When the words ducks and decoys are used together, the mind's eye sees wooden, lifeless replicas floating in a lake.
But wooden and lifeless was definitely not what Gary Visconti and the Disney Co. wanted to see from 43 would-be "Decoys" who auditioned Monday. They wanted zest, flair and strong ice-skating ability.
Visconti, a former world figure-skating champion, is Disney's choreographer for the Decoys, an eight-woman ice-dancing troupe that will perform between periods during the 41 home games of the Mighty Ducks, Disney's new National Hockey League team. The Decoys will also perform, sans skates, at shopping malls and elsewhere in Orange County to promote the team.
"Don't you see? That's why the name is fun," Visconti said of the nickname after running 41 women and two men ages 18 to 39 through auditions at the Glacial Garden Ice Arena. Four men will be chosen to skate with the Decoys on the team's opening night at the Anaheim Arena on Oct. 8.
"The image of decoys is totally opposite of what we are looking for," Visconti said. "The No. 1 thing we want is a very enthusiastic and energetic young girl who wants to entertain in a family-style show. I want girls who have spirit and can dance."
While cheerleading squads are common in professional basketball and football, the Decoys will be the first regularly performing ice-dancing troupe in NHL history.
"The Decoys are part of the whole entertainment package that Disney and the Mighty Ducks are trying to incorporate," said Bill Robertson, the team's public relations director. "We can't control the score of the game, but we can control the other entertainment that will take place."
Monday's auditions lured an interesting mix of wanna-be Decoys.
Some, such as San Clemente teacher Andrea Murray, came to the audition as a lark, just to see what might happen.
"My dad called and told me about the audition and said this is something I could probably do," Murray said.
Murray, a skater for 20 years, stopped skating shortly after performing during the opening ceremony at the Winter Olympics in Calgary in 1988. She didn't seem too disappointed at not being invited to Wednesday's call-back audition. "I've got a real life now. I've had my chance," she said.
But for others who auditioned, becoming a Decoy had a certain urgency. These were the aspiring actresses and dancers who came prepared with resumes and professionally prepared photographs. For them, being a Decoy is seen as a possible first step to fame and fortune. After all, pop star Paula Abdul started as a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers.
"This could be the job that will get you in the right place at the right time, where you will meet somebody who can tell somebody else about you and get you up there," said Kristy Bingham, a 19-year-old Costa Mesa resident, who is a theater and dance major at Orange Coast College.
Bingham made the call-back.
Then there was the oldest person to audition, Ellen Beaumont, a 39-year-old Irvine mother of an 8-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. Although 20 years ago she performed in a New York ice show, she realized she had no chance once she saw Monday's competition. But she went ahead anyway as an early 40th birthday present to herself.
"I want to be able to tell my kids that their mom tried out for the Decoys when she was almost 40, so you can try to be anything you want," she said.