Dancing with Sharmell & the Nitro Girls

The WWE Universe may remember Booker T’s wife, Sharmell, as the queen who reigned by his side after he won King of the Ring in 2006 and declared himself “King Booker.” However, Sharmell’s sports-entertainment career actually began in WCW in 1998, when she auditioned for a spot  with the Nitro Girls. The WCW dance group that dazzled WCW television and live audiences from 1997 to 2001. It’s a time in her life that she remembers fondly, recalling the fun had and the evolution of the ladies who comprised the group. ( PHOTOS)

Formed by Kimberly Page in 1997, the Nitro Girls quickly became one of Monday Nitro’s most popular elements. Though originally intended to entertain live audiences during commercial breaks, the dance troupe’s popularity rose exponentially within a year. By the winter of 1998, the Nitro Girls sought to expand its ranks, and Sharmell was invited to audition, soon earning her spot in the group. Although she had no ambitions to get involved in sports-entertainment at the time, it was an opportunity she couldn’t let pass.

“There was a closed audition for well-known dancers in the Atlanta area. I was fortunate enough to be invited and I got the spot,” Sharmell told WWE Classics, adding, “Dance is my first love; at the time, I didn’t have my eyes set on wrestling at all.”

An accomplished dancer prior to her time with WCW, Sharmell toured with music legend James Brown before joining WCW. Upon debuting with the Nitro Girls in December 1998, Sharmell immediately noticed the stark differences between touring with the R&B legend and performing in front of a live audience, specifically wrestling fans.

“Touring with James Brown, I was able to go all over the world. … Words can’t even describe what it was like to dance for a living legend,” she explained. “When I joined the Nitro Girls, the atmosphere was amazing, but completely different. Wrestling fans are like none other; the energy was electric, and it just gave me goose bumps. After experiencing that feeling, I knew it was where I wanted to be.”

Sharmell recalled the “nervous energy” that she and the other Nitro Girls felt every week. She attributed much of that to the troupe being featured prominently on live television –  something, by her own admission, that was far different than dancing on stage in a concert.

“We had to be on point and perfect every night because we knew the whole world was going to see it,” the former WWE Diva told WWE Classics. “And every week we had a different [live] audience, so we never knew what to expect. All of that just added to the excitement of performing on Nitro. The electricity from the fans, the desire to be perfect … that’s what made the Nitro Girls so memorable.”

The Nitro Girls were individually known by unique names that often reflected their personalities, such as Whisper, Tygress and Fyre. With the opportunity to choose her own name, Sharmell did not hesitate to pay tribute to one of her favorite fictional characters – Storm from Marvel Comics’ X-Men – and adopted the moniker.

Originally, the Nitro Girls were kept separate from WCW competitors and focused primarily on their own performances. However, in 1999, the dancers were thrust into the spotlight, becoming more involved with WCW competitors and their respective rivalries. With the exception of Diamond Dallas Page’s then-wife Kimberly, Sharmell was one of the first Nitro Girls featured prominently alongside a competitor.

“At that time in WCW, you never really knew who was in charge,” she admitted. “We kept having different people come in, and of course each had their own view of how things should go.”

According to the former Nitro Girl, she was told that she would make the move from dance team member to manager, a change that literally happened over a single weekend.

“I remember getting a call on a Friday afternoon, telling me to find a purple dress because I would be accompanying The Artist Formerly Known as Prince Iaukea to the ring the following Monday. And my name would be changed to Paisley,” Sharmell explained. “I had a couple of days to really embrace my new role, which was much more different from dancing, but I rolled with it and really enjoyed myself.”

Eventually, the Nitro Girls started actively competing, both amongst themselves and against other female competitors in WCW. As Nitro Girls Spice and A.C. Jazz battled for control of the group after Kimberly Page’s departure, Sharmell’s first match saw her square off with WWE Hall of Famer Sunny in 2000.

“We fully trained to compete. Our roles kept evolving, so we all embraced it, went to WCW’s Power Plant and trained to become wrestlers,” Sharmell remembered. Although her time training was brief – “my inexperience showed in that match with Sunny,” she admitted – Sharmell was victorious against the Diva. “We had a lot of great people to support us and wanting us to succeed.”

Sharmell wasn't the only Nitro Girl to be thrust into the ring and involved in situations outside of the dance troupe. One of today’s most famous former Nitro Girls, Stacy Keibler, joined the group after winning a dance contest and soon found herself becoming a major player in and out of the ring.

“I don’t think WCW management realized that the Nitro Girls would eventually become as popular as we did,” Sharmell explained. “When we held that contest, there were a lot of girls that really wanted to be Nitro Girls. We had the competitions in different cities and the auditions were packed, but we were fortunate to get Stacy. She won fair and square, and no one could have predicted the impact she would have on wrestling and pop culture.”

Keibler eventually became a manager, similar to Sharmell’s role following her time with the Nitro Girls, and soon became involved with WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair’s son, David. Following WWE’s purchase of WCW, Stacy appeared as part of the WCW/ECW Alliance before establishing herself as one of the most popular Divas in WWE history.

Like Keibler, Sharmell remained with the Atlanta-based organization until 2001. When she joined WWE that same year, Sharmell admitted that although she still loved dancing, she was “bitten by the bug” of sports-entertainment.

Becoming such an important element of WCW programming, the Nitro Girls made an appearance in the WCW-produced feature film “Ready 2 Rumble.” Though many look unfavorably at the film’s star, David Arquette, for shocking the world and becoming WCW Champion, Sharmell has very fond memories of her experience with the movie.

“One of my favorite memories from being a Nitro Girl was also one of the most hectic,” she said. “We were filming ‘Ready 2 Rumble’ while performing on Nitro and Thunder, at the same time, flying back and forth to Los Angeles. I actually choreographed the film, and it was really exciting because I was able to see the Nitro Girls evolve beyond the WCW shows and into filming a major motion picture. That was a big highlight for me.”

These days, Sharmell spends most of her time raising her twins and staying involved in acting, but she remains close to her roots as a Nitro Girl; recently she created a dance group called the X-Girls that performs during Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling events.

As the former WWE Diva and Nitro Girl can attest, WCW’s resident dance troupe was one of the most memorable highlights of an organization that saw its fair share of controversy and strife amongst management and competitors over the years.

Fondly looking back at her time as a Nitro Girl and the lifelong friendship she developed as part of the troupe, Sharmell believes there is a place for the Nitro Girls today in WWE. 

“I really think we were ground-breaking, especially in sports-entertainment,” Sharmell told WWE Classics. “We had calendars, magazines and videos of our own. We really made an impact. There are a number of talented Divas competing today, but I really feel that a group like the Nitro Girls could bring an extra level of excitement to WWE.”

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