April 26, 2016
AUBURN — A three-year veteran and line captain as a Patriots cheerleader, 22-year-old Hannah LeBeau is prepping for her final season with the squad while looking back on some amazing memories.
“We don’t travel to away games, but when the Patriots went to the Super Bowl we got to go and be a part of so many great things,” LeBeau said. “In Arizona (in 2015), it was about 80 percent Seahawks fans and only 20 percent Patriots fans, and the best appearance we had was an all-Patriots fans event.
“We walked in and they were so happy to see us — I have never felt more loved in a roomful of strangers,” she said.
“When Butler caught that interception, we were all amazed — nobody really knew who he was then,” she said, of Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler’s catch with seconds left in the game. “I knew that it was for real when I saw them switching out the confetti cannons, taking out the ones for Seattle and setting up the red ones for the Patriots.
“When they won and everyone was storming the field, our coach said we could, too. It was incredible,” LeBeau said.
LeBeau, the daughter of Laurie and Joseph LeBeau, lives in Auburn with her mother. She’s been dancing since she was 4 years old and trained at a dance school in Easthampton from the age of 12 through high school.
“My mom drove me there every day, and I did my homework in the car,” she said.
She graduated from Auburn High School in 2011, and went on to get her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Dean College in 2015.
She works as a brand ambassador for Quest Nutrition, a job she says gives her the flexibility to keep her commitments to the Patriots. And she choreographs competitive dance routines, most frequently for the Paula Zawalich Dance Academy in Worcester, where she is also a substitute teacher.
Unlike the players, the cheerleaders do not have an off-season. Auditions for the next year’s team start each year in February, with an all-day preliminary audition that begins the six-week process.
“You have to audition every year, and there are no guarantees,” LeBeau said. “But as veterans, you do get to skip the preliminaries.”
Cheerleaders are only permitted to be on the team for four years, although those years do not have to be consecutive.
“There are about 300 people at the preliminaries, and anyone can come,” LeBeau said. “There are three cuts that day, and if you make it through that, you are invited to the finals.”
The final audition consists of two group dances, one solo dance, walking in a bathing suit and an interview question from the panel of judges.
Candidates who pass final audition are invited to a two-week boot camp at Gillette Stadium, where they work on media training, fitness, and a lot of dancing.
“And after boot camp, the team is posted on the website,” LeBeau said.
This year’s squad has 33 members — 20 rookies and 13 veterans. As one of four line captains, LeBeau said she plans to help her new teammates and lead by example.
“This is the largest team yet,” LeBeau said. “Usually we are about 24, so it’s really four line captains and a team of rookies. There are a lot of things they will need to learn, and I will do my best to help them out along the way.”
Official team practices started last week; in the off-season the team practices for three hours on Tuesday and six hours on Saturday. “Once the season starts, we will practice for three hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“I do my practicing in my kitchen, which is what I’ve done my whole life,” she said. “When I go to practice, I view that as my next performance, and I always make sure that I know what we have already learned, so that I can focus on what we are working on at practice.”
On game days, the cheerleading team gets to Gillette Stadium five hours before kickoff. “We spend two hours rehearsing and going over the dance and cheers we are going to do,” LeBeau said.
During the game, some of the cheerleaders will make appearances in the season ticket holders’ boxes and sign autographs.
As for the money, LeBeau said that the cheerleaders do not make the kind of money the players do.
“It’s a part-time job, with full-time commitment,” she said. “We get paid every time we work, whether it’s for appearances, practices or games, and I make a little more because I’m a line captain.
“When I first tried out, I didn’t even know we got paid,” she said. “I was just so excited to be doing it.”
As she enters her last year with the team, LeBeau said that she would like to stay on with the Kraft organization, perhaps in its human resources department.
And to all the young dancers who aspire to become a Patriots cheerleader one day, she has this advice:
“You’re going to hear a lot of no’s before you get that yes. And sometimes, it’s just not your year,” she said. “You have to trust the process.”