Former Patriots cheerleader thrives in WWE NXT

Patriots.com
June 1, 2016

Patriots cheerleaders thrive on performing in front of a crowd, and once their time on the sidelines is over, some pursue ways to continue showmanship. For former cheerleader Leah, she found solace in an unlikely place: the wrestling ring.

After three seasons with the Patriots cheerleading squad and a season with the Lakers, Leah found her way to the WWE NXT as Carmella, a leopard print clad princess of Staten Island. Her character is fun, fierce and fabulous, she said.

Leah trio

“She actually is a lot like me. She’s fun, high energy, and I don’t really take anything from anybody,” Leah said. “I’m going to stand up for myself. She’s fabulous. I love fashion, and I try to incorporate that.”

Even though Leah grew up watching the sport, she never pictured herself in the ring, but after she graduated from UMass Dartmouth in 2010 and completed her year with the Lakers in 2011, she said trying out for the WWE just “evolved” naturally.

“I never thought it was something I could even do. I never thought it was a possibility. I never thought it was something I could train for and do,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, what a challenge.’ I had 10 tryouts and kept making the cut, and I found myself in the WWE Performance Center in Orlando and I’ve been there for two and a half years.”

While her path to NXT was not one Leah had imagined, she said her time with the Patriots squad helped her transition. From time management to knowing how to represent a well-respected organization, she said the Patriots prepared her for this next course.

Moving forward, Leah’s goal is to win the NXT Women’s Championship, move up to the WWE and claim the women’s championship there.

With her background in dance, Leah has been able to incorporate her moves into the ring, but she has surprised herself with how quickly she has been able to adapt to a new and different world of physicality. Though many of her fellow wrestlers have backgrounds in the sport, wrestling in independent circuits before coming to NXT, Leah has had to learn the moves from the basics while using her dancing background and ability to work the crowd to her advantage.

“[The thing I’ve learned about myself is] probably just the fact that anything I can put my mind to, I can do. I really wasn’t sure when I started. I’m very confident in my ability to learn, but every time I’m in the ring, I can’t believe the things I can do and that I’ve learned,” Leah said. “It’s been really crazy. I see a move and it looks so hard and then I can do it. The coolest thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how long it takes me, I’ll do it over and over until I get it.”

This drive and determination to get the moves down has helped make Carmella a force in NXT and to be a wrestler for her fans to look up to.

“I love interacting with the fans and being a positive role model for little girls,” she said. “I didn’t think I could become a wrestler, and I did it. I want them to know that whatever dreams they have, they can follow them as well.”

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Swimsuit Cover Vote

Once again, it is that time of year to decide who will be on the cover of the Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine, swimsuit issue. 21 veterans from last year’s team were in contention, and thousands of photos were narrowed down to the top 12. Click here to vote for your three favorites.


2015 DCC calendar cover vote_AmyT2
Amy T.

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Chantal2
Chantal

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Claire2
Claire

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Elizabeth2
Elizabeth

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Erica2
Erica

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Holly2
Holly

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Jenn2
Jenn

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Jenna2
Jenna

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Jinelle2
Jinelle

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Lacey2
Lacey

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Melissa2
Melissa

2015 DCC calendar cover vote_Robin2
Robin

Behind the scenes of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader auditions

Dancers wait to enter the field before the 2016 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders final auditions held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas Saturday May 21, 2016. 11th season of CMT's "Making the Team" was being filmed during the auditions. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)
Dancers wait to enter the field before the 2016 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders final auditions held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas Saturday May 21, 2016. 11th season of CMT’s “Making the Team” was being filmed during the auditions. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)

Michael Hamtil/Photo Editor
Dallas Morning News
May 21, 2016

On the field, at games, and at auditions, we often see photos of the game faces and poses of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders — the ‘peak action’ they are so good at and are paid to do.

Shooting it is what we call fish in a barrel. The hair, the legs, the smiles, the bods, the moves … they are so perfect, polished and well-executed all the time that there’s usually little variation in the expected images, despite the ever-changing cast of cheerleaders.

Tryouts are another story. They offer a small glimpse of what is happening off the stage and because it’s more uncommon that is what interests me more. Not to be trite, but the best photojournalism is often about showing us more than we already know. Yes, really good photos of the commonplace are always fun to look at and any photos of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders will always be super popular with their fans. But to journalists, getting past the surface is our real challenge. Many readers will always want to know as much as they can about the cheerleaders, and would eat it up if we were able to visually:

• follow a cheerleader through a full game day
• be with someone when they got the news of making the team
• show how much the cheerleaders do all week to prepare and stay in shape
• show what other jobs some of the cheerleaders do when they aren’t cheerleading
• do videos or portraits and interviews where the cheerleaders explain why they want so badly to do this job

Andy Jacobsohn had a chance to shoot cheerleader auditions today and he turned in an array of photos covering both performance action and context.

Here are some of his peak action images, and some that begin to touch on the unexpected. [Photo Gallery]

Patriots cheerleader competes in Miss USA

Jessica Strohm Miss NH_1

By Angelique Fiske
Patriots.com
May 24, 2016

The offseason is a busy time for Patriots cheerleaders, but it’s even crazier for Cheerleader Jessica. After being crowned Miss New Hampshire in November, Jessica is set to compete in the Miss USA pageant beginning June 5.
Read

Jessica is in her second season with the Patriots cheerleading squad, and though she just began competing in pageants four years ago, she is ready to represent New Hampshire on the national stage.
Read

“New Hampshire has never won Miss USA, so I am there to make history,” Jessica said. “We haven’t placed in a very long time, and I’m ready to bring it home. I think New Hampshire has a lot more than people may think.”
Read

This history has not hindered Jessica. In fact, she has consistently pushed back and fought to achieve the goals she has set for herself.

Jessica Strohm Miss NH_2

“I really pride myself on three words: drive, dedication and determination. This plays true with the Patriots. I tried out four times before I made the squad. I push through to get what I want,” she said. “My parents will say I’m a stubborn girl and I push to get what I want … Anything can happen as long as you stay driven and focused to believe you can get what you want. It’s still surreal that I’m going, but it’s an incredible journey that my friends, family and cheer sisters are going on with me.”
Read

Her family with the New England Patriots, she said, has been crucial to her preparation for Miss USA. Jessica said she has received nothing but support and motivation from her fellow cheerleaders, Cheerleader Director Tracy Sormanti and the organization as a whole.
Read

“The Patriots and the Kraft organization have been so supportive. Tracy is one my biggest cheerleaders. Sometimes people think girls are catty and jealous,” Jessica said. “I can tell you, my cheerleader sisterhood is so supportive. I wouldn’t be as confident as I am without them.”
Read

Jessica said she has been tackling the mental part of the competition by getting in mindset that she has already won the crown.
Read

“I feel like I’m Miss USA already. For the past couple of months, I’ve presented myself as if I were Miss USA,” she said. “You have to believe it, believe in yourself and believe things are possible in order for them to happen. I’m confident but not overly confident. I’ve worked hard for this.”
Read

The Miss USA competition airs on Fox on June 5 at 7 p.m.

Dolphins cheerleader Jennifer Chang defies odds to walk, dance

By Jim Varsallone
Miami Herald
May 20, 2016

Told by doctors as a youth that she would never walk again, a determined and inspirational Jennifer Chang not only walks but dances and cheers, making the world-renowned Miami Dolphins cheerleading team.

It’s been some journey for the talented young lady.

She and her family (mom, dad, sister) defected from Cuba to Miami 11 years ago. They stayed with her uncle in Palmetto Bay. Assimilating to their new country, she learned a new language while learning to walk again.

Jennifer and her family overcame plenty, sticking together and supporting each other. During the final auditions for the Dolphins cheerleaders on Sunday, May 1, they proudly watched Jennifer make the team.

Final auditions for the 2016 version of the Dolphins cheerleaders were at the Miniaci Theater at Nova Southeastern University in (South Florida) Davie. The practice/training facility for the Dolphins’ football team is across the way.

Residing in Kendall and studying to be a nurse, Jennifer, 20, is a graduate of Palmetto Sr. High School and Miami Dade College.

Of 70 beautiful finalists, she was one of 40 selected for the team. They will attend the Dolphins Cheerleading Training Camp. There are no mandatory cuts at training camp, but if a team member does not attend or can not pick up the cheers/dances, she can be cut.

Twenty of the 70 who qualified for the finals were from other countries. The Dolphins became the first NFL team (and pro sports team) to host auditions internationally, traveling to Bogota, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Mexico City, Mexico; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Eleven of the final 40 chosen were from the international auditions.

Dolphins cheerleading summary

The Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders at the Miniaci Theater at Nova Southeastern University selected 40 lovely and talented women to advance as Training Camp Candidates. These ladies will participate in a seven-week boot camp that consists of workouts, etiquette training, team building, uniform fittings, look development and performance training. Cuts are not mandatory but are possible during training camp.

The 40 were selected from the largest turnout for Miami Dolphins Cheerleader Auditions.

More than 800 ladies registered to be the next Miami Dolphins Cheerleader, as the organization became the first NFL team (and pro sports team) to host auditions internationally, searching for enthusiastic, charismatic and talented women in Bogota, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Mexico City, Mexico; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and South Florida to represent one of the most prestigious teams in the NFL.

Respected talent

Jessica and Monica are two women with Miami roots who are firmly planted within the Miami Dolphins Cheerleading infrastructure.

Jessica was chosen for the squad on May 1 for the fifth consecutive year and Monica heard her named called for the fourth time.

Nothing is given. They again earned it.

Just because you were a member of the team the previous year does not automatically grant you a spot for next season’s team. There are no multi-year or guaranteed contacts with NFL cheerleaders. If you want to remain a member of the team, you have to tryout and show well.

Jessica and Monica did just that.

Jessica, a graduate of Ronald Reagan High School in Doral, is a college student.

Monica, a Braddock High School graduate, is a long-time cheerleader. Starting with the Tamiami Colts youth cheer program, she also cheered for Beckham Elementary School, W.R. Thomas Middle School and Braddock. She joined Heidi & Joe’s Dance Center, specializing in hip hop, jazz and tap. A flyer on the cheer team, she took gymnastics as well.

Very beautiful, Monica twice graced the cover of the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders Swimsuit Calendar. Her mom, Lily, who cheered from the crowd for her at the audition finals on May 1, is very proud.

2016 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Training Camp *SPOILER ALERT*

Final auditions for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders took place yesterday. And if you don’t want to know any more about what happens before the CMT reality show airs in a couple of months STOP READING NOW NOW NOW.

Look away, scroll down, close the tab, do whatever you have to do to preserve the mystery for yourself.

DCC 2016 Training Camp Group_names

For those of you still with me, this is how it broke down. There were 34 Cheerleaders on last year’s team. Ten retired and one left the team before the end of her contract. The remaining 23 veterans competed in finals this year, joining 48 rookie candidates, for a total of 71 ladies in contention for a spot in training camp.

In the morning, the dancers did solo talent presentations for the judges. In the afternoon, they performed the choreographed dance and kickline they learned for semifinals. Finals are always grueling for the DCC, and at the end of a looooooooong day, 47 women were invited to training camp. That includes 21 veterans (unfortunately two were not invited back) and 26 aspiring rookies.

Veteran and rookie candidate photos are below. For the rookies, I included information on their experience on other pro or semi-pro teams and how many times they’ve been to the DCC rodeo. As always, additions and edits are welcome.

DCC 2016 Training Camp - VetsDCC 2016 Training Camp - Rookies v3.0

Vote for your favorite Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Rookie Candidates

Preliminary auditions for the 2016-17 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders took place last weekend. The field has been narrowed down to 48 dancers who will join 23 members of last year’s team to complete for spots on this season’s team. Among their ranks are finalists and training camp candidates from previous years, alumni of numerous other NFL, NBA, NHL, and other pro and semi-pro teams, and one veteran who was a DCC back in 2011 and is determined to make a comeback.

As in past years, the Cowboys have opened it up for fans to vote for their favorite aspiring rookies. They haven’t stated it explicitly (probably because they aren’t advertising the vote yet) but I assume the dancer who gets the most votes will automatically win a spot in 2016 DCC training camp. Click here to watch each dancer perform the audition choreography and cast your vote for your top ten. (Or click here for the mobile version.) You can also use this link to watch the videos (it’s an easier way to view one right after another.)

2016 DCC Finalists

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders 2016 preliminary auditions

HighKick

By Jay Betsill
Special to DFW.com
May 16, 2016

Mini Gallery/Highlights (32 photos)
Pics: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Auditions – Day 1 (It says 456 Photos, but it’s only about 250 with many duplicates)
Pics: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Auditions – Day 2 (228 Photos)

ARLINGTON — With the cameras rolling for the 11th season of CMT’s Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, the legendary Phil Whitfield welcomed over 500 ladies who were following their dream to be a member of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at the preliminary auditions at AT&T Stadium.

Rather than the traditional lineup in the $1.2 billion stadium’s plaza, the rain forced the DCC to improvise and move all of the hopefuls inside the stadium for check-in.

Checkin

Once inside, the ladies recovered from being out in the rain and prepped to look their best in the ‘Fluff & Puff’ area before heading down to the field for the welcome address from DCC Director Kelli Finglass.

While attempting to ease the anxiety and nerves of the ladies in attendance, Finglass went over the process for the first day and down the line through semi-finals, finals and training camp on the path to naming this year’s Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Kelli Finglass2

“Today’s preliminary round is about you getting noticed and being memorable,” Finglass told the attentive group of ladies who were on the edge of their seats overlooking the touchdown deck. “Today is not a day of technical dancing or where we will teach you a combination and you have to execute it immediately. You want 16 judges to think ‘wow, she’s fun to watch.'”

Back upstairs on the stadium’s main concourse level, the 16 judges included DCC choreographer Judy Trammell, Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President Charlotte Jones Anderson, the Official Trainer of the DCC Jay Johnson, DallasCowboys.com’s Mickey Spagnola, Meredith Land from NBC 5 and Candice Romo, wife of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Judges15

The preliminary round offers each of the ladies 90 seconds of freestyle to impress the judges and stand out among the crowd all while knowing that there will be only 10 advancing to semi-finals and eventually 45 ladies invited to DCC training camp.

“To get ready for this process, I reached out to Erica, who is currently a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and who I know from our time at LSU,” said Cersten, a DCC hopeful who is from Euless. “She was very helpful in giving me guidelines of what I needed to work on and what I needed to expect.

“Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders has always been my ultimate goal since I was a kid,” she continued. “I started dancing at age 6, did the junior DCC and fell in love with the feeling of being able to perform for an entire stadium. That is something I have been chasing ever since. It has always been a dream and today as I drove to stadium and saw it in the distance, it became a reality.”

1996 Jennifer MosleyOn the opposite end of the spectrum was Jennifer Mosley. She has actually worn the iconic DCC uniform for two seasons, in 1996 and 97, when the Cowboys played at Texas Stadium.

“I loved everything about being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader,” she said. “I loved the rehearsals, I loved the roar of the crowd and the dedication that went into the whole process. Once I got my bearings on how it all worked, every day was exciting.

“My time as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, especially my first year was so great that I still dream about it,” she continued. “That’s what brought me back today, it’s exactly 20 years from when I auditioned for the first time and made the team.”

And what is the biggest difference between auditioning in the 90s and today?

“The process is very similar. Back then, we were in the Stadium Club at Texas Stadium overlooking the field, where now this stadium is very different and, of course, the TV show cameras were not around then,” she said. “I’d say the biggest difference being here at AT&T Stadium is there is more glitz and glamor now. There was a lot then, but there is a ton now. Being 39, I just wanted to be a part of it all again, if only for a day or a weekend and I am proud of myself for doing it.”

When Saturday came to a close, the numbers were unveiled to let those know who would be advancing to semi-finals the next morning. While 104 ladies were celebrating being a step closer to their, others fought back tears and faced the sudden reality that either this was not their time or that their dreams were coming to an end.

For further information, visit dallascowboyscheerleaders.com

Victoria native achieves dream, becomes NFL cheerleader

2016 HTC Finalist_Lauren ChapmanBy Jon Wilcox
Victoria Advocate
May 12, 2016

A lifetime of dreaming was fulfilled when the Houston Texans told Victoria native Lauren Chapman she had made the cheerleading squad.

“You want it so bad because you’ve worked for months,” said Chapman, 24. “It’s right there. You’re just praying they call your name.”

Her prayers were answered April 25 at a Houston practice field during a ceremony when the names of those who made the final cut were announced.

From a group of more than 850 initial applicants, only 35 were called to step forward and accept their pair of Houston Texans pompoms along with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as an NFL cheerleader.

Although Chapman’s mother, Tami Hurley, watched the livestreamed ceremony with anxiety at her home computer in Victoria, she said she wasn’t completely surprised when her daughter made the cut.

After all, Chapman has performed for audiences since the age of 3, Hurley said.

“I was always dancing,” the daughter said.

Coincidentally, some of her first routines were set to the theme song from the television show “Cheers,” which her family watched during supper.

“If we were in the middle of the meal or about to eat, she would hear the theme music, and she would run over to the front of the TV,” the mother said.

After dancing steps written in her own imagination, the 3-year-old Chapman would end her routines by holding a pose to delighted applause from her family, Hurley said.

“And then the world could go on back to what it was doing,” she said.

After more than two decades of dancing, Chapman has moved on to larger audiences. But, still, the feeling is the same – only more profound, the cheerleader said.

Although she has yet to take the field at NRG Stadium, Chapman has significant experience at the college level, dancing in front of thousands of ecstatic football fans.

Lauren Chapman“It’s a whole new level of dance,” she said.

The Victoria native has performed for St. Joseph High School, Kilgore College and Baylor University. She even danced once at the Cotton Bowl.

Remembering that experience in Dallas, Chapman said she was transformed by the energy in the packed bowl stadium.

“It’s insane,” she said. “It takes over your whole body.”

But new responsibilities come with the opportunities – keeping her body in pristine condition, for one.

Hurley said her daughter works out at least once and often twice each day to meet the demands of the rigorous routines she performs.

“She’s got abs of steel,” Hurley said.

Chapman’s physical prowess was not easily earned, Hurley said.

The dance routines the cheerleader rehearses are wholly on a different level from those tried by amateurs, her mother said.

“It’s not just like a little Zumba,” Hurley said. “She’s working every muscle. She’s leaping.”

Hurley said her daughter can easily clear 5 feet vertically.

“Her legs will be straight out, pointed,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

And as a Houston Texans cheerleader, Chapman is more than a top-notch athlete and pretty face. As per the terms of her agreement with the football team, she is required to hold a job outside of her cheering career.

Having received a degree in history and education from the University of Texas at Arlington, she is now seeking a career as a history teacher. The professional cheerleader already has gained experience working as a substitute teacher in Arlington.

“It’s been pretty exhausting,” she said.

Despite the strain, Chapman said she considers the Texans’ job requirement a privilege rather than a curse.

“A lot of fans like to interact,” she said. “Every day, there’s someone reaching out to me.”

For Chapman, teaching is just one more chance to connect with fans and the Houston community.

“You’re not just a fantasy on the field,” she said. “That’s what really drew me to the Houston Texans, that connection with the fans.”