BLOG: Cheering for Canada's game

I did a quick search and found a 2008 Ipsos-Reid survey that ranked the Grey Cup as number seven after asking Canadian adults: what is Canada's defining event?

We may not have a TV series devoted to us like the Dallas Cowgirls, but I'm proud to be a CFL cheerleader all the same

"Hey Erika, I heard the other day that the Grey Cup is one of the top 10 symbols most representative of Canada," said my friend Vijay.

"Where did you hear that?"

"The FAN 590." He paused. "It's a sports radio station," he explained. I laughed.

"You know, I do work in broadcasting Vijay … I've heard of the FAN 590." I neglected to add that I'd heard of it because a college friend had interned there. The more Vijay thinks I know about sports, the less I will be publicly mocked.

Uniquely Canadian

I did a quick search and found a 2008 Ipsos-Reid survey that ranked the Grey Cup as number seven after asking Canadian adults: what is Canada's defining event?

Now, with our current record, you may be wondering why a Hamilton Tiger-Cats cheerleader is so interested in Grey Cup. The answer is twofold.

First, despite the fact that our boys won't be playing on Nov. 23, the cheerleading team will be hopping on the VIA train to Montreal. We'll even be performing on field during the game, alongside the other cheerleaders.

But second, it made me think about the public's opinion of the Canadian Football League in general. For something that is recognized as uniquely Canadian, it saddens me that people don't take more pride in the CFL.

"It's like the NFL, but the players aren't as good and there are less people at the games," is a popular description.

Just last week I was skimming through the news wires at work and saw that CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon was giving a speech called, "Why the CFL matters." Should he really have to explain that?

My favourite line addresses people who say the league doesn't matter, because "it's not the biggest or the flashiest or the wealthiest."

And that got me thinking about the cheerleading. How do we compare to the American girls in terms of size, performance and pay?

My research was aided by the fact that my dad recently recorded a show called Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Making the Team 3. As skeptical as I was about the quality of content, I ended up watching four episodes in a row.

I then spent an hour on their website.

Comparative kick lines

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are the most notorious of the American squads. What I didn't know was that they cite their Kick Line as "world famous" and a "significant part of the DCC performance."

If this was the inspiration for Lesley, who has put kick lines in two of our dances, I'd like to have a word with the Dallas choreographer.

Instructions on performing our kick line is as follows:

1) Stand side by side in two lines of 10 girls each. 2) Raise your right arm and place it straight out on top of the shoulder of the girl to your right. Lift your left arm up from your side to rest on the shoulder of the girl to your left. Nobody likes a hair puller, so watch your hands. 3) Jump in perfect time with the entire line, alternately kicking your legs with knees straight and toes pointed.

Every muscle should be flexed for optimum kick height. I know this because I have to stand next to Lauren, who has the body and legs of an Amazon Queen. She also looks completely at ease, which doesn't bode well for the wild eyes and forced grin I must have next to her.

As I watched the Dallas Cowboys cheer auditions, I saw the same strained smiles on many of the girls. Their audition, though spread over a few days, was very similar to ours. Learn a dance combination, perform it for the judges, and tell them why you want to be on the team. While non-dancers are weeded out almost immediately, the judges make cuts based on "charm, beauty and talent."

In fact, the most notable difference in choosing the American team was the restriction on body appearance.

The Dallas director says that the girls need to have between 11-15 per cent body fat, which they measure in something called a hydrostatic water tank. After seeing the looks on the faces of the aspiring cheerleaders, the tank might as well be a torture chamber.

I watched as the girls were told to breathe out as much as possible before climbing in so no oxygen would be counted as fat. I wondered how many of them would pass out underwater.

Proud to be a CFL cheerleader

In any case, the tank was enough for me to make my decision on which league I'd rather cheer in.

Is cheerleading in the NFL bigger? Yes - 600 girls came to Dallas auditions, compared to the 80 or so for the Tiger-Cats.

Is it flashier? Not in my opinion. They may have tassles and go-go boots, but we can kick line with the best of them. And our black and gold holographic poms outshine their blue bunches any day.

And as for wealthier? Not by much. Despite the assumption that the money is better south of the border, the Dallas Cowboys girls make only $10 more than we do per game. Plus they have to allow time for up to three more practices per week.

We may not have a series devoted to us on Country Music Television, but I'm proud to be a CFL cheerleader all the same.