Show Your Stripes!
For those that don’t realize (or possibly care), the tryouts to become a 2017 Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader are on Sunday, April 2nd at the Georgia International Convention Center.
For more specific information, go to: http://www.atlantafalcons.com/cheerleaders/cheerleader-auditions.html
These ladies will go through preliminaries, semi-finals, interview and a final audition before they hear the 32+ ladies that will be announced. It changes from year to year on what they are looking for and how many they want to take. Sometimes they take a Promo Squad which means these girls will get a uniform and handle promotions and other appearances but won’t actually dance on the sidelines. Other years they just have the squad that does both: appearances and sidelines. Honestly, if they have a lot of great candidates then the Promo Squad is a great way to include more women but still maintain the integrity of the program.
Any who, I remember when they called my name the first time I was at finals and thank goodness Chato called my name early because the waiting and praying to hear your name called was painful! It launched a 3-year career of supporting the Falcons on and off the field, fulfilled my love of performing and being on a team, and gave me something personal to work towards. Look, it’s hard! It’s hard to cheer because you have to have a full or part time job on the side. I only made $75/game…that’s $750/season. No joke, people. That ain’t gonna support a sister! You know you will get paid pennies when you try out, so this is no shock! Sure, would it be great to be paid more, yes! BUT you don’t do this for the money. You do it because you want the experience and you love it. When all the drama came out for professional cheerleaders across the country opening law suits on getting paid too little seemed a little silly to me. I get it. They should get paid more. They should, BUT it’s not like you’re promised thousands and then not getting that money. You aren’t promised anything. Read the fine print, ladies! There are plenty of ladies that are trying out this weekend that will do the job for free; I can promise you that!
When I cheered, I was teaching full time, coaching, in grad school and trying to cheer for the Falcons…and the Ga. Force! It was a lot of driving, a lot of nights with minimal sleep, a lot of stress on maintaining a figure desirable to dance around half naked in front of thousands of people and a lot of schedule juggling. I remember one time I got to practice with my gas tank on E, and after practice (at 10:15pm) I had to get gas before getting on 285 to come home. I couldn’t find a gas station. In Atlanta. At 10:15 at night. I called Mike crying…well, let’s be honest, it was more like hysterically sobbing, saying “I need gas and can’t find a gas station ANYWHERE! I know I’m crying because I’m tired, but I just don’t know what to do!” I knew why I was overreacting! I was T-I-R-E-D! Like a toddler when he starts to act out and you know it’s straight up because he needs a nap. I was acting up because I straight up needed to sleep! I was burning the candle at both ends. On top of teaching, coaching, grad school, AFC practice, I was also trying to work out. I remember one day before a Ga. Force practice, I met my good friend on the team Nicole for a 4-mile run. So, I ran for 4 miles then practiced for 3 hours…and I still would hop on the scale and be stressed that I would be out of my range. When you cheer, you have to stay fit because the uniforms are revealing. Duh. You see them. That’s no shocker. The coaches are sensitive to the fact that this is stressful- they were cheerleaders before too- they know what it’s like to go through it all! They encourage you to stay within a healthy weight range, so you’ll be healthy and fit and still remain looking trim in your uniform. Truth- this was hard for me! I remember one day uncontrollably sobbing while standing on the scale because I was at the top pound of my range. I wasn’t over. No one was upset with me. I just felt the overwhelming emotion of feeling like I was working my ass off and not seeing any results. I felt I should not have to work so hard to be barely skirting my weight range. Frustrating.
Practices were 2 days a week from 7- 10pm. We met for the first 30 minutes and discussed what was coming up, who needed to fill what appearance, what events needed to be scheduled, etc. Then we warmed up and started working on our dance routines and fillers. We had 8 routines (I think) that we did at quarter breaks…we typically performed 2 a game. Then we had 2-minute warning routines that we performed in the end zones during the (wait for it) 2 minute warnings at the end of each half. We also worked on fillers which were short 2 to 4 8-count routines that we performed on the sidelines anytime we heard music playing. This is quite a bit to practice. Plus, we had to practice how we run out onto the field, do player introductions, Jr. Falcons Cheerleaders performances and any other halftime or pregame event we were a part of. Needless to say, we always had something to work on, and we worked hard to make sure we looked good as a group. You don’t want to slop through something and then just hope it looks decent on game day. We practiced in certain colors, so it would be red, green, purple, etc. We’d have to wear that color sports bra or crop top and some sort of typically black dance pant or short. We practiced in a gym’s aerobics room, so it’s a relatively small space for a lot of girls where we were surrounded by mirrors and able to see just how good you looked (or didn’t look) in your crop top and dance pants. The motivation was definitely there to work hard and look your best. I’ve always considered myself a confident person, but I tell ya- when you are thrown in a room full of mirrors where everyone is thin, fit, beautiful, talented and bright, then it’s easy to start to judge yourself and let insecurities sneak in your brain. At work, I was a young, attractive math teacher that was stylish…but when you get to Falcons practice you realize that maybe you aren’t that stylish…or that attractive…or that fit…when you’re comparing yourself to 30 other women across the metropolitan area that all seem to be at the top of all of those categories. It’s humbling. Then on the flip side when you’re in real world and someone asks for your autograph, it’s bizarre because all I could think was, “me? I’m just a nerdy math teacher!” As you watch these cheerleaders on the sidelines and you may think they are super confident women with no insecurities, you are wrong. They have their hang-ups too! Trust me, sometimes your hang-ups get amplified when you’re surrounded by such a beautiful group of women.
As for game day, the cheerleaders are the bottom on the totem pole. We had to have field time, but for a 1pm game then field time would be about 7:30am. We didn’t have to be in full hair and full make up upon arrival, but you need to look presentable since you’re walking in with your Falcons cheerleader warm up on. Plus, after practice we had a lot going on and didn’t always have time to go from scratch on your hair and makeup. I lived an hour away from the Ga. Dome, which means a 7am call time means a 5am alarm setting. On a Sunday. Ugh. Fortunately, when you get there super early and take the field to practice you wake up quickly. After we ran all of our routines several times then we went back to our locker room to get ready for whatever job we had assigned. Rarely you had nothing on the schedule, but most of the time you had to go to either the outside Plaza to do an appearance and sign autographs or had to get ready to do photos on the sidelines. If you went to the Plaza, then you sat under a tent and signed autographs on our squad posters. If you had sidelines indoors then you basically walked a lap of the field and stopped and took pictures with anyone who had sideline passes and wanted a photo. You learn how to do 2 things quickly…sign your first name and pose for a picture. This is where I learned the cheerleader toe pop. You need a picture?! Sure! Hand on hip, and outside toe pops. Cheese! It’s like the cheerleader go-to.
Games were fun and exciting to be right there in the action. We rotated every quarter to get to all four sides of the field. We performed in the end zone for 2-minute warnings. At quarter breaks we ran onto the edge of the field for a quick performance. It was a lot, but it was exciting to be a part of the action. The funniest would be when I’d see one of my students and they would get all awkward and try not to look at me, and I’m like, “uh…dude…I’m on the field…the game is directly behind me…you can’t not look at me at least once and say hi!” Haha!
One thing you might not realize, but we’d have to get pretty crafty with our “costume” changes. We didn’t really have a lot of depth in our wardrobe. We had our uniform, black dance pants, boots and tennis shoes…maybe some leg warmers or a tank and that was about it. We’d have to get pretty creative when we wanted to try and make a new “costume” out of that limited collection. I think people probably imagine that we have a lot to pull from, but the truth is that the cheerleaders are a low budget production! Things may be different now since I cheered a solid 10 years ago, but that’s how it was in 2007, ’08 and ’09.
So, for those trying out- good luck! Enjoy the process! It’s fun and memorable! Be confident and try to focus on your good qualities and don’t get caught up in how great everyone else seems. If you make the team, love it and enjoy the phase of life. It won’t last forever. If you don’t make it, then get some pointers and try again next year or find another avenue to get your dance energy out. If you don’t want to try out, then now you just have a little insider view on what the girls on the sidelines do exactly. I should be fair and include that we did have some cool sponsors that gave us free tanning, discounted hair color and cut, free bags, warm ups and tees and other stuff along the way. My favorite perk was when MAC sponsored us and gave us a MAC Pro card which gave us 30% off our makeup…that was amazing…but dangerous! I bought a lot of makeup that year! The girls on the sidelines are there because they love it- not because they are meeting their next husband or because they are rolling in the dough. That’s another thing I should mention…we sign a contract that says we will not fraternize with the players or staff. I guess if you wanted to hang out with the players then you could make it happen, but honestly, I was hardly ever around any of them. That was certainly not the reason that I was there. I made some amazing girlfriends though, and I have some priceless pictures. The days are over of anyone wanting my autograph, but I’ll always have the memories and experience which are unforgettable!