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SLO native turns NFL cheerleader in Houston

The Rice University athletics employee decided it was time for a change at age 25
By Julia Hickey
Aug. 31, 2009

At age 25, Megan Dodge experienced what she calls a “quarter-life crisis.” It’s not what you’d expect from the 2001 senior class president of San Luis Obispo High School, a woman with great looks and a promising career as director of marketing for the athletic department at Rice University in Houston.

“When I hit 30 I want to focus on having a family and things like that,” she said. But looking forward from that mid-20s crux, there seemed too many goals and too little time.

So she increased the intensity of her workouts, enrolled in hip hop dance classes to sharpen her skills and three months later was chosen out of 600 women to become a cheerleader for the Houston Texans of the NFL.


Dodge described the April day she tried out for the squad. After the 12-hour day of elimination rounds, Dodge said, “I ripped off my fake eyelashes and rushed to work a Rice baseball game.”

In addition to her daily 7 a. m. to 5 p. m. shift as athletic marketing director at Rice, Dodge attends most Rice home games for many of the sports teams. She sits next to the announcer, who reads a script that she’s written, and she dons a headset to direct operations and cue stadium big screen graphics.

Her transition from director to the spotlight as a cheerleader has been an exhilarating one. She described her Aug. 22 cheerleading debut in a preseason game at the Texans’ Reliant Stadium, before 70,000 fans, as “amazing.” She almost started crying while waiting in the tunnel because she had achieved the goal she had set “on a wing and a prayer.”

Texans cheerleaders may refute the stereotype of women whose looks alone carry them through life. They may have to maintain perfect Frenchtipped nails, in the Texans’ “battle red” team color, but in fact all 31 cheerleaders are required by coach Alto Gary to work or study full-time.

“I chose this concept because I wanted women with substance. I do not want someone sitting at home eating Doritos contributing nothing to herself or life,” Gary said. Among the cheerleaders are a financial analyst and three teachers.

They endure up to five three-hour practices a week to perfect the dance routines that keep crowds enthralled, and the women attend up to 500 promotional appearances a year.

Dodge said with a giggle, “When I have a day that there’s nothing scheduled, I get confused.”

But Dodge says cheerleading is “a stress reliever.”

“Dancing is what I love to do,” she said.

She started dancing at Lori Silvaggio’s Academy of Dance in San Luis Obispo, and said she would work out and dance on her free time anyway.

Plus, she has connected with the Houston community in a way she didn’t expect. Her first appearance was a fundraiser for underprivileged children, where cheerleaders helped attract customers to lemonade stands.

“I didn’t expect to feel I was helping other people in the process,” she said.

Dodge isn’t the only San Luis Obispo County woman to land in the NFL spotlight. Atascadero native Erin Kennedy, daughter of Kennedy Club Fitness owners Barb and Kevin Kennedy, became a San Diego Charger Girl in 2001, and Heather Greene of Templeton made the same squad in 2007.

Dodge said she thinks her California upbringing was a good prelude to life in Texas.

“I tell people, if you’ve ever seen a cowboy surf, they’re probably from my hometown,” she said. “A lot of SLO County is cowboys — and it reminds me of Texas.”

When reflecting on her accomplishments, the newly 26-year-old Texas State University grad said, “I admit I have done very well for myself.” (And a word to interested men—she’s taken.)

But when speaking about the future, she seems open. She says she’ll try out again for the team next year if she’s still in the Houston area. Of course, there are still many goals to achieve before she turns 30: earning a master’s degree, writing a book about compassion in education, visiting Europe and inventing something.

“My grandpa and I have something in the works,” she said of her possible invention. “But I am not sure I can tell you about it.”

Orlando Magic Dancer is the Newest WWE Diva

From the Orlando Magic Dancers’ Twitter Feed:

Don’t think I ever told u all where Trinity was going this yr! She’s now a WWE Diva Wrestler! Starts training on Mon! Coach J


Former Colts Cheerleader is Indy’s Best Traffic Reporter

Congratulations to good friend of the blog Mindy Winkler, who was named Indianapolis’ “Best Local Traffic Reporter” for the 4th year in a row.

From Nuvo.net

Best local traffic reporter (TV or radio): Mindy Winkler
It’s hard to drive in Indy and not hear Mindy Winkler’s traffic reports. Reporting for the Smiley Morning Show on Z99.5, 104.5WJJK and 102.4 Hit Country WMDH, Winkler is there to cheerfully report the plagues of every morning commute. Formerly Commander KC on WTTV, Winkler eventually moved through WRTV-6 as a fill-in traffic reporter and through miscellaneous voiceover jobs into her current place in Indy radio traffic reporting. Winkler has made herself a permanent installation in the lives of Indianapolis commuters, making what can be a torturous experience into something with a little optimism

Mindy Winkler

Mindy is a former Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders and also cheered for the CISL Indianapolis Twisters.

[Mindy and the Fun Company]

Monday Morning Uniform Poll: Washington Redskins Cheerleaders Uniforms

From the first half of Friday’s game it’s Ashley A. in the burgundy uniform.

From the second half of Friday’s game it’s Buffy in the yellow/gold uniform.

From Fan Appreciation Day it’s Talmesha sporting the new skirt.


And here are the results from last week’s poll:



Girls go head over heels for Bucs cheerleading clinic


By Mary Shedden
The Tampa Tribune
August 29, 2009

* Photo gallery

TAMPA – 2009-bucs-camp_8sm

Nearly 200 girls wanting a glimpse of professional football cheerleading are spending the weekend with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad. The 12th annual junior cheerleading clinic started today, with the 30 cheerleaders introducing a three-minute choreographed routine to a popular Miley Cyrus tune.

The camp at Jefferson High School continues Sunday. It culminates Friday when the girls, ages 6 to 17, perform during halftime of the preseason matchup between the Bucs and Houston Texans at Raymond James Stadium.

“We hope the girls get out of it a great mentoring program from our NFL cheerleaders,” Sandy Charboneau, the Bucs’ cheerleading manager, said of the annual clinic.

Tomoko Kojima, a Bucs cheerleader in her seventh season, said the camp differs from other public events because she can identify with the girls, who constantly hug her and pepper her with questions. In addition to teaching a halftime routine, the squad members also teach cheers and participate in games with the campers.

“I was a little kid like them,” said Kojima, who was coaching ages 6 to 8. “I saw cheerleaders and said, ‘Oh, I want to be like those girls when I get older.'”

An estimated 3.5 million youngsters participate in cheerleading nationwide, according to the U.S. Sports Academy. Despite stereotypes of cheering as little more than dance in cute outfits, it is recognized as a sport by high school athletic associations and in the competitive sports club arena.

Palm Harbor teen Alexis Salzer doesn’t cheer at school but hasn’t missed a Bucs cheer camp for seven years. The 16-year-old said it’s a place to meet friends from outside school. She also likes seeing the Bucs cheerleaders she has grown to know perform on game days.

“My family is totally into football and the Bucs,” she said. “My grandma has season passes, so when we go, it’s like I know them.”

Texans Cheerleaders – New Photos

New photos of the Texans Cheerleaders are now online at HoustonTexans.com! Click here to view photos from their training camp, and click here to view new game day photos.


Norwalk woman flies high as member of New York Jets Flight Crew

Stamford native soars with Jets Flight Crew
By Kate King, Correspondent
Stamford Advocate

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — There is no chanting or giggling at this cheerleading practice.

The only sound heard on the field Monday evening was the steady rustling of green and white pompoms as the New York Jets Flight Crew practiced its routines. For certain dances, the women counted up to eight as their feet moved in unison.

“It’s tough,” said Samantha Longo, 23. “It’s a lot of work. We run, we dance the whole time. It’s really demanding on our bodies.”

jets-slideshow-linkLongo, who grew up in Stamford and Greenwich and now lives in Norwalk, is in her rookie season as a New York Jets cheerleader. While many people associate cheerleading with back flips and human pyramids, cheering in the NFL is nothing like that, she said.

“Really, we’re a dance team,” Longo said.

Dancing wasn’t Longo’s strength when she auditioned for the Flight Crew, said its director Denise Garvey. Longo, who cheered for three years with the Spirit All-Stars gym in Hamden, had more of a background in competition cheerleading than dancing. She stood out to Garvey, however, by demonstrating a strong work ethic and burning desire to dance for the New York Jets.

“I could sense that she was passionate about making the team,” said Garvey, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. “That type of spirit I definitely sensed at her audition.” Longo was one of 30 women selected from a pool of over 200 for this year’s crew, Garvey said. After she made the team, Longo said she immediately got to work learning the library of over 30 one-minute dances the cheerleaders perform at home games.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t practice,” she said. “Every night I review my dances.” The team is now undergoing training camp, which lasts from June 1 through opening day on Sept. 20. Even after they make the team, cheerleaders are under constant pressure. There is no guarantee that each woman will perform in every game, Garvey said. Any lapse in concentration or effort can land them on the sidelines.

“I don’t believe in saving your energy or only going full-out at the game,” Garvey said. “Every day is full-out. Life is full-out.”

Women who audition for the Flight Crew must be at least 18 and high school graduates, Garvey said. This year, members are 19 to 29 years old. Garvey said she looks for women who are attractive, skilled dancers and “good people” when putting together her team.

“Being a member of the Flight Crew, or being a professional cheerleader, really is a lifestyle,” she said. “It means being a lady. It means being well mannered. It means conducting yourself in a manner to be proud of.”

Longo said she is working hard to insure she cheers at the Jets’ Thursday preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I knew it was going to be tough,” she said. “But it’s constant pressure. Yeah, you’re on the team, but you don’t know if you’ll be out there.” Longo danced in the Jets’ first preseason game on Aug. 14 against the St. Louis Rams. It was her first real taste of NFL cheerleading. The Jets’ first regular season home game is Sept. 20 against the New England Patriots.

“The stands were half-full,” Longo said. “On opening day, everything will be packed.” The Norwalk resident puts in a lot of time, and a lot of driving, in order to cheer for the Jets. The Flight Crew practices three hours a day, three times a week as well as three hours on game days.

“We always say it’s like part-time work but full-time commitment,” Garvey said.

Two practices a week are held at the New York Sports Club in Manhattan, but every Monday the cheerleaders meet at the Jets Facility in Florham Park, N.J., to rehearse.

Longo’s drive to New Jersey is an hour and a half each way, and she usually gives herself an extra 45 minutes in case she hits traffic. She shares the driving, and gas costs, with the only other team member from Connecticut, Ridgefield resident Lauren Zavarella.

“This is a really long commute but it’s definitely worth it,” Zavarella, 24, said.

In addition to keeping each other company during the long car rides, Longo and Zavarella have also supported each other throughout the start of their first year as NFL cheerleaders.

“We were experiencing this new thing together,” Zavarella said. “It was really nice to have someone there, going through that with you.” Both women hope they will return next year as Flight Crew members but know there are no guarantees.

Veteran cheerleaders are required to audition for the team each year and are not necessarily invited back, Garvey said. Last year, 19 of the crew’s 22 members re-auditioned and 15 were selected to return.

Longo said she hopes to cheer with the Jets again as an experienced team member. She said that as a veteran, there would be less pressure to learn the steps and more opportunity to enjoy the dancing.

Longo’s mother, Stephanie DiGiovanni, knows her daughter has what it takes.

“She’s always been one of the top cheerleaders on any of the squads she’s ever been on,” DiGiovanni said. “I think she likes to entertain crowds. I think my daughter likes to be a star.”

Rochester Knightingales Dance Team Auditions


The Rochester Knightingales dance team will be holding auditions for responsible, professional, outgoing, talented dancers September 19th & 20th

The Knightingales are fun, outgoing, professional woman who represent healthy goals and superior entertainment. In addition to performing at the NLL Rochester Knighthawks home lacrosse games the team will support community projects throughout Greater Rochester. The Knightingales will perform at many exciting events and make numerous appearances including modeling, public speaking, event entertainment and support throughout Monroe County. The Knightingales are provided by RET Talent.

The Knightingales are dedicated women who are physically fit, talented in dance/cheer or promotional modeling and are able to present themselves in a professional manner. Because the Knightingales are influential role models to the youth in our communities, we select women that are committed to leading a healthy productive lifestyle.

The Directors are looking to fill a variety of positions and look for personality, willingness to learn and physical appearance as well as ability.

Dance Auditions will be located at the Radisson Hotel Riverside Rochester on September 19th and 20th, applicants will commit to both days while being judged on a solo, interview and an audition routine.

Dancers Team Duties include:

Greeting, Sales, Team Appearances, Some Promotions, Distributing Giveaways, on field performances and in-stand dances.

Audition Dates, Times, Locations:

September 19th & 20th – Must commit to both days

Location: Radisson Hotel Riverside Rochester – Frontier Hall
120 East Main Street, Rochester, NY 14604

Parking: $4 in Hotel Garage (Mention Knightingales Auditions)

Time: 9:00am-5:00pm Both Days

Complete details here.

Eagles Cheerleaders Around Town

Mike sent us a few photos from recent Eagles Cheerleaders Apperances.

Monica and Tracey at a blood drive.

More photos in the Eagles Cheerleaders Gallery

NFL Pre-Season Week #1: The Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders

A big thanks to reader Josh who was at the Redskins-Ravens game two weeks ago and sent us photos of the Ravens Cheerleaders doing what they do best!


[Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders]

[The rest of Josh’s photos]

Jenna McKee

Jenna is a former Tennessee Titans Cheerleader.

From the WRCBTV.com

jennatitans1Jenna McKee joined the Channel 3 Eyewitness News staff in June 2008. You can see her reports throughout the week on Eyewitness News at 6:00 and Chattanooga’s #1 newscast, Eyewitness News at 11:00. Jenna is a Tennessee native and most recently worked for WKRN-TV in Nashville as a reporter. Before her stop in the Music City, Jenna was an Anchor/Reporter for WBBJ-TV in Jackson, TN. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Electronic Media Journalism from Middle Tennessee State University where she was a Blue Raider cheerleader.

Our list of reporters is here.

SI NFL Cheerleader Gallery #1

The Sports Illustrated NFL Cheerleader gallery is back for the 2009-10 season. The first gallery of the year includes Cheerleaders from the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, and Indianapolis Colts. Click here to go there now.


2009-10 Suns Dancers

The 2009 Phoenix Suns Dancers have been announced. August 28th, 2009 | Tags: , , , | Category: New | Comments are closed

Where are they now?: Sonics Dancers


By Jayda Evans
Seattle Times
August 26, 2009

Another thing missed about not having a NBA team is having a dance group over the age of 20. sonicsdancers2007-08sm

Now the women have either completed degrees at Washington or moved to Yakima to open a dental practice and start families. One, Denne, joined the famed Sea Gals and became their calendar cover girl, a position she held with the Sonics.

Meanwhile Sheena Shive (pictured bottom left by NBAE) is working with the Storm Dance Troupe, getting the kids poppin’ and lockin’ like the pros. The Connecticut Sun, New York, and Sacramento either have a mix of youth and adult dance teams or just an adult team.

“We’re all still keeping pretty busy,” said Shive of her former Sonics dance teammates. Her day job is with an advertising agency but her passion remains in dancing.

In addition to directing the Storm’s troupe, Shive will head the new pro lacrosse team’s dancers. Called the Stealth Dance Team, they’ll have auditions at the Everett Comcast Event Center on Sept. 12.

Registration begins at 9 a.m. and the auditions for women 18 and older runs from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. Checkout the website for more information. Opening night is Jan. 9, 2010 at the Everett Comcast Event Center.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity, I never thought I’d go into coaching,” Shive said.

Former Scramento Kings Dancer Vanessa Born says New ‘Bring it On’ Movie Kicked Her Butt

Kiko Martinez

After three seasons as a professional cheerleader for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings from 2001-2003, Vanessa Born decided to head south to L.A. to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. Since making the trip to Hollywood, she has earned small parts on shows such as “Hannah Montana” and “CSI: NY.” Born, who is part Spanish, now stars in “Bring it On: Fight to the Finish,” the fifth installment of the popular cheerleading series.

Vanessa Born and Christina Milian star in “Bring it On: Fight to the Finish.”

Were you a fan of the first four movies?

Oh, yeah. The very first movie set it off for me. I was a cheerleader in high school and college and then in the NBA. Basically, these are movies that you live and die by.


So, you were one of those cheerleaders that knew all the dialogue word for word and loved spirit fingers?

(Laughs) Yes! I remember slumber parties and reciting those movies verbatim.

Since the “Bring it On” series has its own fan base, did that put more pressure on the cast to live up to expectations?

There was actually pressure to give it something new like the different mechanics and different cheerleading combinations. The writing is really funny. Our two writers are comedy writers that gave us something amazing to work with. Then, luckily, we were working with an awesome director, too. If you felt like there was something you wanted to improv, [director Billie Woodruff] would let you go and do it. We just went with it.

With all your experience in cheerleading, I’m guessing there wasn’t anything too challenging in terms of choreography.

You’d be surprised. I was a professional dancer in the NBA for three years with the Sacramento Kings. Even still, the training was so intense! I was surprised. My butt got kicked on that set a lot.

So, are you a Sacramento Kings fan?

Of course. It’s so hard living in L.A. Everybody’s got something to say.

Tell me about cheerleading in the NBA.

Cheerleading in the NBA really prepared me a lot for acting. I was really shocked. You go through so much media training and how to present yourself. In Sacramento, to be a cheerleader, you have to go through a lot. It’s hard work. I give it up to every dancer in the NBA who is going for the gold. They have a really tough job but it’s a really fun job.

After three seasons with the Kings, why did you decide to leave?

I wanted to be an actress. I was the clown on the squad. I was always cracking jokes. I was always the one with the cheesy smile. I thought about it and I really wanted to go to L.A. and act. Luckily, I had a very supportive team. They were very supportive when I left.

Since you have so much experience, were you the one on the set everyone would go to if they wanted cheerleading tips?

If anyone wanted to rehearse I was always available. I was always the one saying, “Okay, let’s do it again!” Everyone would be like, “Alright! We’ve done it 6,000 times already!” But 6,001 would make you even better.


Any bumps and bruises along the way?

(Laughs) Yes! I got very injured in a stunt that we tried. It was pretty awesome, but I pulled a back muscle. It was my first pulled muscle ever. I’ve never broken or pulled anything in my entire cheerleading career. I was out for a couple of days. You get a lot of bruises on your legs, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.

So, for those people who say that cheerleading isn’t a real sport, you just show them your bruises?

Oh my gosh! Anyone that says cheerleading isn’t a real sport is crazy! Just look at any of the ESPN cheerleading competitions. They do some of the most amazing acrobatic performances I’ve ever seen in my life.

[Vanessa at imdb.com]