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Cheerleading ‘A Lot More Than Just Dancing’

By Molly Hayes
The Hamilton Spectator

An army of attractive young women in sports bras and yoga pants has taken over an east Mountain gym, each hoping for a spot on the 2014 Tiger-Cats cheer team.

Fifty are vying for the 20 spots on the team — reserved for “perfectly well-rounded, awesome girls,” explains their coach, Lesley Stewart, at Sunday’s tryout session.

The bar is set high, and Stewart is looking for a lot more than cute smiles and perky moves. These girls are their ambassadors in the community, after all.

“We are looking for intelligent, educated women … with a strong dance background, first and foremost,” she says.

After spending 22 years working in the CFL, Stewart is well aware of the cheerleader stereotypes that exist. With auditions sharing the weekend with International Women’s Day, she stresses that community engagement is a huge part of the gig.

“It’s always something we’ve had to work against,” she says. “It’s a lot more than just the dancing.”

But there is lots of dancing here, with girls breaking off into groups of three to perform a 40-second routine (the choreography was taught that morning) for the judging panel.

Next step is the interview process, later this week.

Cheerleaders must be at least 19 years of age — by November of this year.

Christina Del Sordo is all smiles despite the sweat — it’s her second time trying out. The 19-year-old Hamilton native has been with the Junior Ticats cheerleaders for nine years — a position she balances with her studies at McMaster University’s De Groote School of Business.

Cheerleading offers an outlet — albeit a challenging one. Last week, she squeezed in her workouts around studying for her accounting midterm.

“It’s about empowering women … a lot of the fans are men, so it’s nice to get more women involved,” she says.

The petite blond is also a diehard football fan, with a room decked out in Ticats paraphernalia. Her dad is a longtime season ticket holder.

“I know every player, their weights, where they went to school, everything,” she laughs.

But after looking up to the Ticats cheerleaders throughout her youth, she’s excited at having a chance to become a role model herself.

“This has been my ultimate goal,” she says, taking a break from practice before the big audition.

Taryn Switenky is also vying for a spot, for what would be her fourth year on the team.

For her, it’s a family affair — following in her older sister’s footsteps.

Switenky, 21, grew up dancing at the Pure Energy studio on the Mountain, and says cheerleading has allowed her to continue with the dancing.

“Nobody thinks that we all have careers and education on the side … and you have to be very physically fit,” she says of their cheer training.

Her experience on the team has been “really rewarding,” and the best part, by far, has been meeting fans face-to-face — especially the kids.

They’re also given travel opportunities, such as a stint at this year’s Grey Cup in Regina, performing onstage with Hedley.

“There’s tons of stuff behind the scenes,” she says.

The 2014 Ticats cheerleading team roster will be announced Friday afternoon on the team’s website, ticats.ca.

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