The road from Saugus dance to Clippers Spirit

Courtesy Los Angeles Clippers
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As a kid, Santa Clarita resident Karissa Petersen started dancing for fun. She never thought her passion would amount to anything — yet, as she worked her way up, she gained the confidence to pursue dance professionally.

Since then, she’s been selected as an eight-year member of the Clippers Spirit, the L.A. Clippers’ dance team, as she works to pursue her dancing career.

Dancing at local studios since age 8, Petersen joined the Arroyo Seco Junior High dance team and went on to dance for the Saugus High School dance team.

“Through those experiences, I loved being part of a team, and when I graduated, I wanted to continue pursuing that, but didn’t know the opportunities that would lay ahead,” she said.

When she graduated, she decided she wanted to give dance a shot. So, when she transferred to California State University, Northridge, from College of the Canyons, with a major in kinesiology and an emphasis in dance — a unique program that allowed Petersen to bring dance into her studies.

Courtesy Los Angeles Clippers

“I was able to relate the two with movement and the way body works, like which muscles relate to dance movements,” she said.

It wasn’t long before Petersen found herself on the Clippers Spirit dance team, and it’s been an adventure ever since, she said.

“Since joining the team, it’s all been new and exciting,” she said. “Dancing professionally on a team is so different, yet so excited.”

The team has allowed her to grow tremendously as a dancer, teaching her not only how to be consistent, but also how to be versatile.

“Each season, we learn so many different routines and are introduced to so many different styles,” Petersen said. “It’s taught me how to be on my toes, adapt and learn quickly.”

Courtesy Los Angeles Clippers

As Los Angeles is made up of such a diverse ethnic and cultural group of people, the Clippers Spirit tries to appeal to each one, giving Petersen the opportunity and challenge to learn more styles of dance, such as Latin, rock or hip hop, over the past few years.

“We’re L.A., and we want to give love to every audience member,” she said, adding that it has pushed her to be more confident in each style.

Though the team is primarily responsible for bringing excitement and fun to a game, they also continue this task off the court by making numerous community appearances throughout the season.

“I love being involved in the community and interacting with so many different types of people and kids,” she said. “We get to be an extension of the Clippers and bring the ‘Clippers’ spirit’ to those who can’t go to games, which is unique.”

Courtesy of Karissa Petersen

Petersen was also able to take that passion back to her alma mater as assistant coach of Saugus High School’s dance team for the past three years.

“Honestly, it’s so much fun to go back to my roots, take the things I’ve learned along the way and give back,” she said. “Inspire girls and giving them the experience I had, where I fell in love with it so fast, is extremely rewarding.”

While there, she worked as former head dance coach Kara Hess’ right hand, and the two became very close, even calling each other “Kar2,” or Kar squared.

“I adored working alongside Karissa,” Hess said. “Since day one, we became instant, lifelong friends and made quite the team. Together, we were able to add 12 national titles to the Saugus dance legacy.”

Karissa embraces her Saugus dance team. Courtesy of Karissa Petersen

Hess believes Petersen was able to make a unique impact on students as a Saugus High alum herself.

“She was able to share her experiences as a Centurion, which showed the girls they too can achieve their dreams someday,” Hess added. “What a beautiful journey we went on together over the past three years — we made unforgettable memories.”

This year, while participating in Clippers Spirit tryouts, Petersen was able to do the same for some of her fellow applicants. Not only did she audition, but she assisted in running the tryouts, helping to teach the across-the-floor routine.

She said knowing what it’s like on the other end helped her be successful and push girls to be excited.

“Seeing all the hopeful women, welcoming them into this space and helping them master the choreography, to create a great energy was so exciting,” she said.

Courtesy of Varon Panganiban/L.A. Clippers

Now, for the eighth year, Petersen has re-joined the Clippers Spirit and is excited for the season.

“I can already tell it’s going to be a really great energy on the team and all the girls are going to make it a great year,” she said.

Since graduating, she’s also been working as a performer at Universal Studios Hollywood as a Beauxbatons, a character from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” re-enacting the Triwizard Tournament.

Though she didn’t know what pursuing dance had in store for her, she said she’s blessed that it’s been a good road so far.

“Most dancer’s dream is to gain as many experiences as possible and perform in other places and facets, and I’ve done that,” she said, adding that she hopes to continue doing so, traveling where dance takes her to do what she loves.

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