Breast cancer survivor Leslie Ezelle turned tragedy into hope, with a new business and a spot on HGTV’s ‘Design Star’

Arnold Wayne Jones
Life+Style Editor
Dallas Voice
June 30, 2011
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DESIGN STAR
Season premiere airs on HGTV July 11 at 8 p.m.
[View Leslie’s profile on HGTV.com]
[View Leslie’s design portfolio on HGTV.com]
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Going through the horrors of breast cancer may be the best thing that ever happened to Leslie Ezelle.

In 2008, the Dallas resident was a stay-at-home mom to her four kids and stepkids when she was diagnosed. Not a lot of people, even friends, knew about it at the time.

“During breast cancer, I was in complete denial — I wouldn’t talk about it,” Ezelle now admits. “I did six weeks of radiation and wouldn’t talk to anybody there; I just wanted to get in and out.”

But while outwardly nothing was wrong, inside she was falling apart. “What am I gonna be when I grow up?” she asked herself. And the answer was: Follow your dream.

“I thought maybe I could combine all the things I have always had confidence in — my artwork and my painting and my design — and make a living at it,” she says.

For years, Ezelle — a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader — had been an amateur decorator, offering her eye to close friends and family free of charge. But in the middle of breast cancer treatment, she decided it was time to make it official and “start charging for it.”

In 2009, she started her company, LeslieChristine Designs. Around the same time, she took another huge step.

“I was in and out of the hospital during breast cancer with infections and reconstructive surgery,” she says. “I started thinking, ‘What I really want is my own design show. And I want it to be different than other kinds of reveal shows, built around my crazy life. I want it to be like Modern Family.”

Ezelle’s crazy life includes sharing an adopted daughter, Ella, with her ex-partner Marisa Diotalevi; rearing her stepson and adopted sons with her wife Libby; managing “a petting zoo” of a four-legged family that includes a one-eyed Shih-tzu and countless other fauna; and fitting it all into a small house in Preston Hollow.

And the best way to get such a show, she felt, was to compete for it.

Ezelle and her clan were already huge fans of HGTV’s Design Star competition series, which pits 12 aspiring decorators against each other, with the reward being their own weekly series. She figures she might as well try it.

“The day of the deadline, I FedEx’d my stuff to them. Real soon I went up there to meet them. Then I got a call that I was accepted. It was quick and pretty amazing, but really cool, though. They were auditioning for close to nine months; to go through it that long would have made me a nervous wreck. I did it on a whim and it worked out beautifully.”

This season, gay designer Vern Yip returns as the head judge (alongside Genevieve Gorder and Candice Olson), with guest judges like Thom Felicia and Nate Berkus, plus the addition of a new mentor: The gay former series winner and current TV host David Bromstad, who serves as a Tim Gunn-esque mentor. (Gay judges, gay mentor, gay contestant: This might be the gayest show on TV not on Bravo — and that includes Logo.)

Until the winner of the series is revealed (she can’t talk about it), Ezelle’s own design business is doing well.

“I seem to be caught up with the straight-male-bachelor-penthouse scene, which is really great because they have money!” she laughs. “I’m actually doing my first gay male couple shortly — the first gay clients I’ve had.”

But Ezelle found the whole TV experience worthwhile.

“I felt like I knew all these guys,” she says. “Vern is so sweet, so straightforward. I’ve heard critics and other designers describe him as the Simon Cowell [of the show], but I’m not at all intimidated by him. We have much in common: He and his partner had a baby. He lost his mom to cancer, and he’s very dedicated to this foundation [in her memory]. I learned that the day before I went to check into the show and I just lost it. He’s a good guy!”

Ezelle herself is becoming a devotee of cancer awareness, as well. While she was undergoing treatment, she refused to acknowledge how serious things were.

“I didn’t want to see anything pink — I didn’t want to ‘play’ breast cancer. But that’s really what brought me to the show. I’ve decided to embrace the pink.”

For the season premiere on July 11, Ezelle is hosting an invitation-only screening party and fundraiser for Susan G. Komen foundation at Studio Movie Grill.

“I’m trying to raise $25,000 for Susan G. Komen, hopefully more,” she says. “It’s my time to pay back and bring awareness. Of course, I may be hiding under the table when [the episode] airs, out of embarrassment…”

Ezelle finished her last cancer treatment on Dec. 27 — a milestone for her, but not one she would readily trade.

“Breast cancer really drove me in this direction,” she says. “It makes you remember, ‘It’s not that bad — I’m not dead. I don’t have it as bad as this [person.]’ And I think my story is what got me on the show. Doom and gloom brought me to my dreams.”

And if all works out, it just may make those dreams come true.

Be A Baltimore Blast Cheerleader!

Blast Cheerleader Director Elizabeth "Liz" Guaraldo with members of her squad.

Blast Cheerleader Director Elizabeth "Liz" Guaraldo with members of her squad.

Auditions for the 2011-12 season will be held Sunday, July 17th at Du Burns Arena, located in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore City.

Du Burns Arena
1301 South Ellwood Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21224

Registration begins at noon
(registration fee is $20 if applicant did not attend prep class)

Prep class will be held Monday, July 11 and Wednesday, July 13 at Du Burns Arena from 7-8:30 p.m.
The prep class will cost $10 ($15 for both).
Choreography will be taught at the prep classes and they provide an opportunity to ask the Director and veteran cheerleaders any questions.

Applicants need:

To be 18 years old by July 17
One non-returnable photo of themselves in a crop top and dance shorts
Applications will be provided at auditions
Application fee of $20 if the applicant did NOT attend prep classes
Audition attire: crop top, dance shorts, flesh colored tights/panty hose, dance sneakers/shoes

Audition FAQs:

Please note: There is a chance that the Baltimore Blast Cheerleaders will travel to Bermuda so all applicants are required to have a U.S. passport.

Is there an age limit?
This is no maximum age limit.
Minimum age requirement is 18 years of age by July 17th, 2011.

Are there any height to weight restrictions?
You should be in overall great shape. We do not have a height to weight requirement. We have no maximum or minimum weight requirement.

Are auditions open to the public?
Auditions are closed to the public. This includes family and friends.

What do I need for auditions?
Auditions can run all day. Please bring with you:
• Drink and snack
• Sweat towel
• Makeup & Hair Products

Do you have any prep classes; do I have to take the prep classes to make the team?
• We will have two prep classes – July 11th and 13th from 7-8:30 at Du Burns Arena.
• One prep class is $10; two prep classes are $15.

How should I wear my hair and makeup?
•Make-up and hair should compliment your features.
•You should wear your hair down.

What will the judges focus on and look for?
•Dance technique
•Performance
•Showmanship and personality
•Dance skills
•Fitness

What should I wear to the auditions?
•Sports bra or crop top with stomach showing.
•Short biker shorts or trunks
•Dance sneakers or jazz shoes
•Flesh colored panty hose or dance tights
•All body piercings should be removed and all tattoos covered

When will the squad be chosen?

On Sunday, July 17th there will be two sets of cuts. The finalists will participate in a mandatory training camp at Du Burns Arena. Training camp will be Monday, July 18th and Wednesday, July 20th. Finalists will be chosen at the end of the training camp on Wednesday, July 20th.

[Baltimore Blast Cheerleaders]

Gayle’s Hot Cheerleader

By HG Helps
Editor-at-Large
Jamaica Observer
June 29, 2011

She gave it everything she had, especially when Chris Gayle was taking bowlers apart in the Indian Premier League.

Yet though the game of cricket to her was like trying to learn a foreign language, internationally acclaimed cheerleader Genienne Samuels gave it her best shot.

A cheerleader for the National Football League team, the Washington Redskins for eight years, Genienne got into the cheerleading posse at the Washington Wizards National Basketball Association (NBA) two years ago, and pushed on to face unlikely eyes when she performed cheerleading duties for the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the IPL between March and April this year.

“As a Redskins cheerleader, they asked us to come and be a part of their cheerleading team for the Royal Challengers,” Genienne told the Observer during a celebrity sport camp for youngsters in Kingston on Monday.

The sport camp forms part of the RuJohn Foundation’s initiative and was held in conjunction with the SuperClubs Foundation. Another is slated for Negril later this week.

“A group of us accepted the offer, we went to India and got a chance to work with some of the young women there who were interested in cheerleading and dancing and more importantly, we got to travel with the cricket team and actually dance and cheer at their games,” said Genienne, who confirmed her ignorance about cricket, but soon got into the groove once she realised how friendly the game was.

“At the beginning I did not understand cricket at all, but after the first game you definitely catch on and then you also pay attention to the crowd interaction, so when the crowd was cheering then it’s time for you to cheer as well,” she said.

Gayle, the big-hitting Jamaican and discarded West Indies captain who lit up the IPL following his belated appearance, left his mark on the experienced cheerleader, who departed India close to the IPL final which involved RCB and Chennai Super Kings, led by India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

“I do remember Chris Gayle… he was one of the star players. The main thing was his speed (how fast he scored) and how he used the paddle (bat) to hit the ball.

“There was another player who was also very good. I can’t remember his name, but the crowd gave a lot of support for the cricket players. All the games were extremely exciting, but Gayle was the star player,” she said.

The television host and business owner in Richmond, Virginia, came away with a greater appreciation of cricket and widened her knowledge about the culture and way of life of the people of the world’s second most populous country.

“Cricket is such a huge sport in India and they accepted us as cheerleaders, even though they weren’t used to having cheerleaders at their stadiums.

“At home (Bangalore), we got a great reaction. When we went away to the other teams, like Bombay (Mumbai Indians), they didn’t take to us too well.

“It’s a very conservative country, and we had outfits that were small skirt bottoms and shorts with small tops and our midsections were showing at times and they just weren’t as accepting of that… just because it’s India and the women there are very covered, and so having come out on the field in that attire, I think some people didn’t really appreciate it.

“I definitely came away with a greater appreciation for cricket. Before I went to India I had never heard of the sport of cricket. When I first looked at it, I thought that it was like baseball, but then it was very different as well.

“It’s a very interesting sport that requires a lot of skill and endurance, so it was my first introduction to cricket and I would definitely do it again.

“It was also my first time in India and it was an eye-opener. We learnt a lot, we experienced a lot, it’s a very different culture. Sometimes we take things for granted in the United States and don’t realise it and when you go and visit other countries you realise that you should be very grateful and thankful for the things you have back home,” Genienne said.

Describing herself as a tomboy growing up… one who went fishing, watching American football, basketball and boxing with her father in Richmond, Genienne at one time fancied herself as a runner of merit and had no idea that she would have ended up in cheerleading.

It was during high school that she caught the cheerleading fever and never looked back.

“I actually started as a runner, cross country and middle distance runner in middle and high school. I had the opportunity to run at the University of Richmond, but decided to cheer instead,” said the multi-talented 36-year-old, who also graduated from George Washington University.

“After picking up cheerleading in high school, I did it in college, went to a Redskins game and decided to audition for the Redskins team.

“It is a requirement for most professional cheerleaders in the United States that you have to have a full time job or be a full-time student, so it’s really an extra-curricular activity for most of us.

“Right now, I own my own consulting business, so I do a lot of contracting work for the state of Maryland, including quality and process improvement and auditing.

“Right now I have three people back home taking care of the projects that I would normally be working on, so they are putting in double hours for me.”

On her second visit to Jamaica and loving every bit of the island so far, Genienne is considering her future in cheerleading with a view to pursuing other options.

“I just completed my 10th year total as a cheerleader, so I am thinking that this might be it. I am ready to start a family and focus on my career a little bit more. Cheerleading for the NBA is very time consuming.

“It requires a special discipline. On a professional level, most of the cheerleaders are dancers, so those dancers have a lot of background,

tap, jazz, ballet… they have a lot of technique.

“The other side of cheerleading is where you see a lot of gymnastics.

“It really is turning into a sport because you have to be extremely athletic to do a lot of the stunts and a lot of the tumbling that is required for cheerleading,” she said, pointing to the importance of keeping trim and sticking to the right foods.

“My diet varies, sometime I don’t eat the best of foods, but I try to stay away from a lot of fried foods.

“I focus mainly on protein from fish, chicken and steak now and then, but I try to stay away from a lot of pastas and I definitely eat my three meals and two snacks a day to help keep my metabolism up. So because I am very active and still work out, I am able to eat a lot of the foods that I like to eat,” she said.

2011 P-R-O Convention All Star: Indianapolis Colts Cheerleader Britney G.

I live in Los Angeles and one of the best things about the P-R-O Convention is that I am able to photograph squads that I would probably never get to shoot otherwise.  And one of those that I looked forward to covering was the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders, who seemed to bring every cheerleader on their team.  Their squad has a special quality that could only be described as a clean cut, Midwestern look…it’s a wholesome, fresh faced look and it works.

In our second edition of the 2011 P-R-O Convention All Stars, we turn our attention to one of the most noteworthy cheerleaders, Indianapolis Colts Cheerleader Britney G.  I was fortunate to snap a few photographs of the lovely Colts cheerleader prior to the start of festivities on Saturday.   So please enjoy our coverage of this 2011 P-R-O Convention All Star.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P-R-O 2011: Roll Call

So just who exactly was in Atlanta last weekend? Check the gallery to see.

[Roll Call Gallery]

2011 P-R-O Convention All Star: Washington Redskins Cheerleader Ashley W.

As I begin to cull and post process the best images from the over 8,000 taken, I wanted to post a few images for you to see what went on at the premier professional cheer and dance convention.  This year, I am starting a new series highlighting some of the most memorable cheerleaders in attendance, the 2011 P-R-O Convention All Stars.

So while I edit my photos and write my convention report, please enjoy the first feature, spotlighting one of the first ladies of football, Washington Redskins Cheerleader Ashley W.

2011 Los Angeles Clippers Spirit Audition Prep Class

If I was finding it difficult to believe that NBA audition season is already upon us, the truth came home to me on Sunday. I spent the day hanging out with my Clippers family, for this year’s audition prep class. Or rather, classes. There was originally only one session planned, but there was so much interest, team Director Audrea Harris added a second session, so on Sunday, there were two classes, back to back.

Audrea was there, of course, with big sister Adrianne in tow. Adrianne is always willing to jump in when Audrea needs an extra pair of hands to help with registration, etc. Spirit veterans Brittany, Jocelyn, Justene, Katrina, and Rhea were also there to teach the choreography, demonstrate the routine, answer questions, etc.

Standing: Katrina, Adrianne, Brittany, and Audrea. Seated: Justene, Jocelyn, and Rhea.

Who wasn’t there? Nicole, Teresa, and Recee, who along with Brittany, were the senior veterans on the team. Notice I said “were.” Yeah, you know what that means. They aren’t coming back this year. (Sigh.) I like to think I’m getting more mature about this whole retirement thing. I mean, I wish them all good luck in the future, and all that, but geez, it sucks. I mean, last year I let a bunch of girls go off to other teams, and I even let one move to TEXAS, for crying out loud. Wasn’t that enough? How much can one person be called upon to sacrifice in the name of pro sports entertainment?

Especially Teresa, my little elf girl. Nicole and Recee, I sort of saw coming. But Teresa too? Aw MAN.

No Nicole. No Recee. No Teresa. No Jac. No Liz.

But I’m keeping ten of my girls, and that’s pretty good. And when I say, I’m “keeping” them, I mean you veterans better bring your “A” game to auditions.

The other thing I noticed immediately was Rhea’s hair. The very first time I saw Rhea, back when she was on the Anaheim Arsenal Dance Team, she had brown hair. Then she made Spirit and Audrea got ahold of her and turned her into a blonde. In the two years since then, Rhea’s hair has been many many shades of blonde and all those trips to the salon started to take a toll. From what I understand, it was either go brown or go bald. So now Rhea has mahogany hair, ooh la la!

Foxy!

There were a lot of dancers there when I arrived. All told, there were around 40, give or take.

There was a girl from Japan who flew to LA just for the prep class. She’s not even auditioning until next year, but she wanted to take the class.

Speaking for myself, I don’t know that I’d go across town for prep class if I wasn’t auditioning for another year. Let alone across the Pacific Ocean.

There was a 17 year old there. Actually, she turned 18 yesterda. Let me just say, I could barely try out for the chorus in the school play at age 17. I would never have had the guts to go to a professional audition. But the girl had skills.

There were also a few alumni of other teams: Mandisa from the New York Jets Flight Crew, Tina from the Chicago Bulls, and four girls from the Golden State Warriors: Leah, Kelsey, and oh crap – I can’t read my handwriting. There were two others and I can’t for the life of me remember their names. Drat. Leah and Kelsey were fun to watch because they were perfectly in synch almost the whole time. Before Warriors, Leah was a Seattle Sonics Dancer. Ariana from the 49ers was there too. Ariana made it to finals last year. She looks even better than she did last year. She’s obviously been working hard, so I’m rooting for her to make it this time around.

Mandisa

Kelsey and Leah

Tina

Ariana

It was interesting to have girls with so much experience at a prep class. I’m all YOU need a prep class? Riiiight.

But different teams are different. Miami Heat auditions are very different from Utah Jazz auditions, which are very different from Clippers auditions. Better to go into the whole thing as informed as you can possibly be. So go to prep class and get the skinny. I get it.

Audrea gathered everyone together to explain the plan for the day. The Spirit open call audition consists of three rounds. The first round is technique, aka “across the floor.” It’s pretty easy: a couple turns, a leap, a high kick, and some filler. Just to see if you know what you’re doing. Second round is a jazz combination. Third round is a hip hop routine. Prep class focused on the Jazz and Hip Hop portions of the process, so the candidates could see what the more difficult parts of the day would look like. After learning and performing both combinations, there would be time for some Q&A about the audition process.

Brittany stepped up to teach the Jazz combination. Heck if I can remember right now what the music was, but it was choreographed by the recently retired Nicole.

(A moment of silence, please. Nicole, where are yoooouuuu? Why have you forsaken me?)

Learning the jazz combination

One thing was immediately obvious: there were some DANCERS in this group. When it comes to prep class, I expect to see mostly girls who look like it’s their first time at the rodeo. I don’t know where I got that idea from, but it certainly wasn’t the case. They seemed to pick up the choreography quickly. I immediately started thinking about my ten veterans and trying to figure out what kind of girls we need on the team this year. And by “we” I mostly mean Audrea.

I’m not actually involved ok, but I am invested.

Here’s what I’m thinking: we’ve got a lot of brunettes. We can’t have 16 brunettes on the court, so if you’re a blonde or you’re “melanin-advantaged,” you may have slightly better odds this year. (Am I not supposed to say that? Well, too bad. I said it. Ya heard.)

Also, I am lobbying for a redhead. Or a pair of twins. Whichever. Mostly they just need some really kick-ass dancers with mad showmanship skillz, yo. And I believe I saw a few of those on Sunday.

After learning the jazz combination, the dancers split into smaller groups to perform. Like Audrea said, this was a workshop, not the actual audition, so there was plenty of time for do-overs. For the first round, she asked them to focus on retaining the choreography. For the second round, she asked them to focus on making it clean. And the third time around, she asked them to
really perform it.

It was a lot of fun to watch, in a setting where no one keeps score, and no one leaves crying.

After jazz was the hip hop combination, choreographed, I believe, by Risa Anderson, and taught by Katrina.

Again, the dancers learned as a group, then the group split in two and took turns performing, and then they performed in smaller groups of 3 to 5. By that time, everyone was ready to collapse, so they took a water break and then gathered around for the Q&A. The questions were all over the place.

How many girls usually audition? (a couple/few hundred.)

Who is choreographing the audition routines? (You’ll see.)

How long does the day run? (6-8 hours.)

How should I wear my makeup? (Smoky eyes. Lashes. Red lips. Red lips. Red lips. Lipstick, not gloss.)

Should I wear tights or pantyhose? (Pantyhose. Sheer. NOT control top.)

Do we audition by ourselves? (Nope. Groups of 3).

How many judges are there? (10-ish)

Can you have a job and be on the squad at the same time? (Yes, if you manage your time well.)

Briefs or boy shorts? (Most people look better in briefs, but nobody will hate on you if you wear hot pants.)

Do I need jazz shoes? (No, you can wear sneakers the whole time if you prefer. The team performs in sneakers, not jazz shoes.)

Should I bring pants for hip hop? (Most girls do bring pants or shorts. Loose ones that give you some swagger.)

Should I hide/cover my tattoos? (Yes. And remove all piercings except for your ears.)

I know you said no ponytails. Can I wear my hair half up? (Can you? Yes. Should you? No. Hair up is what separates the girls from the women, so to speak. And while you’re at it, practice keeping your hair out of your face while you’re dancing.)

Etc. Etc. Etc.


Key messages from Audrea:

(1) You do NOT have to spend a ton of money on a new outfit. Go to Target. Get some briefs and a cute half top. Maybe put some crystals on it if you feel like it.
(2) There’s no need to spend megabucks on makeup either. MAC lipstick is great, but Wet ‘n Wild lipliner works too. Only 99¢ at your nearest Rite Aid.
(3) Test run your outfit ahead of time. (Not just to see if you fall out of it, but to make sure you won’t spend all day tugging on your shorts and adjusting your straps.)

By then, it was 1 pm and the next session was scheduled for 1:30.

Jinkies, Scooby! We have to do this all over again?

Yep. First the jazz, then the hip hop. And because it was early afternoon, it was hot hot hot. The Spirit veterans gave it the old college try, but even they started to droop a little towards the end.

The heat was most certainly getting to Katrina, who was supposed to teach the hip hop combination, but started tap dancing instead. I never would’ve pegged her as one to go goofy from the heat. I’ll file away that bit of info for future reference.

(Audrea pointed out later on that FYI, the judges do not deduct points for sweating. Good to know.)

It was interesting to see that while the morning group nailed the hip hop and were a bit weaker on jazz, the reverse was true in the afternoon. Jazz looked better than hip hop. Maybe it was the heat.

I learned that one of the sad things about auditions is that you may be THE BEST at hip hop, but the jazz round always comes first. If you can’t get through the jazz round, no one will ever see how great you are at hip hop. You have to be strong in both styles. Them’s the breaks.

The other thing you need to know is the technique section will not be the usual across the floor combination. Instead of dancing across the room, from one side to the other, the combination will start at the back of the room and move you toward the judges. You’ll be doing the typical across the floor moves (step, step, pirouette, kick, kick, pirouette, leap, freestyle, or whatever), but you’ll be moving forward. That way you don’t have to worry about being hidden behind another dancer, or leaping into the wall a the end of the combination. They started doing this at last year’s audition and it made a big difference. For better or for worse, the judges will be able to see every little move you make.

The dancers for the most part were unfazed by me scurrying around with the camera. You never know how these things are going to work out. Generally speaking, we girls don’t enjoy having our photo taken when we are sweating like animals. I think the photos I took are tasteful though. Everyone is “glowing” a little, but they look good. (At least I think so.)

I expected some girls to actively avoid me. For the most part, they were okay with it. Besides, I’m going to have my camera in their faces all day during auditions, so they might as well get used to ignoring me. If I think about it that way, I don’t feel so bad about it.

In all these years of going to auditions, I have only had two women object to being photographed. Neither one made the team she was auditioning for. I’m not saying it was because of that. I’m just saying.

When the second session was over, the Q&A was mainly about the team’s schedule, the judging process, and of course pantyhose came up again. Pantyhose always comes up in these discussions. Get yourself some L’Eggs sheer energy, sheer to the waist, suntan. In the green box. Or was it a silver box? And bring extra.

I remember when I was little, my mom bought L’Eggs pantyhose, and they were packaged in those big plastic eggs. I miss those eggs. I used them to hold all of my little treasures.

There were also quite a few questions about the Clippers Fan Patrol. One of the girls mentioned that she had a cheer background, and after dancing for several hours, I think she figured she might have better luck with the stunt team.

One girl asked if they ever choose 18 year olds for the team. The answer is yes. Exhibit A: Brittany.
Another girl asked if it is difficult balancing the team with pursuing a career in the entertainment industry. The answer is yes. But it absolutely can be done. Exhibit B: Katrina.

Exhibits A and B

The second session wrapped up and the dancers straggled out. Tired, but excited for tryouts in two weeks.

Overall, the day was a big success and I’m looking forward to seeing who comes back to audition. There were a lot of fresh faces in the classes, so I hope to see most of them at tryouts.

Did I say two weeks? Good Lord, so soon?

[More photos from prep class here]

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Feature – Part 4

The Girls of Paradise … Sydney
By Mickey Spagnola
Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine
(by way of DallasCowboysCheerleaders.com)
June 27, 2011

Sydney Durso didn’t spend Christmas with her family last year for the first time. She was in Seoul, South Korea, one of 12 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders going overseas for a 10-day USO Tour, riding to different bases and detachments on Chinooks to visit the troops.

A unique experience, especially visiting the few soldiers manning those secluded detachments where “they see other people like once or twice a year,” Sydney says.

Well, the experience for Sydney and five of her teammates became even more unique this past Christmas season, the North Korean border within eyesight. Remember, the Cowboys played Christmas night at Arizona, so there they were, six Cowboys Cheerleaders watching the Cowboys-Cardinals game with the soldiers based at the detachment on Christmas.

“We went in and put the game on, and it was so cute, we were in the tiniest room ever,” Sydney says. “There was a huge American flag hanging, like one sofa, two dogs running around this room, and the TV was on. We’re watching the Cowboys game and playing Jenga with the soldiers, and it was so cool because we weren’t at the game, obviously, but we were still cheering on the Cowboys and the soldiers were cheering with us.

“It was a different experience but a really cool way to watch our Cowboys play.”

And to spend Christmas, if not with your family.

Russia Woman Makes Ben-Gals Cheer Squad

By Terry Pellman
Ohio Community Media

Russia native Vania Brandt is a multi-talented young woman whose professional and recreational interests are quite diverse and are now taking her to a whole new level of experience – as a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader.

For a career, the 2005 Russia High School graduate and Newport, Ky., resident works as a circulation technician at Good Samaritan Hospital. In that role, she operates the machine that circulates blood during heart bypass surgery. In her spare time, Brandt is now a new member of the squad of Bengals cheerleaders, known as the Ben-Gals.

At Russia School, Brandt served as a cheerleader in both junior and senior high school. She found she enjoyed the performance aspect of cheering and the atmosphere involving the crowd in attendance. However, while attending the Ohio State University she did not try out for the Buckeye cheerleading team. Her demanding load of studies for such a technical field did not allow time for such endeavors.

The daughter of Mark and Lisa Brandt of Russia, she was initially unsure what her major field of study would be at Ohio State, except that she knew that she had an interest in the field of medicine. Her father went with her to a medical career fair at the university, and a sign she did not understand caught her attention. Out of curiosity, she walked over to a booth promoting “Profusion Circulation Technology.” Upon receiving an explanation and then doing research and some job shadowing, Brandt knew that she had found her niche.

“I absolutely love it,” she says now. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Brandt is now in her third year of operating the critical cardiac machinery. She finds the work rewarding but notes it is stressful and felt she needed a diversion from the serious job. Also, her work hours are driven more by patient need than by a regular schedule, so she had some flexibility regarding time.

Already a football fan, Brandt ended up going to a Bengals game with a friend, and from their seats just a few rows high, she was able to observe the Ben-Gals in action. Brandt decided, “That’s what I’m gonna do”, and resolved to try out for the squad. Although she had never cheered at the college level, Brandt felt that simply cheering for Russia had given her the ability to be comfortable in front of larger crowds.

Brandt researched the tryout process, and the first time she got as far as the final cut. Not to be easily deterred, Brandt went out again this year and made the squad after what she calls, “A really rough process.”

She explains that there are three stages to the tryouts. At the first session in May, around 100 women tried out, and 35 were dismissed at the first cut. At the second, 10 more were let go.
For the final stage of the tryouts near the middle of May, the public was invited to be in attendance. Brandt recalls that around 500 fans were on hand to watch the remaining 64 women compete for 32 slots.

At this final trial the candidates are required to perform a more complicated and physically demanding dance routine, which some simply could not do. There were given the routine to learn just a couple of days before. But Brandt, a former member of the track and softball teams in high school was in condition, and passed the test. The position requires one to undergo “interval training,” allowing the heart to rapidly adjust from rest to extreme bursts of activity.
Brandt says the routines alone do require a high level of fitness, and that it is “very, very hard. You have to be in top shape.” She noted weather is also a factor. When a game is played on a sweltering day early in the season, you can assume the temperature reading on the field will be 10 degrees warmer than the announced air temperature.

For a professional sports franchise, the cheerleaders serve as team promoters and goodwill ambassadors to the public. Brandt says that about 90 percent of their time spent as Ben-Gals will not be at the sidelines during games. The 32 members of the squad are expected to serve as role models to young and aspiring cheerleaders, including attending cheerleading clinics for school-age kids. And the selection process is strict; to be a Ben-Gal, a woman must be employed full-time or be a full-time student, as the team prefers having professionally oriented women on the team.

In fact, serving as a Ben-Gal is mainly a way to have a good time while contributing to the community. The cheerleaders are modestly compensated per game, but do not attend games away from Paul Brown Stadium. Their primary role is that of a goodwill ambassador to the fan base and community at large.

Asked about her family’s reaction to her accomplishments, Brandt notes that her parents have expressed their pride in her for both her career and pastime. She tries to travel back to Russia each month, and keeps in contact with many of her Russia High School classmates. Although there are no set plans for her to appear at any Russia events, she leaves open the possibility of doing so.

Rockland (NY) Roll to Hold Open Tryouts

The Rockland Boulders’ dance team, the Rockland Roll, will be holding open tryouts at the St. Lawrence Center Bubble in Hillburn, New York on July 1 at 11:00 a.m. Check-in will begin at 10:00 a.m.

The Rockland Roll is looking to add both male and female dancers who are available to perform at the remaining Rockland Boulders home games. Anyone trying out must be at least 18 years of age and have prior dance experience.

The Rockland Roll dance team performs multiple choreographed dance routines during each game and is expected to interact with the crowd while not preforming, including taking pictures with fans, throwing t-shirts into the stands, leading cheers and acting as ambassadors to the Rockland Boulders.

Dancers in attendance will be taught a routine by Dance Manager Megan Clancy and judged based upon how quickly the dance routine is learned, how well the routine is performed and the dancer’s enthusiasm. All dancers are required to have a friendly, outgoing personality.

In addition to the dance tryout, a short one-on-one interview is also required for all dancers before the final cut is made.

The Rockland Roll is an internship-based team offering college credit to any students that tryout. The team also will accept volunteers who have a passion for dance or looking to pursue a future career in dance.

For more information about the Rockland Roll tryout, please call the Rockland Boulders at 845-364-0009.

[Rockland Roll Tryouts]

Video: Houston Dynamo Girls Calendar Shoot

Thunder Girls Invited to Perform in China

Third invitation to represent the NBA internationally – Six members of the Thunder Girls have been invited to participate in the 2011 NBA Lenovo Pavilion Tour the Thunder announced today. The tour is a grassroots NBA event combining outdoor tournaments with fan events and interactive basketball elements.

It is the third consecutive year Thunder Girls has been selected to represent Oklahoma and the NBA during an international tour. The Thunder Girls will be the only NBA dance team represented at the event. Team members scheduled to join the tour include three-year veterans Riane, Sheri, Brittany and Haley, in addition to newer members Jessica and Marisa.

The team is scheduled to leave Oklahoma City on Thursday, June 30 and will return to the States on July 11. Their schedule includes sponsorship events, performances and photo opportunities with fans.

“We’re honored to be selected to represent the NBA, our fans and the state of Oklahoma,” said Brian Byrnes, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Thunder. “We are proud to showcase our dance team and the Thunder overseas for the third year and look forward to spreading the Thunder spirit worldwide.”

In 2009 Thunder Girls were selected to attend the London 5 United Tour, and in 2010 they were invited to NBA Madness in Taiwan.

Fans can look for updates and pictures of the tour on THUNDER.NBA.COM or follow the Thunder Girls on Facebook (facebook.com/thundergirls) and Twitter (@thundergirls). The 2011-12 Thunder Girls are sponsored by Riverwind Casino.

In 2010, the OKC Thunder Girls international trip was to Taiwan

Congratulations 2011-12 Nets Dancers

Nets Dancers Auditions began last Sunday in Manhattan, moved to Brooklyn on Saturday, and finished at the Nets Practice Facility last night.

2011-12 Nets Dancers. Vets standing; rookies kneeling.

2011-12 Nets Dancers. Vets standing; rookies kneeling.

Three familiar faces you may recognize on the new squad:

Ericka was a Philadelphia Wings Angel

Ericka was a Philadelphia Wings Angel

Caitlin was a Washington Wizard Girl

Caitlin was a Washington Wizard Girl

Amy was a New Jersey Ironmen Dancer

Amy was a New Jersey Ironmen Dancer

Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders at P-R-O

Thanks to TTC Alumni Sissy for passing along a few photos that the Titans Cheerleaders took at P-R-O. Other squads please feel free to share while, David and I work on ours.

Titans Cheerleaders at P-R-O

Titans Cheerleaders at P-R-O

Titans Rookies

Titans Rookies

TTC Alumni Andrea and Sabrina

TTC Alumni Andrea and Sabrina

More Titans Rookies

More Titans Rookies

Alumni Jennifer, Director Stacie and Captain Brooke

Alumni Jennifer, Director Stacie and Captain Brooke

Even More Titans Rookies

Even More Titans Rookies

Co Captains, Stefanie and Tanzye

Co Captains, Stefanie and Tanzye

ProTour Productions – Diego Garcia Tour

I was happy to see our good friend Sandy Charboneau was at P-R-O on Saturday. Last year Sandy founded ProTour Productions, and has already worked with entertainers to produce shows for the US Armed Forces in six different countries on fix different international tours.

But we didn’t have much time to catch up, because Sandy flew out early Sunday morning for her latest tour to Diego Garcia.

This is the photo card for the Diego Garcia Military Tour from June 26th through July 7th featuring the Arizona Cardinals (Vanessa and Taryn), Atlanta Falcons (Margaret and Brandy) and the Minnesota Vikings (Andrea and Elizabeth)! Also on the trip are the Reel Darlins: Sheli Sanders and Mary Delgado (also a former Bucs Cheerleader) who will host a fishing tournament with the men and women in Diego and comedians Trey Elliot and Theo Von.

[ProTour Productions on Facebook]