Known for her moves on the court, Suns Dancer Kayla is also making moves off the court.
The world-famous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition chose Kayla to be one of the 10 women featured in its section of NBA dancers this year. Although it was a huge honor for the Gilbert, AZ, native, she found the entire ordeal to be a bit overwhelming.
“It’s kind of nerve-racking,” she said. “Because in my interview they asked me how it would feel to have your picture seen by 50 to 150 million people.”
At first Kayla thought that she had misunderstood the million to mean a thousand. But the staff quickly corrected her on the statistic, causing the magnitude of the situation to sink in.
“My heart dropped,” she said. “What did I get myself into?”
Kayla first became aware of Sports Illustrated’s interest after she earned her fourth consecutive stint as a Suns Dancer. Maggie Cloud, Suns Dancers Coordinator, was aware of the magazine’s interest in Kayla at the end of last season… as a blond.
Once Kayla won a place on the squad this season, Cloud mailed her dancer’s photos to SI with her new look as a brunette. When SI sent word that they still wanted Kayla for the shoot, Cloud presented her with a choice.
Did she want to travel to Spain with some of the other Suns Dancers? Or did she prefer to fly to New York for a swimsuit shoot with Sports Illustrated?
“I couldn’t turn it down,” the vivacious dancer said.
So in September, Kayla hopped aboard a flight and took an all-expense-paid trip to the Big Apple to attend a photo shoot with nine other dancers from around the NBA.
After spending a night in the individual room SI provided for her, she arrived at the photo shoot at 8 a.m. the next morning ready to work. But unlike past shoots, this one would be a little uncharacteristic from what she had previously experienced.
She was expected to show up with no make-up, no body lotion and day-old hair for styling purposes. Instead of taking posed stills of the girls, the photographer preferred to shoot action photos of the girls in the midst of them dancing around. For Kayla, it was vastly different from her usual routine with Suns team photographer Barry Gossage.
“Barry just shoots,” she said. “He takes and he takes and he takes them so after a 100 of those pictures he took, probably about 20 great ones turn out.”
It was an all-day affair for the dancers. Once they arrived on set they were given flip-flops, a white bathrobe and three to five swimsuits. One of the swimsuits that were under consideration was one that bared a little more skin than she was prepared to show. She described the bottom as “almost a thong.”
“I came out as red as can be and I was like, ‘I don’t really consider this a swimsuit,’” she said. “I thought my husband is going to die when he sees my full-on butt.”
But ultimately, she chose a suit that she was comfortable in and received nothing but support from all of the other girls at the shoot. In fact, they keep in touch regularly by sending out group e-mails to each other.
“All of the girls were super-sweet,” Kayla said. “That’s always a good feeling when you’re at a photo shoot in your swimsuit. It’s nice to feel comfortable about who you’re with.”
During the preparation of the shoot, hair and make-up lasted two hours and the actual shoot in front of the camera took a little over an hour. After her session was completed, Kayla remained on set until the other girls finished so that they could all partake in group shots together. In total, the shoot’s duration was 13 hours.
Kayla’s individual photo will be featured in the magazine, whereas the group photos will be displayed on a website that SI created. For her efforts, Kayla was given a custom-designed swimsuit, her room and meals covered and a small stipend.
She will also look back on it all as a learning experience.
“I guess with every photo shoot that comes you just have to have an open mind because it will never be like the last one that you did,” she said. “If you have an open mind, your pictures will turn out well.”
However, as the person that usually handles all of the make-up for her team’s photo shoots, she had a hard time allowing someone else to fill that role for her. But after seeing the way it turned out overall, she became a proponent of how it was applied, but with some minor reservations.
“I can complement the make-up because everyone was very natural,” she said. “That was nice to see because that was the look that they were going for. But I kind of went into the bathroom and added a little bit more.”
Sports Illustrated is keeping everything hush-hush, even for those who shot for the issue. Kayla has only seen the one photo that the magazine is going to use of her and no one knows who’s going to be on the cover. Anticipation is high, as the issue hits the newsstands on Wednesday, February 11.
“I was watching Extra on TV a couple of nights ago and they asked the viewers who they thought was going to be on the cover and I was like, ‘Me!’” she said laughing. But then she followed that up by adding, “Nah, I guess not.”
Although she considers her spot in the swimsuit issue a great honor, Kayla is still prouder of her place on KTAR’s billboard, the Mt. Rushmore-like mural of her face on the Verve Energy Lounge wall and her position on the cover of the Suns Dancers Swimsuit Calendar.
“I got the billboard this year, which was really cool, but I loved the Verve wall,” she said. “My body is the size of my nose on that wall. All my family got to stand by it and reach their hands out and I was still bigger than all of them.”
Of those honors mentioned, the cover of the Suns Dancers Swimsuit Calendar held a special place for Kayla.
“I really didn’t think I was going to get the cover of the calendar,” she said. “So when I got that, it might sound stupid, but I got a tear in my eye.”
Although Kayla is appreciative and flattered by the modeling gigs that keep coming her way, she says that it’s a career that she’s not actively pursuing. In fact, she seemed surprised that she ever received an offer from Sports Illustrated.
“I’m short, so I don’t know how I got this,” she said. “I’m 5-2 and every other model is 6-foot.”
But not to be misunderstood, Kayla is still remaining open to future opportunities that come her way.
“I think that any girl that does any kind of modeling, that is pretty much one of the ultimates,” she said. “If it comes my way I’ll totally take it and go with it, but I’m not going to try for it. I feel like modeling is so hard and it just seems like if you sit back and relax, it kind of just comes to you.”
For now, Kayla is more than content with achieving her dream of becoming a Suns Dancer. Ever since she was a child in former Suns Dancer Amy Mickelson’s (wife of Phil Mickelson) dance class, Kayla set her sights on that goal. And now that she’s achieved her objective, everything from here on out is just a bonus.
“Now the cover (of Sports Illustrated) should be next, right?” she said laughing.
At the pace that she’s on, maybe that idea isn’t as ridiculous as she thinks.
Visit the entire SI gallery at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009_swimsuit/.