I always get a reaction when friends ask me to go out for drinks the night before a Tiger-Cat game.
"Sorry, I have to go get my tan … and I don't want to be drinking before game day," I tell them. Two things cheerleaders should not be: pale and dehydrated.
Game day is what we cheerleaders look forward to. It's why we've learned four cheers, five sideline routines, a tunnel sequence and four centre-field routines. And that's just so far. Overwhelming at first, but now so ingrained that when I hear someone count "One, two" I feel compelled to put my hands on my hips and turn around.
Our game day begins two hours before kick-off for an on-field practice with music.
We practice the two dances that we'll be performing during the game. It feels strange to practice with players warming up and camera crews setting up their equipment. You can feel the anticipation start to build in the stadium, but the stands are still empty. No one is watching except our coach, Lesley. But in a few hours, thousands will be there for our 60 seconds of stardom at centre field.
Our first appearance on the field is for the tunnel. This happens at the start of the game when the players come running out of the inflatable helmet for introductions.
We walk out in two lines on either side, and I lead half of the team. It was easy enough during practice, but it's a bit of a trick to know if I'm leaving enough room for players on game day.
When there were pyrotechnics at the home opener, I had visions that I would trip on the wire and cause an explosion leaving the cheerleaders horribly disfigured. Luckily, Lisa — who walks behind me — is nice enough to direct me without making me feel like a moron.
Other than the tunnel, we next appear on the field for our dance numbers. These have been rehearsed countless times during practice, polished to make sure the 20 of us move as one dancer.
But one part of rehearsing the dances that we glossed over in practice was how quickly we have to get on and off the field during the game.
Up to this point, our centre field routines have been scheduled near the beginning of the first quarter and about five minutes into the fourth quarter. That means in between plays. It also means in between players.
I was more than a little nervous after the warning that if I didn't run fast enough, I could suffer any or all of the following:
- minor injury and/or major embarrassment caused by getting trampled by a player
- public mockery via boos by fans who came to see footballs and not poms
- the burden of incurring a penalty for the Tiger-Cats because of time restrictions
Now I think these possibilities are enough to worry the average rookie cheerleader. But I should explain that it's even worse for me.
I have always been among the slowest people in gym classes, organized sports, and races of any kind. My years of dance have turned what should look like a normal person running into something one of my friends dubbed the 'Hamburglar.' In fact, my friend Laurie recently told me she'd never seen me move so fast after we ran through Toronto's Union Station to catch the GO train back to Burlington, Ont.
Needless to say, we missed the train.
But I guess my adrenaline must be kicking in, because I've been making it off the field so far. And after completing our fourth quarter dance, the rest of the game seems to fly by. Before I know it I'm back in our change room, wiping the sweat from my forehead and looking forward to a good night's rest.
Erika Tucker is a member of the 2008 Hamilton Tiger-Cats cheerleaders. Although it's her first year with the CFL, she has been dancing for the last 18 years. Trained in both Royal Academy of Dance and Russian Vaganova ballet, Erika has competed in jazz, lyrical and musical theatre around North America. A graduate of McGill University and Sheridan College, her blog will appear here on a weekly basis.