2010 Ben-Gals Earn Their Stripes at Audition Finals

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On Sunday, May 16th, an enthusiastic crowd of families, friends, and fans filled The Syndicate in Newport, Kentucky to experience the finals for the 2010 Cincinnati Ben-Gals try-outs.  This is the second year that the Ben-Gals have brought their finals out to the public as a special event.  Seventy candidates remained for this elite squad, and the final squad was announced this week.  The finals was a gala event, co-hosted by local TV weather guy Steve Raleigh and former Ben-Gal Melissa Scalia.  This was the end of a long process of workshops and earlier rounds of try-outs.  In late March and early April, prior to the start of auditions, four three-hour workshops were held to help prepare the candidates.  The first auditions were held in mid-April, and then those who made it through this preliminary round were required to attend five workshops.  Semi-finals were held on May 9th which produced the elite group of dancers that participated in the finals.
Harmony at morning practice

Harmony at morning practice

Although the public festivities began in the early afternoon, it was an early morning for the Ben-Gal candidates.  Candidates arrived at 8 am for a morning of rehearsals and preparation.   As coach John Wooden said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” and the morning practices provided great learning experiences for all of the contestants.  During the rehearsals, one of the veterans experienced a “wardrobe malfunction,” but made one of the greatest catches in organization history, surpassing anything Trumpy, Collinsworth, or Ocho Cinco ever did on the field.  While holding up her top with one hand, she completed the routine perfectly to the rousing applause of her peers.  However, lesson learned to the squad finalists: safety pins, safety pins, safety pins.
Rehearsing the dance routine

Rehearsing the dance routine

A key part of the finals was a dance routine performed in pairs on stage.  Although this was an individual event, it was noted for the candidates during the morning that the most successful performances were those in which the dancers kept an eye out for the other for proper spacing and timing.  It was amazing to watch the transformation from morning practice to afternoon performances.  The little glitches and kinks in the morning seemed to be smoothed over in the afternoon with both practice and the adrenaline from the lights, judges, and fans.

All of the dancers auditioned to the same song, Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight.”  During the morning rehearsals, that song was played over and over again.  For the finalists, they had spent a week practicing to that song.  Although this was a competition for precious squad spots, there was a supportive air of camaraderie among the finalists.  During Sunny’s morning practice routine, she earned oohs, ahs, and applause for sticking a move with a high degree of difficulty.  Rather than cut-throat, the atmosphere was more of finalists bonding, while raising each other up to perform their best.

Sunny's dance moves were too fast to be captured by photos, so here she is in bathing suit finals

Sunny's dance moves were too fast to be captured by photos, so here she is in bathing suit finals

Veteran Ben-Gal Teresha was instrumental in providing access to UltimateCheerleaders.com to this event.  Teresha works in the hospitality industry and she certainly puts the “hospitable” in “hospitality.”  We appreciate the time and effort she put in to getting access for us!  During the morning practices, she was dancing, smiling, and laughing like the most relaxed person on the planet.  When she said she was “SO nervous”, I told her that she seemed more relaxed than anyone.  Teresha said that she might be the goofiest one, not the most relaxed.  Either way, she makes everything and everyone around her a bit less nervous when her fun spirit springs forth.
Teresha shines in swimsuit finals

Teresha shines in swimsuit finals

The morning featured practice time for the three main activities in the afternoon: the opening number, dance routines performed by a pair of dancers, and bathing suit modeling. Scores from the interviews and skill set evaluations were compiled the previous week at the semi-finals and added to scores from dancing and modeling at the finals.
Rehearsing the big opening number

Rehearsing the big opening number

Morning practice for the swimsuit modeling

Morning practice for the swimsuit modeling

In the morning, Head Captain Tara lead the practice session.  Tara is one of our superstar pro dancers for so many reasons: this will be her ninth season on the squad; Pro Bowl squad selection; competitor on the NFL Network’s cheerleader competition; completing her Ph.D. in cancer biology at University of Cincinnati; and co-author of a paper in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.  During a brief respite between morning practice and the start of the show, Tara took time to fill me in on all the things swirling around in this busy time.  This is the time of year when fans of the squads find out if some of their favorites are coming back, and Tara said this year’s decision was down to the wire.  In her busy life, there is a lot going on but that being part of the Ben-Gals is fun, and keeps her energized and definitely never bored.

Tara has been the squad’s fitness guru for many seasons, and she said that rookies tend to need to concentrate most on cardio to prepare for the season.  Even activities like running utilize only a single plane, and the muscles involved in dancing require movement in all possible planes, so a lot of intense dancing and aerobics classes are needed.
Head Captain Tara with Co-Host Steve Raleigh

Head Captain Tara with Co-Host Steve Raleigh

Finalists would be judged not only on their dance technique, but also the personality component of being part of the NFL sidelines.  Tara said that there are some contestants who tryout without extensive dance training, but they have the ability to carry themselves well, and through the workshops and preparation, can get to the needed level of dance skills.   According to Tara, there are some hopefuls that have not danced much before, initially having trouble picking up the choreography, but they work their tails off.  Before you know it, the more they practice, the routines become like clockwork, and they “get it.”  Tara is surprised every year that there are candidates that one wonders why are they even trying, but that they inspire you, eventually creating of reaction of, “Whoa! You fit in now!”  This part to Tara is so fun and exciting, and so tangible to see these improvements.
Unlike most other squads that I am aware of, the Ben-Gals have a minimum age requirement of 21.  Cincinnati is a relatively conservative city, and the Ben-Gals do a lot of community work, and although some 18-year old’s can handle these responsibilities, the age limit makes it less worrisome.   Tara says that they really ask a lot of the squad members, and that everything that happens on the field is choreographed, from what you do on your down to actual routines.   The good aspect of an age restriction is that squad bonding is very natural, however, the age restriction limits the talent pool.  Tara says it is tough to find those above 21 who have the time management skills necessary to pull off all of the responsibilities.   But Tara mentions one example of the “phenomenal” nutritionist Laura, who is 41, and mother of two daughters, and is returning for another season.
Laura returns to the squad

Laura, during the bathing suit finals, returns to the squad

On this day it was the finals, but the squad selection would not be announced today.  There would be no tears of joy or disappointment.  Tara’s role is to make sure, in this public setting, that the finalists have a great time in a show that is professional and entertaining.  For all contestants, Tara says that they can experience a day of celebration after putting in weeks of time, and for those who don’t make the squad can have the disappointment a week later in a private way.   For the rookies who get the good news, Tara says being a Ben-Gal will be a big roller coaster ride that will take you where you never thought you would go, but also at times make you question who you are.  Tara thinks the main benefit of making the squad is that is puts you out there to see what you can be, and allows you to push yourself to see where you can go.  Tara says its an incredible bonding experience, and that some of her squad mates are among her best friends.
As the doors opened at noon, the seats filled with enthusiastic fans, including Tara’s proud mom who sat next to me.  The co-hosts, local meteorologist Steve Raleigh (whose wife is part of the Junior Ben-Gals leadership) and former Ben-Gal Melissa Scalia took the stage, as did Ben-Gal Director Charlotte Jacobs and Head Coach, Traci Napier.   The diverse group of judges was introduced, and good luck wishes were provided by a video message from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and a good luck cheer provided by the Junior Ben-Gals.
Junior Ben-Gals cheer on the finalists

Junior Ben-Gals cheer on the finalists

As the opening notes of “Welcome the to the Jungle” sounded, it was time for the finalists to hit the stage with a big opening number.  The “wow” factor hit its stride!  Co-host Steve interviewed Tara who then demonstrated the routine the finalists would perform.

Finalists during the big opening number

Finalists during the big opening number

The opening number's big finish

The opening number's big finish

Then it was time to get to the judging of the dance sequence, and the strains of “Not Myself Tonight” were back.  It was great to see Ben-Gal alums like Rhonee helping out by collecting the judges scores.  After each performance, the pair of dancers would go to the “Cheer Lounge” to be interviewed by Melissa.  Melissa asked finalist Aliea what she went through her mind right before her dance, and Aliea responded “I’m not ready!”  Well, yes you were Aliea, you made the squad!  Melissa’s interview also allowed us to learn that Aliea is a Marketing Management major at Cincinnati State.

Aliea during the swimsuit portion

Aliea during the swimsuit portion

As expected, with so many live performances, not all goes swimmingly.  During Brandy and Britney’s dance performance, the music stopped in the middle.  The music stopped, but Brandy and Britney didn’t, and kept performing as they counted in their heads.  They were then told the music would start again, and they went back to their opening positions.  Even though things like this happen, Brandy and Britney made the most of it with a willing drive to perform their best.  In the cheer lounge, Brandy told Missy, “It was very scary, but you have to keep going.” Fittingly, both made the squad!

Maria performs her dance for the judges

We learned in the "Cheer Lounge" that Maria plays the drums

Wish she was auditioning, but Ben-Gal alum collects judges' scores

Wish she was auditioning: Ben-Gal alum Rhonee collects judges' scores

The last portion was the bathing suit modeling.  The co-hosts discussed the merits of this portion, in that is allowed evaluation of poise and confidence, so important to being on the sidelines.  But to me, I was so impressed by the fitness and muscle tone of these dancers.  Cheer uniforms may seem revealing, but it seems like they still can hide the athlete’s body that some of these dancers have developed with years of hard work.
Andrea During Swimsuit Finals

In Melissa's "Cheer Lounge" we learned that nurse Andrea was in a Fabreze commercial

Last season's Pro Bowl Ben-Gal Sarah J is back on the squad

Last season's Pro Bowl Ben-Gal Sarah J is back on the squad!

Third Year Captain Rachel's husband drove all the way from Missouri because of plane cancellations to be there for finals!

Third Year Captain Rachel's husband drove all the way from Missouri because of plane cancellations to be in Cincy for finals!

The event ended as gifts were given to the judges.  As the dancers left, they had to be relieved it was over, happy that they had put on an excellent show, and yearning to know if they were on the squad.  For the dancers driving back to Cincinnati, they would have to notice the empty seats at Paul Brown Stadium from the highway, wondering if in a few months they would be looking up at those same seats filled with fans from their spot on the field.

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Between now and then though, there would be finding out who made the squad, practices, appearances, and being on the sidelines in Canton at the Hall of Fame game.  But on this night, their heads hit the pillow knowing they did their best, and wondering if that Christina Aguilera song will ever get out of their heads.

Teresha is back on the squad, as if Tiffany who returns after some time off

Teresha is back on the squad, as did Tiffany who returns after some time away from the squad

MANY MANY THANKS to Teresha, Tara, and Charlotte for allowing such great access to UltimateCheerleaders.com to this special event!

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