team had such success with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that it decided to do it again for last year’s Mock Rock.
“Last year, we wanted to try it again,” Cobler said. “It was just terrible. No one laughed. Everyone was just like ‘I can’t believe they did it again.’ “
This year, the routine starts out with Michael Jackson’s “Black and White,” and everyone strikes a dramatic pose. After a few lines of the song and some silly dance moves, sophomore setter Mara Martin stages a fall and exclaims, “Wait, Michael Jackson . again?” and the music stops.
With the jokes aside, it’s time for the real routine to get started.
A battle of pop songs ensues, with Britney taking on Christina, N Sync fighting the Backstreet Boys and Hanson dueling with Outkast. But something’s different. Some of the dancers aren’t volleyball players – they’re not even women.
Taking fan participation to a whole new level, four of the performers are guys from the volleyball student cheering section, the Zone. When the routine was being put together, the team decided it wanted some male acts in the dance to perform the female parts. Since every Mock Rock performance is looking for one thing – laughter – the volleyball team figured it could get it by playing with gender roles.
“We hear their cheers during matches, so we knew they were really funny guys,” Sarah Draves said. “We just think they’re hilarious.”
For Zone member Alex Gebhart – who busted out the short skirt, knee socks and pigtails for a rousing rendition of “Baby One More Time” – working so closely with the players demonstrated the unique relationship the volleyball team has with its fans.
“If we were a football fanclub, I don’t think we’d be invited to be a part of their act,” Gebhart said.
But perhaps the real perk of participation was the wardrobe.
“That was the most fun part,” Gebhart said. “Just going to Salvation Army and browsing through the women’s section, trying to find the most ridiculous thing.”
It was also clear dancing and lip-synching were fun too. Each group cheered on the others as they experimented with dance moves and trying to make their act funny.
But despite the laughs, each performer was aware that the next night, she would have to do this in front of an intimidating Hill Auditorium crowd.
“I’m really excited,” Draves said. “I’m just hoping I can forget about the audience. It’s easier to make fun of yourself when it feels like no one’s there.”
But for others, stage fright wasn’t an option.
“I’m definitely not nervous,” freshman Elizabeth Raschke said. “I’m pumped.”
“We will rock the Mock,” Cobler added with a laugh.
Countdown to Showtime
After their usual weight lifting session, the players take quick showers and start to get ready for the night. They put on their one glove and strike their Michael Jackson poses for a quick run-through. This last-minute dress rehearsal is the first time they’ve all been together in costume. The Zone guys reveal short skirts, tiny tank tops and funny wigs, much to the delight of the players who are practicing their own high-speed costume changes.
“You guys look awesome!” Martin said.
Everyone continues to cheer on their fellow dancers as they practice, but the light-hearted mood from the night before is gone.
“Is this funny?” many of the players ask each other as they work out some of the last few kinks. A few more dance moves are added to the routines, hoping to add a bit of comedy to the act.
Sophomore Katie Bruzdzinski is noticeably hesitant to play her part in the Hanson routine, doubting the comedic value of her performance, but her teammates assure her the act will garner many laughs. Bruzdzinski’s long hair is perfect for mimicking the lead singer and middle Hanson brother, Taylor, the flannel shirt, cardboard guitar and drum set made of a bucket will help draw laughs too.
After a couple more run-throughs, it’s time to organize rides to Hill and head to the show. Excited chatter fills the cars as the players try to find parking and calm their nerves at the same time.
Arriving at the auditorium, the athletes filter into the left side of the venue, where a sectioned-off group of seats awaits all performing athletes. Surrounded by a sea of cowboy hats, sequined costumes and someone dressed as the marshmallow man from “Ghostbusters,” the teams takes their seats as the show begins.
Each player tries to enjoy the other acts while still focusing on the performance ahead of them, whispering advice to each other when they think of it. When the women’s lacrosse team finishes its act, it’s time for volleyball to file backstage.
The scene backstage is a wild frenzy of people going in and out with music blaring from the stage. Two large doors are the only things that separate this hidden circus from the audience. Many crowd around the two large peepholes in the doors, trying to see what’s happening on the stage and also getting a feel for the audience’s response. When the water polo team finishes up its act, players run off stage out of breath and relieved to be done. One more act to go.
The volleyball players and Zone members neatly place their costumes around the cramped room and make sure everything is set up perfectly for the lightning-speed changes they will soon have to make. With all props in place, the volleyball team takes some time for a final rehearsal.
“Seriously, you gotta shake it,” junior Danielle Pflum advises her teammates from her stance on her crutches. She has to sit out the performance because of an injury, but still dresses in the black and white costume of her teammates.
Trying to calm their nerves, a few players dance around to the Will Smith songs playing from the stage.
“I’m more nervous than before a match!” Bruzdzinski exclaimed.
The group then comes together in a circle, all putting their hands in. Sophomore Stesha Selsky pumps up the circle and gives them a few more tips. When Selsky’s pep talk ends, the group shouts, “Go Blue!” and gets ready to head on stage.
The men’s track and field team finishes up its act – which seems to last forever – and the audience roars with a standing ovation. The judges award the team multiple scores of perfect tens, which will add up for a first-place finish.
It’s a tough act to follow, but the volleyball players take the stage and strikes their familiar Michael Jackson poses. “Black and White” booms from the speakers, and it’s time to begin. As Martin does her bit, Zone member Devin Hurst runs out in a black suit and wig ready to do his version of Janet Jackson’s “Escapade.”
With Hurst alone onstage, the rest of the performers sprint backstage, and a flurry of clothing overwhelms the room as simple Michael Jackson dancers transform into the members of boy bands. The acts continue to fly by, with dancers running on and off excitedly.
“Go, go, go!” they shout as the cue for their entrance arrives. Players are pushed out onstage, still fastening the belt to their oversized jeans. The few who are already dressed try to see through the peepholes to watch each other.
When the Hanson group is on the stage, it runs around just like the teenage rockers did in their music video for “Mmmbop.” Running back when the segment is done, Bruzdzinski breathes a sigh of relief.
“They laughed!” she says.
The act finishes with the entire group on stage for the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” Everyone hits one last pose, and with that, it’s over. They run offstage and huddle around the open doors, waiting for the judges’ reactions.
“It looks like they threw it together today,” Michigan linebacker and judge LaMarr Woodley says with a laugh. The team is awarded a few sevens and even some fives, demonstrating how stiff the competition was that night.
But as the group walked back to their seats, exhausted and smiling, they hugged one another. Because this team knows that win or lose, good score or not, they had fun. And for this show, that’s all that matters.