High kicks, low splits, bright smiles and swinging hair. That’s what you see on the sidelines at the Houston Texans football games.
Nederland native, Brittan McDonald, is all smiles these days. Her new Houston Texans merchandise didn’t come from a store. It came from the franchise itself.
She has specialized boots for the kickline, a personalized uniform for cheering and new poms for appearances.
McDonald is no stranger to the dance scene. She shimmied across the stage at recitals, strutted with the Nederland Westernaires in high school and took her talents to the football field at the University of Houston on it’s dance team.
Now, she’s taking her dancing to the professional level.
“I was ecstatic, more in a state of shock than anything. This journey so far has just been awesome and I really can’t wait for the year to start,” says McDonald.
After her name was announced, her first phone call was to her mom.
“She loves my dancing career and she supports me 100%. So, I called her and she was just freaking out. So, we were all really excited,” she says
For little girls with big dreams, McDonald offers this advice.
“I have success right now. But, it hasn’t always been this easy. I work just as hard. I was dedicated and it took awhile before I could reach my success level and I feel like everyone should not give up and just continue to be persistent,” she says.
Persistency paid off for McDonald who’s goal was reached. Her bright smile will soon shine brighter under the stadium lights at Reliant Stadium.
“Our spirit for the Texans is awesome and I just can’t wait to meet all the fans and get to see their expression when we make a touchdown; to actually be on the field cheering for a really awesome team,” says McDonald.
Away from dancing McDonald loves to read, hang out with friends, and spend the summer by the pool.
There’s this crazy misconception about NFL cheerleaders – that they’re stupid, only in it to date players, don’t have “real” jobs, don’t know jack about the actual sport they’re cheering for… the list goes on and on. But it’s a pretty ignorant list if you’ve met 99% of these gals that suit up on NFL Sunday (which now also includes Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays) to dance and cheer and hair flip for everyone’s enjoyment.
Meet Morgan, or Moe as everyone calls her, of the Houston Texans Cheerleading (HTC) Squad. Taking her spot in the red, white and blue glorious lineup for her fourth straight year, Moe is no rookie when it comes to dancing in front of 70,000 screaming fans inside Reliant or to the sport she’s loved since she was a child. (That’s Battle Red, Liberty White, and Deep Steel Blue to be exact for you Texans fans.)
Originally from Austin, TX, Moe has led quite the exciting lifestyle, becoming a backup dancer for big country stars like Big and Rich and Trace Adkins. Moe happily calls Houston home now and spends her days as a Business Development Representative for a prominent Orthopedic Group in the Texas Medical Center while her nights and weekends are spent proudly representing the Houston Texans.
You are the awesomest, Moe.
The HTC is known around the league as the squad with a more hip-hop approach than most of the others, thanks to Coach Alto, and Moe fits that mold perfectly. “I like the style that Coach Alto puts in. We’re a little more hip-hop, and that’s my strong suit. Obviously I backup danced for country stars so the little bit of hillbilly we add to it fits me just fine too,” Moe jokes.
We all know the simple truth that everything is bigger in Texas, and cheering is certainly no different. “Dancing in front of 70,000 people, you have to be huge,” Moe explains. “Your personality has to show – every facial expression counts. I have to exaggerate all my moves – my smiles, my walks, everything. People can spot me out from a ton of rows up. They aren’t dancers critiquing you, they want to see you’re enjoying the game.”
But being an NFL cheerleader isn’t all glitter and pillow fights. “We work hard. We do a minimum of 40 appearances a year, and you have to maintain a full-time job or be a full-time student. We have practices 3 days a week, but you have to practice before practice. Practice isn’t for learning; you’re supposed to already know it. We learn four new dances for every game plus 12 sidelines plus 10 fillers. Then there are the workouts…” as she trails off. Clearly it’s exhausting just talking about all the hard work that goes into this passion of hers.
Moe was voted Rookie of the Year in 2011, Most Spirited in 2012 and voted the cheerleader to represent her team at the Pro Bowl in 2012. The internet has also dubbed the blonde bombshell as one of the most photographed cheerleaders in the league. And it’s easy to understand why Moe flashes her pearly whites so often. The girl is happy with her life all around and thankful for where she is. She doesn’t take a single day for granted, especially her numbered days in that coveted HTC uniform. “You only get to put your Superman suit on for so long – that’s what my cheerleading outfit is, and then I go back to being a normal person. Football players are somebody years down the road, but cheerleaders, we come and go. Maybe that’s why we’re always smiling,” she says.
Pep, moxie, zip! This dame’s got it all.
Enough with words! Sometimes pictures are all you really need, especially with cheerleaders, so here’s a gallery of the lovely Moe.
You can follow Morgan on Twitter and LIKE her page on FB.
And be sure to follow @TexansCheer on Twitter – this group of social media hotties has more followers than 13 NFL teams, 19 MLB (including their hometown Houston Astros), 19 NHL, 19 NBA and 20 MLS teams. Clearly these gals are doing many things right.
What began two weeks ago with close to 500 women from all over the world in Arlington for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders preliminary and semifinal auditions culminated in the Finals Auditions on May 18 at the home of the five-time Super Bowl champions.
The action officially got under way when Mr. Phil Whitfield opened the Cowboys Stadium doors at 8 a.m. and welcomed the 86 ladies (54 from the auditions and 32 returning vets) inside the $1.2 billion football palace.
The hours ahead would be a rollercoaster of emotions for many of the ladies who followed their dreams to become a member of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and were one last, agonizingly long step away from advancing to training camp.
The day began with the individual talent portion, which gave the competitors 90 seconds to impress the judges and could include singing, dancing or even dramatic interpretation. The ladies performed their solos to musical choices ranging from AC/DC’s Back in Black to the Broadway classic Singin’ in the Rain to multiple Britney Spears songs such as Stronger, Circus, Oops!…I Did It Again, Toxic and …Baby One More Time.
Following a short break to change from the solo outfits into DCC audition attire, the candidates made their way down to the field to perform the dance routine they learned at call-backs and the signature DCC kickline.
The judges’ panel was seated in the stands directly under the owner’s suite for a fan’s perspective and a direct view of the massive 160-ft wide and 72-ft high HD video board.
Returning veteran Danielle Marie had to overcome a painful foot injury that occurred three weeks earlier during a practice session for her solo performance just to be able to walk into the stadium. As she battled through the pain to finish her second kickline, the returning vets were cheering her on as if she was about to cross the finish line of a marathon. As each group of five took their place on the Cowboys star at the 50-yard line, it became very apparent how close the group of returning veterans were as they rooted for one another like they were all apart of a big family.
“The whole football season is my favorite time of the year,” Brittney Schram, who just finished her second season with the DCC, said. “Gameday is so amazing that I get goosebumps just thinking about it, and I can’t really even put it into words. It’s adrenaline mixed with emotion and a complete awe factor, and you are getting to experience it with some of your closest friends who become like your sisters.”
The judges began deliberations shortly after 3 p.m. with the results expected to arrive between 6 and 7 p.m. In the meantime, the ladies, who couldn’t leave the stadium, were awaiting word if their dreams were coming true or their hearts were going to be shattered.
Just after 9:15 p.m. the big announcement came. The CMT cameras, filming for the eighth season of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team , were rolling as DCC Director Kelli Finglass returned along with Judy Trammell and Charlotte Jones-Anderson.
“This has been the most talented group of finalists ever,” Finglass said before announcing the names of the 47 ladies who would be advancing to the two-month long training camp.
When she called the final name, the veterans on stage dealt with the bittersweet emotions of celebrating their own success while having their family dynamic changed: three of the ladies who had re-auditioned from last season were not invited back to training camp. But 29 of the 32 returning veterans did advance, and will join 18 of the 54 rookies who survived the semifinals. Among those who will be in training camp are the winner of the DCC Fan Vote, Vivian and veterans Jackie Bob, Sydney Durso, Brittney Schram and Chelsea Elizabeth.
“Being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader has been better than I ever dreamed,” Chelsea Elizabeth said, of her experience in her rookie season. “Game days and appearances are incredible, but there is something special about being able to make someone’s day. When we visit people in the hospital or when we visited West (following the tragic explosion), I have been put in a position where I can make people happy and that is what I was born to do.”
The ladies who make the final squad out of training camp will not only be at the 10 Cowboys home games, but are ambassadors for the organization all over the world from visiting U.S. troops overseas to corporate functions to swimsuit calendar photo shoots in exotic locales and, of course, waving at little girls in the crowd who dream of growing up and someday be a member of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Syracuse Crunch Ice Girls Ally Panighetti and Sam Cavelli spent two hours mingling with Crunch fans at a pep rally before Friday's game against the Springfield Falcons.
Being a Zoom Tan Ice Girl for the Syracuse Crunch hockey team means people will stare at you, but you’ll get used to it.
You’ll be offered phone numbers, love letters and frequent requests to have your photo taken, usually with admiring young girls, teenage guys or older men.
You probably won’t see the hundreds of photos taken of you that end up on private Facebook accounts or on Instagram.
You might be a little cold when you’re not cheering, because those blue and silver spandex uniforms aren’t exactly the warmest outfits for working in an ice rink. At least they don’t bare your midriff anymore, like the old uniforms did.
There will be hard parts, like when you have to ignore the rowdy catcalls of fans who had a bit too many drinks before the game.
There will also be perks, like two free tickets to each game, which you might share with friends, family or significant others. You’ll also get a year of free spray tans from your Zoom Tan sponsor.
You might get gently scolded to come in for more free tans. You’re looking a little pale, after all.
You’ll probably love your job, because you love hockey, the fans, or because you grew up in the Crunch world. The reasons for cheering vary for each Ice Girl, as do their reasons for joining in the first place.
This Year’s Girls
Twelve young women fill the Ice Girls roster this year, ranging from ages 19-26. About six girls work each game, rotating nights based on school schedules and other jobs. Seven Ice Girls worked during the Crunch’s sweeping defeat of the Springfield Falcons on Friday night, which advanced them to the Calder Cup final four.
Last Friday was special. A pep rally was organized by the city at the Everson Plaza across from the hockey arena, with food vendors, live music and games for kids.
At the plaza event, the girls passed out buttons and mingled with fans. One pep rally attendee, Bud Natale, has been attending Crunch games for years. He thinks this year’s Ice Girls are especially great at getting the crowds pumped up.
“I wish all the sports had a group like that,” said Natale, 49. “They’re incredible. You can’t miss them.”
The Ice Queen Routine
The girls sprinkle in to the Crunch stadium about two hours before every game to put on makeup, do their hair and hear their specific jobs for the night.
Kristin Costello became the Ice Girls’ captain (a.k.a. “Captain Crunch”) after one year of cheering on the squad. She describes the team as more promotional than a regular dance team or cheer squad. It’s their job to keep fans interested with free T-shirt tosses and trivia questions.
Costello has plenty of experience redirecting short attention spans. She’s a substitute teacher for first and second graders. She also described herself as a bit timid before joining the Ice Girls.
“Having thousands of people always looking at you, wanting pictures, talking to you about things…all that really opened me up in my personal life,” she said.
After joining the Crunch, Costello became braver and more comfortable talking to strangers. She also became better at conversing and connecting with her students.
Some of the Ice Girls have backgrounds in dance (like Yasmeen Bankole, 19), cheerleading (like Jen Andrews, 19) or are lifelong Crunch fans (like Sam Cavelli, 22). One girl was a Zumba instructor. Another is a waitress. Many are students.
Ally Panighetti, 23, has been going to Crunch games since she was four years old and has been an Ice Girl for four years.
“These people are like my family; they’re not just fans to me,” Panighetti said. “They’ve watched me grow up.”
She wanted them prepared. If George Karl’s boys were going to bring the playoffs back to the Pepsi Center, her girls were going to give a damn good show. By now the wound from the Nuggets early postseason exit has scabbed over, but when Denver Nuggets dance manager Amy Jo Wagner welcomed 303 Magazine to her team’s (then unknown) final practice, she had her girls rehearsing as if their performance was imminent.
The wood floor in the studio room at Forza Fitness rumbled with steps completely in-sync. Blonde, brown and black locks of hair whooshed through the air in the same direction, hands slapped thighs simultaneously and all to the perfect synchronization of Amy Jo’s counting. Well, perfect at least to a novice.
“I have a feeling we should do this on more time. So turn your brain on girls,I want to get home and watch the game” Amy Jo said as her team finished a routine that fell short of her approval.
I couldn’t spot a single flaw–perhaps because I was slightly mesmerized by the array of powder blue and yellow– but Amy Jo demands a great deal from her girls and knows exactly what she wants.
From the top- She turns the music on to cue game speed- her team snaps into formation and begins the routine. Crouched down with calculated concentration, her hands folded in front of her and somehow watching every move of every dancer, Amy Jo reminds me of a coach I had who terrified me. He saw everything. Nothing slips past Amy Jo either. After a routine she was finally happy with, Amy stepped away from practice for a moment to sit down with 303.
Dance wasn’t always in the cards. Amy Jo didn’t even start until she was 15 years old, and from her own recollection, had a bad attitude. At first she wouldn’t let coaches tell her anything without some sass. But she kept on dancing and soon fell in love with the performance aspect and dance and discipline became second nature.
She is everything you might come to expect from a dance manager in the NBA- precise, punctual and yes, very pretty. Though one thing that might catch you by surprise is her love for math. Algebra, trigonometry and calculus; nauseating terms for a writer, comforting words for Amy Jo Wagner.
“I have two passions in life. Music and math,” she said. “ I’ve just always liked having one right answer.”
Before moving to Denver to start this dream job with the Nuggets, Amy Jo was living out another fantasy as a high school math teacher in Arizona. I know, I know, I wish she was my math teacher too. She was in a comfy spot in life, albeit hectic. Dancing simultaneously for three different Arizona teams, (Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers) teaching high school math and having just bought a new home, Amy Jo thought her fairy-tale would play out in the desert. A job opening with the Denver Nuggets would change all that.
In 2008, on her birthday, Amy Jo quit her job as a math teacher and swapped it for dance life in the NBA. After a heartfelt goodbye from her school, she still gets emotional reminiscing about her time as a teacher. She received nothing but support from her staff and students, yet at times can’t help but feel that she ‘let them down.’ After turningdown the job initially, Amy Jo wasn’t going to let the Nuggets down.
With Denver as her adoptive home, this Kerkhoven, Minn. native has settled in quite nicely. Amy Jo has a 1 year old daughter with a loving boyfriend. Though coming from a small town, she admits there is some pressure from home to get married, which she says is not in the works any time soon. ”All that matters is we have a happy household,” she said with a smile.
Balancing out her busy schedule, Amy Jo spends her leisure practicing yoga and being with her daughter. And though free-time is not something in great abundance, she tries to make as much time as she can for each of her dancers and get to know them on a more personal level.
“I consider them a family, and building a personal relationship with them makes the season that much easier,” she said.
She makes it a point to sit down over coffee and just talk with each of her girls, and from an onlookers perspective her team is a very cohesive unit–her coffee dates must be working. Amy Jo is far from that terrifying coach I knew, her standards are high, but she is only there to help her team reach them. She leaves her ego at the door and explains that her job is not a “look at me” position. She is not there to run a tyrannical campaign either, she just wants to be a part of the team and earn the girls’ respect by being a good role model.
How much would you give up for a part time job, one that’s only guaranteed for a year and pays as little as $150 a week? What if that job involved stars and white boots?
Katy Marie auditions for the Cowboys Cheerleaders at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX on May 18, 2013.
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders practice anywhere from two to five times per week during the season. Attendance is mandatory, and there are extra sessions for rookies and the Show Group — a sort of special ops group of 12 cheerleaders who dance and sing — on weekends.
Training camp in the weeks before the season is tougher, with its nightly rehearsals that can last up to five hours and could result in more cuts.
If the cheerleaders make it out of training camp, they’re are paid $150 per home game, with opportunities for paid appearances. Oh, and just because you make it one year doesn’t mean you’re back the next. Everybody has re-audition.
“It’s really common for veterans to get cut,” said Sydney Durso, now in her sixth-year on the team. “I remember when I first made the team five years ago, I think five or six veterans were cut.”
Final auditions concluded on Saturday. Those chosen will take on the burden and head to training camp. Some left their lives in other states or countries for the right to wear the uniform.
“It’s a worldwide brand,” said Brijet Finister, who made two trips from Stockton, California in order to audition for the first time but didn’t end up making the cut. “The image of the DCC is one that a lot of people desire to be a part of.
“You almost become a hero to thousands of girls across the world.”
Perhaps no one knows more about the opportunities than Durso. The 23-year-old is now the longest tenured Cowboys Cheerleader on the team.
She has been on three USO tours with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, making trips to Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, and Bahrain to visit troops.
“I love performing of course, but there’s something about our iconic uniform about that is so different than anybody else’s,” Durso said. “You can make people smile with just our uniform.”
Jinelle Davidson came to Texas from Australia two weeks ago for opening auditions, leaving her job, her studies, her family, and her cheerleading team in Australia.
“I literally left everything behind,” Davidson said. “There’s an energy behind cheerleading that I’m really passionate about.”
And the Cowboys were the best, so she wanted to follow in the footsteps of fellow Australian Angela Rena and try out.
It ended in success. Davidson, Rena, and Durso heard Kelli Finglass, director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, call their name called after a 12-hour day audition day.
They’ll be training camp at the end of the month, ready for another year being “America’s Sweethearts.”
“It is perfect,” Durso said. “I love it. I love what we do.”