Kristen (far right) with Goddesses Danielle, Alyssa, and Elise
Oh, those gods and goddesses from Greek mythology had such drama-filled existences. They even had a goddess of chaos and discord (Eris, that trouble maker). By comparison, the Cleveland Goddesses seem to be quite happy, enjoying every minute of cheering and dancing for the AFL’s Cleveland Gladiators, and bonding into a close-knit squad. Those Greek goddesses could have used Kristen Bickel, who runs the Cleveland Goddesses, around to rid themselves of all of the chaos and drama. If Kristen was in charge of those goddesses of yore, her background and psychology degree surely would have made Mount Olympus a more harmonious place (suitable for the goddess Harmonia, even).
It is obvious if one spends any time with the Goddesses that Kristen and the squad are having a great time, but you can also hear it from the Goddesses themselves. Goddess Danielle says, “So far the experience has been amazing, I love all the girls on the team.” Elise seconds the motion, “I have never been a part of something that is so much fun with such great people.” Kristie agrees, “The experience has been unforgettable and amazing. I’ve met great groups of girls that are hard working and share the same passion as I do.” There has never been a more joyful group of goddesses than Kristen’s Goddesses.
For a sports lover like Kristen, it is appropriate that she is a native of football crazy Ohio, relating, “I was born and raised in Ohio. For ten years of my life, I lived in a small, rural town in southern Ohio, until high school when I moved back to the Akron, Ohio area.” Sports have provided a foundation in Kristen’s life from early on. Kristen recalls, “My mother told me I was always bouncing around and doing cartwheels down the aisles of groceries stores. I do not think she had a choice but to enroll me in gymnastics. I started that around the age of six or seven. Growing up, I was a very athletic person. I played soccer, softball, and ran track. If there was a girl’s football team, I would probably have done that as well! I am a huge sports fan and that is where my other love lies besides dance.” Sports even entered into Kristen’s field of study, saying, “I attended the University of Akron, and after changing my major many times, I settled on psychology with an emphasis on sports psychology.”
Kristen (far right) after the April 16th Gladiators-Voodoo game with Goddesses Danielle, Elise, Lauren, Alyssa, Kristie, and Courtney
With a gymnastics background, Kristen “added dance to the mix at age 8. From there I knew dance is what I would be doing for a very long time.” Kristen continues, “I was in competition dance from about the age of nine until I graduated high school. I knew I would miss it so much that I still danced for my studio the first year of my freshman year of college.” Some of the highlights of Kristen’s early dance experience include, “At the age of thirteen, I was picked from a national dance competition to attend a summer intensive/performing group in Branson, Missouri, and Las Vegas, Nevada. That was an experience of a lifetime, learning from top choreographers! After that, I knew I had something special to offer the dance world. After graduating high school, I did compete for one more year, but then realized I had to move on and reach out to more opportunities.”
The next step for Kristen was jumping to the big NBA stage of dancing for Cleveland’s Cavalier Girls. Kristen says, “I needed to expand my dance career, and trying out for my college’s dance team just did not interest me. I wanted to do something bigger! I remembered my experience attending a Jr. Cavaliers camp the year before and I thought, what better way to combine my two loves, sports and dance!” When Kristen first participated in the Jr. Cavalier program, she was seventeen, and was immediately encouraged to try-out for the Cavs Girls when she turned eighteen. Kristen eventually took their advice, recalling, “I auditioned when I was nineteen and made the squad! I was so excited but somewhat intimidated as well with a whole new experience I did not know about. I was one of youngest on the team, so I was very shy about half of the first season. Once I felt comfortable, I knew I was in the right place of my career. I never performed in front of that many people before so opening night was quite an experience, but of course I loved it!”
Cavalier Girl Kristen
Being part of the Cavalier Girls provided a world of opportunities for Kristen, as she says, “I was a Cavalier Girl for three seasons and a captain for the last two. The memories that stick out the most were when I had the opportunity to travel the world; to Iraq, Kuwait, and China. In September of 2006, we were chosen to go on tour for our troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Of course, our families were hesitant to let us go while there was a war going on, but with enough re-assurance that we were in good hands, everything went very smoothly. For two weeks, we traveled from base to base entertaining and signing autographs for our troops. I cannot explain how much gratitude these men and women showed us. They needed just a little aspect of the States to uplift their spirits while fighting for their country. It was the most fulfilling experience I have had to date and I would go back in a second!”
The whirlwind tour continued once they returned from the Middle East for Kristen and the Cavalier Girls, as she recalls, “We came home from our troop tour for two to three days and had to go right back out there to China! We were exhausted but once again it was an experience of a lifetime. We were out there promoting the NBA and entertaining the crowds of China. The people were all so excited! Even though none of us spoke Chinese, you could tell by the expressions that they were grateful to have us there. Although the cuisine was not to our liking, we still tried all of the dishes put in front of us. They were very interesting to say the least! In our spare time we would go sightseeing and Cheng-Du is known for their pandas so of course we had to check them out!” Those memorable trips continue to motivate Kristen in her new role, as she says, “Both trips were unforgettable and I hope my Goddesses will one day be able to experience something like that as well!”
Kristen not only performed in Ohio and across the world with the Cavalier Girls, but she was also on the cover of the Cavalier Girls calendar, in a photo on a boat on Lake Erie. With wind and water all around, was it tough to get the perfect calendar shot on Lake Erie? Kristen replies, ”This was actually the second calendar I shot as a Cavalier girl, so by the second go around I felt a lot more comfortable shooting. Getting the shot actually was not that hard to get since I was inside and sitting in the ‘captain’s chair.’ I actually was a little bummed at the time because I felt like they did not take as much time on my shot as they did for some of the others, but I guess it went well enough for me to be put on the cover! I was so excited during our calendar release party I cried!”
I’m always amazed by the opportunities that have come my way since becoming a Dallas Vigilantes Dancer. This February I had an experience of a lifetime representing UltimateCheerleaders.com at “The Best Party in Texas” Super Bowl Charity Event. Aside from the celebrity guests and paparazzi, it was another great opportunity to connect with people and represent a blog that provides valuable information to professional cheerleaders worldwide. I’ve been reading the UltimateCheerleaders.com blog for about a year now and felt extremely honored that eight of us were able to be a part of such a huge event during the Super Bowl Weekend.
Luckily, most of the ice and snow had melted that day, and when we arrived at the Embassy Suites Outdoor World, the lobby was already hopping with preparations and arriving guests. Terra Watson and Cody Lenz of Dallaswear provided our Ultimate Cheerleaders uniform and got us “picture perfect” before heading down to the party. We definitely stood out in our bright pink uniforms and white boots as we made our way through the crowd.
The ballroom was complete with a large dance floor, cocktail tables, and white leather sofas. We greeted guests and posed for pictures with them as they entered the room. We even had the pleasure of meeting James Blakey, the originator of UltimateCheerleaders.com who flew in all the way from Philadelphia for the party. Soon, the ballroom was crowded as bands began to play and celebrities arrived. One of the co-hosts of the party, Mike Ditka, spoke about the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which provides medical and financial assistance to retired NFL players. As a huge football fan, I was pretty elated to greet him as he made his way to the stage — it was the absolute highlight of my evening. Bill and Giuliana Rancic hosted the auction portion of the party and had us join them to help promote the items benefiting charity.
After the auction, we continued to mingle with the crowd and take pictures with guests — my cheeks were sore for a few days from all the smiling. Once the Emerald City Band hit the stage, the dance floor was packed and we joined in. Everyone was having a great time, and the band was awesome. They pulled us all up on stage to dance with them for their last big medley. Jenna and I joined the brass section on their pedestal and prayed we wouldn’t fall off as we were dancing.
The night was so much fun, I was sad when it came to an end and couldn’t believe how quickly time had flown by. Terra and Cody made us feel super comfortable and all of the guests were friendly and excited to see us. It was one of those evenings I had to pinch myself several times to realize that I was actually there and getting to be a part of something huge. I will never forget this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and am especially grateful to have experienced it with an amazing group of women.
The New Orleans VooDoo hired Tamica Lee as the Director of the VooDoo Dolls, announced the front office on Wednesday morning.
Lee comes to the VooDoo with 15 years of choreography experience that includes three seasons of working with the University of New Orleans Privateer dance team from 2004-07. Lee is also the Director of Dance and Cheer Camps for Ky Cares Foundations, a role that she will continue to serve in.
“We are very pleased to have someone with Tamica’s background and experience in this role. She is first-class and a team player. Our Dolls will most definitely have a positive experience under her guidance, while also learning from one of the best at the same time,” said Dan Newman, owner of the New Orleans VooDoo.
In 2008, Lee was the choreographer for the Lifetime movie FAB Five where she arranged and ran all dance and cheer rehearsals for the entire movie. Lee also was selected for an E! Entertainment documentary in 2001 that was a reality series on her dance and professional life.
The New Orleans, La. native was also a New Orleans Saintsation for four years from 2001-05. All four years she served as a squad captain, while choreographing numerous pregame and halftime routines.
Her start in teaching and choreographing dance started at American All Stars in Mandeville, serving as a staff member from 1997-2003.
SPOKANE, Wash. – Kimberly Loberg, former captain of the Spokane Shock Dance Team, flew back from Japan on Tuesday and picked up her bags from the Los Angeles airport like any other traveler. There was just one snag in her plans: she was returning two months early.
After living in Tokyo as a dancer for Japan’s professional basketball team Tokyo Apache for close to three months, her team, The Tokyo Girls, decided to send some of the women back home for fear of continuing aftershocks and radiation scares.
Loberg described her experiences during a phone interview with KHQ. “I’ve been so heartbroken and seeing it on the TV, I just can’t believe I’m here,” she recalled when the earthquake first hit Japan. “This is so close to me. It’s kind of unbelievable, like, I’m still in shock.”
From there, Loberg said, it only seemed to get worse as the aftershocks relentlessly continued. “Every time an earthquake would happen “‘I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen next?’ You’re just always in constant fear.”
Fear really set in for The Tokyo Girls once they heard about the radiation alerts.
“It was just like chaos,” she said. “Just to be safe we had to get out of there and we’re lucky we got out in time because as we leaving, everybody else was trying to get out.”
Even if she had stayed, she might not have had a chance to cheer for her team anyway. In the aftermath of the quake and tsunami, Loberg said sporting events have been canceled and Tokyo prepared for rolling blackouts.
“It was the first year they ever had American dancers over there and, I mean, we made a huge impact but it all ended just way too abruptly,” she continued. “We still have friends over there, teammates over there – it’s just heartbreaking.”
It’s unclear what will happen with the rest of the Tokyo Girl’s schedules.
Loberg is set to head back home to Spokane next week.
After years of attending games and concerts at Allstate Arena, Nicole Cargola gets to be part of the show in that facility.
The 2009 East Leyden graduate is poised to be in the spotlight as the youngest member of the Adrenaline Rush Dance Team when the Arena Football League’s Chicago Rush begin their home schedule against the Philadelphia Soul on Friday night at the Allstate Arena.
The trip to the game will seem short for the lifelong Rosemont resident, but the journey is a long one that began when Cargola started dancing at the age of 3.
She began participating in organized cheer and dance teams at 7 years old at the Rosemont Park District and cheered through junior high at Rosemont Elementary School. She took dance classes all along and that helped bring her to the Leydenettes poms team in high school as well as the dance team at Elmhurst College before she tried out for the Adrenaline Rush. Much credit for her talents goes out to Leyden dance coach and neighbor Brenda Drehobl who has coached Cargola through most of her dancing.
“Games were a lot smaller than this,” Cargola said, comparing her high school experience to what she’s preparing for now. “There is a lot more going on while we’re on the sidelines, and we have more routines. In high school we just performed at halftime. It’s definitely been like nothing I’ve ever done before in my life. It’s been a great experience.”
Those varied experiences have prepared her for this moment, and they’ve helped her grow into her current role. Cargola was team captain of the Leydenettes her junior and senior years and credits that leadership role for giving her greater knowledge and even more respect for what it takes to be a good dancer.
Being the youngest member of this year’s squad provides a readjustment for the 19-year old as she goes from being a leader to one of the 11 rookies on the 18-woman team.
The goal of the group is to become a cohesive unit, so it’s in everyone’s interest to give and take instructions so every performance brings the crowd to their feet.
“The veterans have been really helpful,” Cargola said. “It’s especially important to ask them questions. All the rookies have big sisters, and they help us with any problems or questions we have about our routines, and they’ve been great about getting to practice early for questions.”
The team didn’t waste any time getting its act together as it began regular practices the week after the Dec. 4 final auditions.
It’s up to team coordinator Gloria Esposito to make sure that the performance quality stays high and the rookies look like veterans in short order. She’s been a part of what is considered the best dance team in the AFL since its inception in 2001, so she knows what makes a good dancer, and she already sees great things in Nicole.
“I look for someone who has the total package — great attitude, good looks, and being personable,” said Esposito regarding the criteria she emphasizes in a prospective dance team member. “She possessed all of those qualities as well as being a great dancer. She’s always dancing full out, putting her all into everything she does. She’s definitely determined and a harder worker than I was expecting.”
That hard work is paying off in ways that Cargola and her family hadn’t imagined before now. Her parents, Frank and Dianne and younger sister Amanda, who followed big sister’s footsteps and is currently a junior at East Leyden and a captain on the poms squad, have provided an excellent support group every step of the way.
The realization that their many sacrifices have paid off for Nicole has started to set in for the family.
“I was just at their house, and they saw me on WGN (during a morning show performance with the team back in December),” Cargola said. “They never thought that from taking me to my first ballet lesson that I’d be on a professional dance team. They’ve always been very encouraging. I can’t tell of a single game or audition where they haven’t been there supporting me.”
This week the team is going for a walkthrough at Allstate Arena to familiarize themselves with the surroundings and get a sense of what performing there will be like. They will also get some practices on the field so they’ll be fully prepared when they first have to get the crowd pumped up on Friday night for the Rush’s home opener.
It will take some time to get used to, but it’s an opportunity for which she has been working her whole life.
“It’s weird going from watching games and concerts (from the stands) there to be where they perform,” Cargola said. “It will be nerve-racking having the whole stadium with their eyes on you.”
The Philadelphia Soul will have an open tryout for the 2011 Soul Squad to be held on Sunday, March 6 at the Montgomery County Sports Performance Center, located at 110 Christopher Lane, Harleysville, PA 19438, starting at 1 p.m. Pre-registration can be done by going to http://www.philadelphiasoul.com/home.cfm’go=team&show=soulsquad. The fee will be $10 if done in advance and $20 for registration on the day of the event.
The open tryout registration will take place between 1-1:30 p.m. with the audition beginning promptly at 1:30 p.m. Participants must be a high school graduate, at least 18 years of age by March 6, 2011 with a valid photo ID. Girls should wear a form-fitting midriff top, lycra shorts and appropriate footwear. Men should wear a tight fitting t-shirt and appropriate footwear. Tryouts will be judged on stunting and tumbling ability, personality, and appearance.
The Soul Squad is a unique and exciting co-ed stunt/promotions team that executes all on-field promotions. The Squad performs college cheerleading style stunts designed to fire up the best fans for the most exciting team in the Arena Football League. A cheerleading or gymnastic background is preferred but is not required.
The Soul Squad has practice one day a week and performs at every home game.
Those seeking additional information about the auditions or pre-registration should visit the official team website at www.philadelphiasoul.com.
It’s only January, but the Spokane Shock fans who attended last night’s Dance Team Finals at the Knitting Factory were in mid-season form.
In front of a standing room only crowd, 27 talented finalists performed three routines under the watchful eye of judges and adoring fans. The finalists were divided into nine groups of three to perform a hip-hop routine, a jazz routine and a pom-routine.
“We changed the format a little bit to allow the audience to see more performances from the dancers,” Dance Team Director Maggie Kazemba explained. “The audience really seemed to enjoy and it allowed the judges to evaluate the contestants on three primary forms of dance that we use in our choreography.”
KREM-2’s Jane McCarthy hosted the event and also interviewed the women to show their personalities.
After all the performances and interviews, the panel of four judges – led by Kazemba – had the difficult task of narrowing the field down.
“That’s always the hard part,” Kazemba said. “We saw a lot of dramatic improvement from people who made it from the first round. It was clear that they worked really hard to perfect the routines.”
After the results were tallied 18 women, including 13 returners, made the 2011 Shock Dance Team.
“I think this year’s team is one of the most talented we have ever assembled. I’m really going to push them this year so that we can continue to raise the bar.”
So, what’s next for Kazemba and her new team?
“Practice. We have our first practice on Sunday,” Kazemba said. “Now that the team is assembled, we need to get to work!”
The defending ArenaBowl Champion Shock open the season on the road in San Jose on March 11th against the SaberCats. The following weekend the Shock will host the Cleveland Gladiators on March 19th with the Dance Team and Shock fans ready to cheer them on.
Click here for some pictures from the first round and the Finals as captured by Gary Peterson and Randy Cahalan. More pictures will be added soon!
Meg Ayers came to long distance running, as she describes it, on a whim.
In 2004, while she was a Lady Wrangler cheerleader for the Austin Wranglers arena football team, she entered the lottery for the ING New York City Marathon in 2004.
“I had hardly run at all before that, maybe a few miles now and then, but I got picked, so I started running,” she says.
Ayers, who is a business development consultant for the MMC Group, followed a 16-week marathon training program, which included one 20-mile long run, and then ran in New York.
“It was so painful running that far. I slept the whole day after finishing. Now, I can run 20 miles and go work afterwards,” says Ayers.
In October 2006, Ayers ran, and won, the Marathon 2 Marathon in West Texas — a race from Alpine to the town of Marathon. Her time: 3:33:51. In 2008, she improved her marathon time at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon: 3:08:44.
Some runners start at the shorter distances and work their way up. Ayers started at the longer distances and has been working her way up.
She became interested in ultra races after pacing her boyfriend, Josh Hare, for the last 15 miles of the Jemez Mountain Trail Run 50K in May 2009. Pacing Hare at that event in Los Alamos, New Mexico, was Ayers’ first taste of what it might be like to run an ultra, and her first taste of trails.
“It was fun. Jemez Mountain is a hard race, but I loved it,” says Ayers. “I think it’s good to find a balance between the trails and road. I like that you can get lost on the trails. It’s a great place to think and reflect. And I like the variety of the terrain.”
After Jemez Mountain, Ayers decided to compete in the Palo Duro Trail Run 50K in Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo. To prepare, she spent time in Boulder, Colorado, running mountain trails. In Austin she trained with Teammac, a group coached by Mac Allen.
Ayers didn’t just finish at her first ultra in Palo Duro. She won the event in five hours, eight minutes and 16 seconds.
“Obviously, she has a certain level of natural ability, but Meg’s work ethic is off the charts. Her success is a direct result of how hard she hits her workouts — every single time. She’s got the competitive heart of a lioness,” says Phil McDuffee, a longtime training buddy.
Last weekend, Ayers went to Big Bend National Park, intending to run her second 50K. The Big Bend Ultra starts at 3,200 feet and drops steadily to 1,900 feet on packed dirt park roads.
Ayers changed her plans and ran, instead, the 25K race that is staged at the same time.
“I woke up Sunday morning at 5 a.m. feeling sick to my stomach, and decided to run the 25K instead,” says Ayers. “I had planned on running the 50K, but I’m really glad I didn’t because my stomach was so bad I just couldn’t eat anything.
“I won the 25K race in 2:11:11. Other than my stomach problems, it was a great experience — gorgeous, with spectacular views.”