How dance helped Judge Memorial sophomore Teya Sidberry become an elite basketball player

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Basketball player Teya Sidberry shows off her athletic skills by doing an aerial flip during a recent practice. Siberry who is just a sophomore on Judge Memorial's girls basketball team is leading the state in scoring and has also done a lot of competitive modern dance, ballet and was also a cheerleader last year.

Teya Sidberry takes shot after shot from all over the court. It’s Wednesday afternoon at Judge Memorial High School, about 15 minutes before practice starts for the girls’ basketball team.

Sidberry, a 16-year-old sophomore, lands with her feet in a unique position on each jump stop. Her right foot is well in front of her left. Both heels float inches off the floor as she balances her 5-foot-11 frame on her tip-toes.


Other players might find themselves wobbly with that kind of footwork. But not Sidberry. She’s been a dancer longer than she’s been a hooper, performing at a high level in jazz, lyrical, hip-hop, ballet and others since the age of 3.

“I think being graceful on her feet and light on her feet helps her with basketball because of the balance situation and all that kind of stuff,” Bulldogs coach Josh Pike told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Even though … her shots don’t look so graceful sometimes, it is because she’s so soft and light on her feet.”

Sidberry’s game, unlike her footwork, is anything but soft. Her 25.4 points per game on the 10-1 Bulldogs leads the state, and her 6.2 steals is just shy of American Leadership Academy senior Megan Edwards, who leads the state with 6.3.

Sidberry also averages 9.2 rebounds per game and has notched seven double-doubles in her sophomore year. One of them came on the opening game of the season against St. Joseph where she scored 26 points and added 12 steals.

Sidberry has already received full scholarship offers from Denver University and Southern Utah University, she said. Brigham Young and Utah State universities have also expressed interest.

But Sidberry’s basketball prowess may not have been this advanced this quickly had it not been for her dance background. Dancing put her in situations that many young basketball players don’t experience. Like performing solos in front of meticulous and possibly harsh judges. Like contorting her body in ways that seem unnatural but must look graceful.

So when she started playing basketball at 5 years old, it didn’t take long for Sidberry to notice she could perform the necessary movements more easily. Her mother, Melissa Fulkerson, who played Division II basketball at New Mexico Highlands University, also recognized the effect dancing had on her daughter’s game.

“A lot of her body awareness I attribute to dance,” Fulkerson said. “I think it really helped her have an awareness of just spatial relation and how she moves.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Teya Sidberry is just a sophomore on Judge Memorial's girls basketball team and is leading the state in scoring, and also averaged a double-double as a freshman.

In addition to her exceptional balance, spatial awareness and flexibility, dancing has also developed Sidberry’s sense of self-assurance.

“Having to get out there and express yourself through dance and you don’t have words, you’re very vulnerable to the audience,” Sidberry said. “So it allows for a bunch of confidence.”

Transitioning from the studio to the hardwood wasn’t always graceful. When Sidberry first started playing basketball, she would shoot with feet in first position, a ballet stance in which the heels are together and toes turned out so both feet make one straight line. And when she’d go up for layups, her feet would split in what she described as a “toe touch.”

Sidberry said certain coaches used to describe her as “weird-footed.” Those issues have been solved, although Pike said he can still see remnants of them from time to time.

While the only structured dancing Sidberry does nowadays is a class at school, she still grooves to the beat of her own drum. Several of her teammates said she’s “always dancing,” — oftentimes in the locker room — and one said she records herself and posts the videos on her Snapchat profile.

Even when they’re explaining why Sidberry is such an effective and talented basketball player, her teammates use language that can also be attributed to a dancer.

“There’s some girls that are good,” senior Emily Malouf said. “But then there’s those players that really stand out and they’re going to go far — like they can go [Division] I. Teya was one of those girls where it’s just like watching her, it looks so natural and easy. It’s a lot of fun to watch her.”

“Fun” is another word that kept coming up when those in and around the Bulldogs discussed Sidberry. Her beaming and always-positive personality has a palpable effect on the team, as does her leadership.

Despite being Judge Memorial’s leader in almost every statistical category, Sidberry is not one of the captains on the team. That title goes to seniors Malouf, Abigayle Kendell and Abbey Storms. But her impact on the team is so unequivocal that she operates as something of a fourth captain.

“I think just because of who she is, everyone looks up to her because she’s very, very skilled,” Storms said. “I think us captains also look up to her a lot. She’s very important. Even though she’s younger than us, she still teaches us things about the sport.”

Sidberry said she wants to see how far she can take basketball. Her coach, teammates and mother all said she has limitless potential due to her commitment level and work ethic.

This season, Sidberry took it upon herself to work on her shooting. She’s in the gym at 7 a.m. every morning before school — 6:30 a.m. on days she has Student Council meetings — and shoots by herself before and after every practice as well. She also does workouts with her coaches on the travel AAU team she joined last summer.

Pike said he could see Sidberry playing professionally in Europe and possibly the WNBA. And she’s just a sophomore.

“She hasn’t even reached her potential,” Pike said. “And that’s so fun to see. Because when she does, phew, watch out.”

But it’s clear that dancing is still an integral part of Sidberry’s life. She joined cheerleading at Judge Memorial last year and is thinking about joining again next year. She said it’s her dream to somehow find a way to combine both her passions.

“If I could just do anything with dance in the future, I’d be really happy,” Sidberry said. “Along with basketball, of course.”