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Lady Panther Jessica’s expressiveness perfectly fits her passion for signing and dancing

Jessica is in her second season as a Redline Lady Panther

Jessica of the NHL’s Redline Lady Panthers is passionate not only about dancing, but also about her obsession with all things Disney and her college major of Sign Language Interpretation. These latter two essential components of Jessica’s life came together at Disney World, and Jessica’s effervescent nature to help others was immediately apparent. “I saw a deaf woman signing to a cast member in Disney World asking when they will have an interpreter for a show,” Jessica recalls. “The cast member had no idea what to do, so I approached the woman and signed to her, offering my help, and I was able to interpret for her. It was such a great feeling.”

Similarly, Jessica not only brightens Sunrise, Florida’s BB&T Center by dancing during Florida Panthers home games, she also helps by interpretive signing often during the US and Canadian national anthems, and keeps her teammates smiling behind the scenes with her fun spirit. Jessica shared with UltimateCheerleaders how her love of performing came to fruition, including her first stage performance as an alien, why her dancing skills would be a perfect fit as goalie, and how she hopes someday, everyday will start out with her exclaiming, “I am going to Disney World!”

Jessica is a South Florida native, born and raised in Miami, although most of her extended family is from Rochester, New York. Jessica started dance young, but really hit her stride during middle school. “My interest in dance started when I was three years old taking ballet classes,” Jessica explains. “In sixth grade is when I took dance seriously. That’s when I realized I loved to dance hip-hop and jazz more than any other style of dance.”

And during these years, Jessica first public dance performance started out a bit scary for her, but then took off like a rocket from the Cape. “My first dance performance was in middle school where I dressed like an alien,” Jessica remembers. “I was super nervous and embarrassed because we had to perform in front of an audience full of seventh and eighth graders. But that dance was amazing because of our colorful outfits and strobe light effects on stage that made it look like it was in outer space. They loved it!”

“I stayed in the dance program until I went to high school, made the dance team, and I became captain,” Jessica continues. “I also was involved with the Drama club and was able to learn how to become a ‘triple threat.’ Acting and singing was definitely a fun experience and I made plenty of friends.”

Soon, Jessica jumped right from high school to the pros, just like local NBA-er LeBron did. “I found out that the Florida Panthers had a dance team and were having auditions,” Jessica explains. “So I thought, ‘Why not give it a try?’ Luckily, I made the team at 18 years old. I was so shocked when they announced my number that I had to look down to check if it really was me, and they finally announced my name. I ran to the stage and couldn’t be more proud of myself. I worked so hard and I couldn’t wait to start cheering and dancing at the hockey games.”

And as you would expect, Jessica also loved the community service events that are part being one of the Lady Panthers. “My first charity event was the Special Olympics for all those that were handicapped or had disabilities,” Jessica recalls. “It was a parade just for them! I met some fantastic people. We took so many pictures with the kids and teenagers that participated in the parade.”

“Being a Lady Panther is hard work but I love all the fans, especially the kids,” Jessica shares. “They make our experience so enjoyable when we put a big smile on their faces. I also love the overall experience, dancing on the ICE, and just the idea of working for a fantastic organization is a blessing.”

That’s right; the Lady Panthers not only dance on stage during the game, but they dance right on center ice during the interval. They don’t perform on a dry surface like a carpet, but right ON the ice with special footwear. “My first time dancing on ice was the craziest feeling ever,” Jessica explains. “I mean, who gets to say that they can dance on ICE? My adrenaline was pumping so fast I forgot about how cold it was. I had so many emotions running through my mind. I was about to step onto the ice in front of thousands of hockey fans, I just could not wait to perform for everyone watching.”

And during her two seasons with the Lady Panthers, has Jessica ever slipped on the ice? “Luckily, I have never slipped,” Jessica answers. “We get on the ice as soon as the players leave, so it isn’t so slippery, but we have to be careful. We take caution when walking on the ice, especially when we have late night ice practices. But we rehearse so much and eventually get used to it.”

So Jessica has no problems dancing on ice, but how is she at skating? Asked to rank herself on a scale of one (never skated) to ten (can do a triple axel), and her best hockey skills, Jessica responds, “My skating skills would have to be a six. I can skate, but I’m not a phenomenal skater. In that case, I would believe my skills can be helpful if I were a goalie because he doesn’t have to skate as much as the other players. The main goal is to block the puck, twisting his body and doing splits. My splits are pretty fantastic!”

But this season, with the NHL year in jeopardy, there was a chance there would be no game ice time, for anyone! But the Lady Panthers were ready and hopeful that the season would be saved. “The squad has spent so much time preparing for the season to eventually start,” Jessica shares. “We learned so many dances, kept ourselves in shape, and practiced every week as much as we could to perfect the dances so we could learn a new one. It was stressful but we had a few team outings to have some fun and take our mind off of the stress.”

But early this year, the NHL was back, and the Lady Panthers were able to finally use their talents. “Once we found out that hockey was back, we were so excited that there was actually going to be a season,” Jessica recalls. “Not many games to cheer for our Panthers, but enough for all the girls, especially the new rookies. They get a chance to experience the feeling of cheering and dancing at a hockey game. I sure missed hockey and I could not wait to dance on the ice again.”

Lady Panthers Kali, Silvia, Jessica, and Lauren

But it must be a challenge to deal with the compressed NHL schedule, especially for rookies who have not been through a season, much less a compacted one. “Yes, the games were literally back-to-back,” Jessica explains. “Pretty much three to four home games a week. We were so overwhelmed but we were prepared to start dancing and show that we worked so hard during the lockout. The squad couldn’t wait to get started but many of us have to go to work and/or school, so it was harder to work around our schedules to work at the games. The rookies were not used to it just yet so I’m sure it seemed harder and more challenging for them, but they were so ready to watch our Panthers play some hockey!”

However, if the rookies needed any help, veteran Jessica is more than willing to be there for them. “Being a veteran is a huge honor and I take it as a role where I need to put all my effort to make our team feel like a family,” Jessica details. “Being a group leader this year is a big responsibility, and with that, I need to make sure my group looks their best if they want to cheer at the games. During the lockout I just kept telling them to always stay positive even though there may not be season. Many of the rookies felt hopeless and I couldn’t even imagine how upset they would feel if there was no season. I tried my best to keep those girls smiling and make sure that they wouldn’t give up. They really have worked so hard to make the squad and luckily they can experience a hockey season.”

And her teammates get to experience the “hyper” side of Jessica that keeps everyone loose. “When I show up to practice, sometimes I’ll make the girls laugh just by acting silly,” Jessica says. “I’ll say the most random things or I’ll laugh weird, and I always try to be in a good mood, even if I had a bad day.”

Jessica seems to have a way of combining her passions, and she can also be seen on the Panthers’ home ice, signing the national anthems for the hearing impaired. Her interest in signing was initiated when, “A friend of mine in high school was learning sign language and introduced me to the teacher who was deaf,” Jessica relates. “Instantly, I thought how amazing it would be to learn from a deaf person, who knows the language so well. My last two years of high school I took the class, and he would always get us involved in the deaf community by planning field trips where we can interact with deaf and hard of hearing students of all ages. I then realized how much I loved sign language and really wanted to pursue a career as an interpreter.”

The national anthems can be challenging to sing, are they challenging to sign? “Signing the Canadian and National Anthem at our home games is not hard to do,” Jessica explains. “Not knowing how the singer sings, trying to keep up, and remembering the lyrics is harder in my opinion. When signing a song you have to ‘interpret’ the lyrics as if you were telling a story; and you have to be very careful with what you are signing because every sign has several different meanings just by changing its direction, hand shape, or placement. It’s pretty easy but takes lots of practice.”

Jessica looks to continue combining her passions as she continues her education. “My major is currently Sign Language Interpretation,” Jessica says. “I’m hoping to get my Bachelor’s degree in interpreting so I can work in Disney World and interpret for deaf families that visit. That way I can also perform in Disney parades while I am an interpreter! Believe it or not, that is my dream job.”

And no doubt it is, because Jessica is true super Disney fan. “I LOVE Disney World!” Jessica exclaims. “I enjoy it so much because I never get bored. I have gone ever since I was about five years old, and every time I go with my family, we always try to do something new! My first visit was truly magical and enjoyable. I enjoyed every minute of it. Now I go to Disney World at least twice a year. I have been collecting Disney pins ever since my first visit and I always add to my collection whenever I get to go back. I love going to Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios every Disney vacation. I enjoy riding all the rides at all the theme parks but my absolute favorites are ‘Toy Story Mania’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’”

As far as Disney movies go, Jessica says she has too many favorites, but her absolute favorite is Beauty and the Beast, which translates to her favorite show at the parks, and her answer to the question, if you could be any WDW character for an entire day, what would it be? “My favorite show is the Beauty and the Beast show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios,” Jessica says. “I am always sitting front row. I’m in love with the story. If I could be any Disney character for one entire day, it would clearly be Princess Belle from Beauty and the Beast.”

So, it is spring break time, and people are flooding Florida for a little rest, sun, and fun. What does Jessica, right smack dab in South Florida, do for Spring Break? “Being a Miami girl, I am so used to sun and I try to take advantage of the beautiful weather by tanning by my pool with friends or try to go to the beach,” Jessica answers. “Sometimes, my family and I get away from Miami and go to Disney World for a weekend. We love Orlando!”

For those visiting Miami, Jessica recommends La Carreta for the best Latin cuisine. And if you find yourself in Miami during Spring Break, taking in a Panthers game and seeing the Redline Lady Panthers perform, cheer, and sign will also be an excellent activity. Although Jessica fancies herself as Belle, I think she is a bit more Tinker Bell, symbolizing someone who has been captured by and spreads ‘the magic of Disney.’ Jessica sprinkles a bit of her own pixie dust to provide a magical feeling for all of those around her.

We SO thank Jessica for sharing her experiences and wish her the best of success in the future! Also, we thank Lady Panthers Director Kelli Russell for her assistance!

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