As I started telling more and more people about my new job as a cheerleader, they became interested in how much we get paid. Upon hearing the amount, many have smirked — if not outright laughed — in my face.

In response, I tell them that there are a lot of perks besides the game day paycheck.

"Do you mean perks like drunk guys yelling at you?" asked my friend Andrew.

As a matter of fact, that was not what I meant. And besides, any girl knows you don't have to be a cheerleader to have drunk guys yelling at you.

The Perks

The first perk of being a cheerleader is the free gym membership. This became important to me for two reasons:

Reason No. 1 is that the Tiger-Cat contract we signed includes a clause that reserves the right to terminate our team membership should our appearance change drastically.

"Most of the people that watch us don't know if the dancing we do is easy or hard. They can tell two things: if we move together and how we look physically."

The day before our first team meeting, coach Lesley sent out an email telling us to come hungry because there would be pizza. Then I read: "This may be the last time I let you eat pizza this season!"

As I started to panic about the potentially eating-deprived life I had ahead of me, I continued to read, "I'm totally kidding."

I like that there's a sense of humour about the importance of our appearance. But of course it's true that we dance better when we're in shape.

My squad captain, Linda, put things pretty simply.

"Most of the people that watch us don't know if the dancing we do is easy or hard. They can tell two things: if we move together and how we look physically."

Makes sense. Any good businesswoman wants to hit her target audience, and our target audience is of the beer-drinking, testosterone-driven variety.

Reason No. 2 that I like the gym membership is that I have now entered into a period of my life known as half-top season. While the Ticat cheerleaders wore full shirts in previous years, we now show our stomachs.

To be honest, I was surprised at how much the outfits do cover. There's no cleavage, no shoulders showing, but lots of belly.

"I don't want you girls to be thrown into a half-top situation on game day where you're uncomfortable dancing with your stomach showing," said Lesley.

As funny as the phrase 'thrown into a half-top situation' sounded to me at the time, it did take some getting used to. Lesley does everything she can to make sure we feel as comfortable as possible on the field.

The next perks include:

  • three free hair cuts and dyes (goodbye dark brown hair)
  • free tanning … and by free, they also mean mandatory

For those of us unsettled by the term 'cancer bed,' we have the option of spray tans. We're allotted one before each game day.

As worried as I was about looking like Ross from that episode of Friends, it turned out very well. Unfortunately the actual process is slightly nauseating.

The Spray Tan

I shut the door behind the salon worker who had just explained what to do. She said to put a thin layer of moisturizer on my feet, which reminded me of a girl who got a spray tan and was subsequently nick-named "Orange Foot" for the rest of her prom.

Then I needed globs of the stuff on my toenails, fingernails, and palms. I donned the shower cap and mentally prepared myself.

I walked into the tiny closet-type area and saw the green button flashing. It made me think of Austin Powers in the cryogenic freezing scene. And it turned out to be just as cold.

I hit the button and struggled to remember the poses I was supposed to strike so that there wouldn't be white and orange lines all over my body.

Even though the salon worker told me it was safe to inhale the fumes, I found myself trying to hold my breath for the full 20 seconds due to the sheer intensity of the smell. Of course this backfired and I ended up taking huge gulps to avoid passing out naked in a pool of my own tan.

Luckily I made it through, spat into the garbage can in disgust, and blotted off the brownish-orange dots that were sticking to my stomach.

And so goes the cheerleader transformation. While I wasn't blonde or tanned enough at first … I certainly am now.


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.