"Here, I got this for you," said my friend Kristen. As I climbed into her car, she passed me a flyer for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 2008 Cheerleading Tryouts. A tall, slim girl flourishing pom-poms beamed up at me.
"I went for an event-planning interview with the Ticats and they asked if I knew any dancers. So I thought maybe you could go," she said.
Despite my 18 years of dance experience-ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap, hip hop, musical theatre — I didn't think I was blonde or tanned enough to be a cheerleader. I put the flyer in my purse and we continued our drive into Hamilton.
Kristen was on the Mohawk College soccer team, and I was shooting her game for my photography class assignment, part of Sheridan College's graduate journalism program.
I had applied to Sheridan seven months before in a state of panic. The realization that an English Literature degree from McGill University doesn't open a lot of doors in terms of career opportunities-and by 'a lot of doors' I mean any doors-was more than a little unsettling.
'Are you serious?'
But the eight-month program focusing on broadcast and online media was a perfect fit. It was when I overheard two classmates talking about the upcoming sports segment that I was reminded of the Ticat cheer team. Our sports producers, Kyle and Ryan, were planning on filming the Argo cheerleading tryouts.
"That's too bad, guys, because I'm going to be at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats auditions next weekend," I said. They laughed.
"No you're not … are you serious?"
It was at that point that I thought it would be fun to tell everyone in my class that I was going to audition. As my friends continued to ask about it, I realized I didn't have much of a choice but to follow through.
For the audition I needed a dance resume, full makeup and hair, exercise pants and a black half top, and $20. My regular dance class costs $14, so I figured it was a good deal.
When I arrived at the Burlington GoodLife Fitness Club for the tryouts, I felt more than a little out of place.
All the girls seemed to know each other, and I spent breaks reading Maclean's magazine in the corner.
We spent the morning warming up and learning a dance routine. I got through the first round of cuts, but made a glaring mistake in front of Coach Lesley and the judges.
They asked me why I wanted to be a Tiger-Cats cheerleader.
"I love dancing but I haven't performed since I was in high school … which you can probably tell …and I really miss it. I think this would be a good opportunity to get back into it."
We were told to check the Ticat website the following day for the final results. Although I told everyone I didn't think I'd made it, I was compulsively reloading the page to see for myself. And there I was: a new member of the Ticats cheerleaders.
I felt a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I sent the link to my friends, wondering how they would react.
My friend Yeehua thought it was a joke, because apparently it's more likely that I would take the time to create a web page and post a headshot of myself alongside 19 strangers than for me to actually be a CFL cheerleader.
When I told my friend Sahra, she did one of those smiles with the teeth clenched underneath. It was as if she was eating the worst dinner of her life, but the cook asked her how it was and so she had to say it was good.
Successful, down-to-earth women
Some of my college professors advised me not to tell prospective employers about my new gig, "or maybe do tell the men." Sexism sure is a double-edged sword.
I'm still figuring out when to tell people and when to leave it out of conversation.
Kristen was recently trying to set me up with a friend of hers, but when she told him I was a cheerleader he said 'No way.' She assured him I'm not really a cheerleader. But what does that mean? The cheerleaders I've met so far are successful, down-to-earth women who work hard. We have practice twice a week plus promotional events and games. It's really a job.
And I'm really a cheerleader.
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.