Show Your Stripes!
So with all the excitement of the Falcons in the Super Bowl, it brought back some cheerleading nostalgia. It reminded me that people don’t know a lot about how the cheerleaders end up on the sidelines, so I’m here to provide some insight to the try out process. Now, let me preface this with the fact that I have only cheered for the Georgia Force and the Atlanta Falcons, so I cannot speak for all pro cheerleaders everywhere. I also cheered in 2007, 2008 and 2009, so it’s been a hot minute and things have probably changed since then.
When you go to try out for the Falcons (or the AFC, Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders), you are in a huge ballroom on a Sunday wearing a bra like top and brief like bottoms, nude colored tights/hose and dance sneakers with possible leg warmers. You have full hair and full make up done, and you are surrounded by a couple of hundred other beautiful, fit girls. It’s intimidating to say the least. You learn about 4 or 5 8 counts of a dance in a very short amount of time, practice with the music several times, take about 5 minutes to freshen up and try to keep the sweat from ruining your hair and make up and you line up in number order around the room. Now, here is the tricky part. You have to stand there in the line that loops around the ballroom and watch everyone try out in about groups of 5- 6 in front of the judging panel (maybe about 10 judges), listen to the music over and over again, but you can’t continue to practice. Imagine trying to nail a dance routine, hearing the music, but not being able to practice. It’s hard! You are watching other girls and many of them are messing up, and you’re trying to focus on your on ability and remembering the routine. When you’re up, you perform the short routine with the other few girls around you, then you sit down. One shot. That’s all you got. You are making sure you can 1- dance, 2- look pretty, 3- look skinny. No one wants to watch you on the sidelines with your stomach jiggling around…doesn’t matter how pretty you are or how good you can dance. You have to be the total package. I should also include the the veteran cheerleaders do not try out with you in this preliminary round. They join you later. After everyone tries out, the judges take some time to look at their yays and nays, then they come out and call the numbers of the girls who made it to semi-finals. When your number is called, you step back out to the ballroom to learn 4 more 8 counts of dance that attach onto the first 4. If your number is not called, you pack up and go home.
If you’re fortunate enough to make it to semi-finals, then you learn the next 4 8 counts of dance, and combined with the original 4, you are looking at about 8 8 counts of dance now. So, I’m a sweaty kid. There’s no avoiding this fact. Now, at this point you are learning and practicing a longer dance and still trying not to sweat. It’s impossible, so your next option is to try to look pretty while sweating. This. Is. Difficult. Not to mention you are in a huge ballroom with a ton of other girls that are beautiful, fit and strong dancers. I’m looking over at some girls who aren’t even glistening! How is that possible?! How do they not sweat?! It’s definitely a moment where you have to put yourself in check and give yourself a confidence boost. This is not the time to doubt yourself…of your outfit…or your make up choices…stick with what you’ve got and believe what you’ve got is what they want! So, after you learn, you briefly practice, you quickly freshen up, then you line back up around the room in numerical order. This time you try out in groups of 3 or 4. Same thing though…you stand in line, can’t practice, but you are hearing the music over and over again and are watching girls kill it and/or flub it up. When it was my turn, all I could think was, “breathe and smile…let motion memory take over.”
Once everyone is done trying out, then the judges discuss who will be going on to interviews and finals. After this selection, then the veteran cheerleaders join the mix. The coach announces who is making it to finals, and the other numbers are left to go home and make the choice to hang up their dance shoes or prepare for next year. Some girls will try out year after year after year for this chance. I tried out in 2006 and didn’t make it…considered hanging up my shoes…then decided to audition for the Georgia Force Cheerleaders (the Arena Football League)…made it in December 2006…and since Arthur Blank owned both the Ga. Force and the Atlanta Falcons, we were allowed to cheer for both organizations, so I decided to try out for the AFC again in 2007.
Okay, so once you have made it to finals, then you sign up for your interview time on Monday or Tuesday evening, you have a long practice Wednesday evening to learn the entire try out routine, then you have final auditions on Thursday night. Oh- and in between all of this, you are going to work…to do your JOB! You know, just squeeze in these crazy other activities in between your J-O-B…not stressful at all…I promise. Ha! Interview is pretty simple…dress professionally, talk to big wigs in the organization, prove you know a little bit about football and you can speak well. Cheerleaders do a lot in the surrounding communities, so it’s important they can be well versed and not be a hot mess when talking to people. Gotta look the part and be the part.
Wednesday night was the hardest (in my opinion). You have to be dressed in a similar attire from Sunday’s auditions, and have full hair, full make up. You are essentially participating in a 1.5- 2 hour dance workout class though and trying to look beautiful the whole time!!!! (Where is the wide-eyed emoji right now?!) I’m a sweater! Did I mention that?! Trying to look pretty while I’m sweating my you-know-what off is HARD, people! Not to mention, you are learning this after a full day at work, and when you finish and get home it’s going to be close to 11pm, and you have to go to work the next day and then get ready for try outs the next night, where you need to REALLY be full hair and full make up which will take a lot of time…when do I practice, people?! Truth be told, I have practiced during my planning period. I have stayed up late. I have left work as soon as the bell rang to bolt out in order to squeeze some practice time in to get that motion memory down. And if you don’t know what full hair and full make up means, it means hair curled and teased to the sky (so when you do sweat there is more hair lifted off of your sweaty scalp to avoid it all getting soaked) and make up that probably resembles a drag queen. In all fairness, if up close your make up looks insane and intense, then from a distance it probably looks flawless and amazing. Fake eyelashes are glued on and red lips are lined and stained. So Wednesday is tough because there could be about 80 girls in an aerobics room trying to not squish each other, be nice, not sweat, and master a pretty reasonably long dance routine. Not to mention you’re in a room that has a lot of mirrors, so you can’t avoid seeing just how sweaty of a mess you are. AND when you leave that night you better know the routine because they don’t send you home with a copy of the music or a video of the routine. It’s just up to your brain and maybe you can record a janky copy of the music while you’re there that night. This is also the first time you are dancing with the veteran cheerleaders who are definitely confident because they know most of the girls already and are confident in the AFC dance style. Basically, I found a veteran that I thought looked amazing and tried to model myself after her.
The next night is finals which is kind of a fun night. It’s less intense because you have plenty of time to get ready, chat with the girls, and enjoy yourself. You don’t watch anyone try out, but you try out in pairs. You can listen to the janky copy of music in your headphones and find a little space to at least mark through the routine- no space is large enough to do more than a few stretches, but it’s something! When you perform, it’s in front a judges panel, and of course you’re nervous and just hoping that you are what they are looking for. They want some blondes, some brunettes, some white girls, some black girls, some tall girls and some short girls. They want a wide variety, so ultimately you feel like you are only competing against the other girls that look similar to you. There are about 80 or so girls auditioning and they may take anywhere from 30- 40 girls. The odds of you making it are not that great. AND the veterans have a leg up on you because they are already familiar with the style of dance and what the judges are looking for.
After all the scores have been tabulated, they bring you into the space where everyone auditioned and announce the team. Fortunately, in 2007 I was one of the first names that they called, so I didn’t have to sit in agony for long. Hearing my name, Ashley Baker, was so exciting! You immediately became a part of a sisterhood; a family. You have a once in a lifetime experience that no one can take away from you. The year I made it was a year that a lot of veterans returned, and I think all that tried out made it again which only left 7 spots open…but I made it! When you try out as a veteran it’s a little less stressful, but you want to make sure you earn your spot back- it’s not a given that you will make it again. You have to have done a good job the year before, keep your weight in check and be able to out perform the new girls trying out.
I’ll have to come back and fill you in on the practices, game days and all the other inside scoop to professional cheerleading. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but you definitely do it because you love it! The good, the bad, and the pretty…you’re AFC so you can’t be the “ugly!”