When Aimee Martinez was in sixth grade, she and her friends would sit and talk about how badly they wanted to be Laker Girls.
The girls were inspired by pop star Paula Abdul, whose career began as a dancer and choreographer for the squad that performs at Los Angeles Lakers basketball games.
Now 22, Martinez is living that dream.
She was selected from more than 600 applicants to be one of 20 Laker Girls for the 2001-2002 season.
"To have immediate friends when you move to such a big city is like a dream come true," Martinez said. "It's so great to be involved in the community and to perform in front of 10,000 people."
Martinez grew up in Lawrence and graduated from Lawrence High School. She finished classes at Kansas University in May, and will take her final few hours of college in California to complete her broadcast management degree.
At KU, she was a member of the Crimson Girls dance team for three years and served as the group's head choreographer one year.
Then, she spent a year as a cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs.
But she's always had her sights set on being a Laker Girl. This spring, she learned about auditions on the Internet.
Try-outs took place July 28 at the Lakers' practice facility. She went with a few friends she knew from other dance groups.
"When we got there, there was this line of girls wrapped around the building," Martinez said, "and we were like, 'Oh, my gosh. Do we really want to do this?'"
After a long day of dancing, judges cut the pool of applicants to 36. Martinez and the other finalists were invited back for another day of interviews and dance auditions.
She learned of her success later that week by phone.
"I thought I was going to give myself an ulcer until I found out," she said.
Fourteen of the 20 Laker Girls perform at each of the 40 home basketball games. The season begins in October. They also practice from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday.
Members are paid $100 per game and $40 per practice. They also receive $85 per hour for public appearances.
It's not enough for a full-time job, so Martinez works in sales and marketing for a company that plans events for companies. She's also working with a talent agency to get acting jobs.
Someday, she'd like to be a full-time choreographer for videos and shows.
For now, she's happy to be on the court with Shaquille O'Neal, with Lakers fan Jack Nicholson nearby.
"I haven't even seen the players yet," she said. "It's a business relationship. We're here doing our job, they're doing theirs. It's not like we hang out or date the team. It's a common misconception people have."
Martinez said she realized some cheer and dance squad members are viewed as sex symbols. But, she said, her experience with Kansas City football prepared her for performing in Los Angeles.
"The Chiefs' is one of the craziest, most spirited crowds I've ever seen," she said. "You just have to blow it off. You don't respond to it. It has nothing to do with you. It has to do with the outfit you're wearing."