BLOG: Some sage advice for aspiring cheerleaders
Practice hard, love dance, love to perform, and be yourself
As the cheerleading season goes out with a bang this Grey Cup weekend, it's time to look ahead to next year.
A reader named Jessika posted comments asking the requirements for joining the Tiger-Cat cheerleading team, and any advice I have for girls who want to audition.
If you are an aspiring cheerleader 19 years or older, come to tryouts scheduled late March or early April. Further details should be posted on the Ticat website by the end of January.
As for advice, I thought I'd ask my cheermates to help me out with this one.
"Auditions are your only chance to make a good impression," says my friend Christine, 26.
"Lesley is looking for clean-cut, respectable girls for the team. And your dancing must be clean, too. The sharper you dance, the more likely you are to be able to fit in to an already clean team, and the better your chances of being chosen."
The cheer-style of dance sticks out in my mind as something I had to get used to when I auditioned. The emphasis is on hard-hitting, complete movements, which takes lots of practice and cleaning.
I would say that the more types of dance you have under your belt, the better you'll be able to adapt to a new style. The variety of dance genres that my fellow cheerleaders bring to the table is impressive.
And even though I can't talk about Christine's 10 years of German dance training with a straight face — and without picturing lederhosen — she claims it's brought her kicks to the height they are today.
Another thing to remember at any audition is to try not to let nerves affect your performance.
I remember my friend Megan doing my make-up before the audition, and she was spouting off advice like a veteran stage mom. I can still hear her exclaim, "Show them your personality!" Words to live by.
Even after a botched a move within the first five seconds of the audition routine, I kept smiling and dancing. Lesley will notice mistakes, but continuing to look confident and happy shows poise and professionalism.
Of course, there is the possibility that you will not advance past the daylong audition.
"Stay positive and understand that sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right," says Rachel, 26.
"I made the Argos cheerleading team on my third attempt and I've been dancing for 23 years now."
Rachel has experience in various dance styles including acrobatics and power cheerleading (stunting). After cheering with the Argos for two years, it's Rachel's first year as a Ticat.
"Rejection always hurts at first but if you can understand that it's not about you personally — it's about what the organization is looking for at that moment in time — you can always come back the next year knowing you've worked at what you need to and make the team."
I realize I sound like my mother, but Rachel's stay-positive attitude is exactly what a cheerleader needs to exert.
Commitment to the team
One thing many people are surprised by is the time commitment. Christine stresses the importance of working out your schedule beforehand.
"Mid-season, amidst all the practices, games and promotional events, I start to forget what my husband looks like, and notice myself frequently running out of clean laundry!" she says.
Our cheermate, Lea, even had to bring her 11-month-old baby Gracie to practice when she didn't have a babysitter. We all watched Gracie shove Lea's cell phone into her mouth and bounce around in her jolly jumper, screaming at us while we danced.
For those of us with part-time or full-time jobs, it generally means warning our employers of our unavailability in advance. But it's worth it to be part of the team.
And being part of the team means working hard physically every practice, and even more so now that we're preparing for Grey Cup.
Throughout the season our dances are one minute each. Our Grey Cup routine is seven minutes long.
The first few times we did it full out, I was sweating. And I don't mean sweating like I do when I've got my Richard Simmons: Sweatin' to the Oldies tape playing — a great aerobic video, by the way. I mean sweating like a hyperhidrosis patient. The only other person who looked half as tired as I did was Shonna, an asthma sufferer who had forgotten to bring her puffer.
And so my advice is to keep in mind the importance of actually being fit rather than just looking fit.
Of course, when it comes to performing, everyone agrees the goal is to have fun.
"It can be a little hokey at times, and you may feel silly doing an 'Oskee Wee Wee' with one other girl in front of 20 people at a promotional event. But live it to the fullest, because they will be some of your best memories down the road," says Christine.
And she knows from experience. After taking some time off since starting in her first year of university, Christine returned this year for her fifth season in the CFL.
Andrea, 22, a dance teacher with 15 years of training, has just been chosen to join our captains as the fourth member of the Grey Cup 'Dream Team.' Honoured with the opportunity to stay on field for the entire game, she was chosen because of her dedication to the Tiger-Cats over the last three years.
I can just hear her advice to young dance students given with a big smile and her enthusiastically loud voice:
"What I tell my kids all the time is to practice hard, love dance, love to perform, and be yourself!"