Former dance team member joins Pelicans Hype Team


Courtesy of Jessica Penouilh.

“Surreal.” That’s how Jessica Penouilh described her first day of work as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans’ Hype Team.

Penouilh said she’ll never forget walking on to the court for the dance team’s tech rehearsal and seeing Zion Williamson’s face on the HD video board, all while DJ Jubilee’s “Get it Ready” blasted in the background.

“I was just like, ‘Wow, this is my new life. This is actually my job,’” Penouilh said.

Penouilh, a junior at Loyola studying history, is one of 23 dancers on the Hype Team, the Pelicans new entertainment team of dancers, breakers, and tumblers. Although she said she didn’t always dream of joining a professional team, she said she couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.

The summer before auditions, Penouilh said she committed to intense training. She worked out everyday and took 1-2 dance classes 4-5 days a week, while also meeting with previous Pelicans dance team members for one-on-one sessions.

“It was very humbling. The privates gave me insight on where my growth needed to go,” she said.

In August, when auditions finally came around, Penouilh made it through the first round of video submissions and received a callback. The drawback, however, was that Hurricane Ida made landfall in New Orleans on the day of finals.

She said she spent three weeks of uncertainty preparing for when auditions would resume before getting the call in late September. She then traveled to the Smoothie King Center with other hopefuls, where she said she left it all on the floor.

“After auditions, I was constantly checking my email for an update,” Penouilh said. “And then I remember the day I got the good news. Everything was different. I was like, ‘Oh, this is my first time going to class as a new NBA dancer. This is my first time going to the grocery store as a NBA dancer.’ It was all really exciting.”

Penouilh began her dance training at four years old at Jete Dance Company in Prairieville, Louisiana, where she danced competitively from fifth to tenth grade. She then trained at Tari’s School of Dance in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for two years.

During her senior year of high school, she gained experience with concert dance while serving as an apprentice for the dance company Of Moving Colors.

“My favorite style of dance was and always will be contemporary, and I still try to take classes or improv whenever I can,” she said.

After graduating from Baton Rouge Magnet High School in 2019, Penouilh said she had a tough decision to make. She had to choose between going to school for dance or taking a more traditional academic route.

In the end, she chose to attend Loyola to major in history and double minor in criminology and justice and political science. It was around this time that she also decided to try out for a New Orleans pro team as a way to keep dance in her life.

Ahead of her leap to the professional ranks, Penouilh had the opportunity to join Loyola’s competitive dance team her freshman year.

“The team gave me game day performance experience and helped me understand basketball a lot more so I felt prepared for the transition,” she said.

After completing one year on Loyola’s dance team, having made it to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Championship, Penioulh said she switched gears and began preparing for the next step of her dance career.

“I felt like my style of dance and my personality had begun to align most with NBA style dance because it’s more hip-hop and trick-based as opposed to the more bubbly, jazzy NFL style,” she said.

This realization led her to the New Orleans Smoothie King Center, where she said she now lives out her dream with the best dancers in the city.

“There’s no one on the team that I don’t love. Everyone comes with such a positive attitude and it’s just so easy to work with everyone,” she said.

Having now performed at a few games, Penouilh said she still gets the same giddy feeling when she puts on her uniform.

“I have an overwhelming sense of pride being a part of this organization,” she said. “I still cannot believe this is what I really get to do.”