Los Gatos women on Raiderettes squad visit the troops in Iraq and Kuwait

By Marianne L. Hamilton
Los Gatos Weekly-Times
03/02/2009

When Meena Shams and Ariel Ogilvie make public appearances, they’re almost always in uniform. As members of the Raiderettes, cheerleading squad for the Oakland Raiders, the Los Gatos residents are typically decked out in their familiar silver and black costumes.

Recently, though, the pair found themselves attired in bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets. But to the soldiers they were visiting at military bases in Iraq and Kuwait, it was just business as usual.

On Jan. 28, Shams and Ogilvie — accompanied by fellow cheerleader Jovann Canada from Pleasanton — boarded a plane for Kuwait. The three were chosen to represent the squad by Raiderettes director Karen Kovac, who felt the trio brought a unique set of talents and life experiences to the task.

“Going on these trips is a huge honor, and the slots are highly coveted,” Kovac says. “Meena and Jovann are line captains, and have been with us for several seasons. They have plenty of experience with being in charge, being dropped into different situations at various events, and having to figure it out. They’re both very adaptable and knowledgeable.”

Ogilvie’s impending marriage to Marine 1st Lt. Mike Lamb also carried weight in the decision-making process, Kovac adds. “Having gone through tours to Bosnia and Kosovo myself, I knew that these types of trips really open your eyes in wonderful ways. I imagined this shared experience would help tie Ariel and Mike together. Also, being able to tell the soldiers in Iraq that her fiancÂŽ was in the Marines would be a nice connection.”

The Raiders organization has had a lengthy history of supporting the military. Kovac often sends members of the cheerleading team to disabled veterans’ events and to VA hospitals throughout the state, and the football team regularly hosts active and retired military on the sidelines at games. Just prior to the Iraq trip, Shams joined four other Raiderettes at Camp Pendleton, where they performed for 1,000 soldiers about to be deployed to the Middle East.

“We all get hooked on these events,” Kovac says. “Once you do something with the service personnel, you just want to do more.”

This year’s Iraq tour was orchestrated by the marketing firm Pro Sports MVP, which stages promotional programs and events featuring entertainment and sports celebrities. Along with the Raiderettes, members of several NFL teams made the journey to Iraq. For nine days, the players and cheerleaders toured bases and points of interest in the Middle Eastern war zone, doing a number of meet-and-greets and participating in several special events. Shams says their reception was enthusiastic, from the highest-ranking brass on down.

“We met with Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, who’s in charge of the 4th Infantry Division in Baghdad; he reports directly to Gen. Petraeus, and was appointed by the President. He took the time to thank us for coming,” Shams notes.

Odierno also presented each visitor with a special commemorative coin, a fact that Shams says will come in handy should she ever happen to share an adult beverage with a member of the military. “The custom is that if someone pulls out a coin and challenges you, and you don’t have a coin or theirs outranks yours, you have to buy everyone a round,” explains Shams. “But if yours outranks theirs, they have to buy a round. I think each of us now has a coin that outranks 99 percent of all coins.”

Shams adds that it was a heady experience to leaf through the guest book the cheerleaders were asked to sign in Basra. Following tea with Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon, commander of British forces in the city, she and Ogilvie inscribed their signatures in the book. “Then we turned the page back and saw that [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown had just signed. That was definitely one of the highlights of the tour,” says Shams.

The Los Gatans’ arrival “in-country” coincided with Iraq’s recent elections. Though the event went off peacefully, the Raiderettes’ military escort opted to keep them out of the way of any potential unrest.

“After we landed in Kuwait, we stayed at Camp Arifjan for three days during the election,” Shams says. “From then on, our itinerary was sort of decided upon on a daily basis.”

That schedule included daily meals and many hours spent chatting with the troops about their experiences. Shams and Ogilvie also took part in a re-enlistment ceremony, holding the American flag while military personnel signed on for additional tours of duty. Traveling between bases, their modes of transportation included Blackhawk and Apache helicopters, as well as a C-130 transport plane. They also went for a spin in an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protection) vehicle, which is designed to survive roadside bombs.

Super Bowl Sunday found the Raiderettes watching the game with the men and women in uniform in Kuwait. Given the time difference, the game’s live telecast presented some logistical challenges. “We slept until 10 p.m., then got dressed and went out to the base,” says Shams. “The game started at 2 a.m. Kuwait time; it was over about 6:30, then we had breakfast and caught a helicopter for Camp Bucca in Iraq … and we were up until 10 p.m. that night. We were pretty exhausted. But the excitement of being on the trip, and knowing we were there to increase the soldiers’ morale, really kept us going.”

Once at Camp Bucca, where the cheerleaders were outfitted with the protective vests and helmets, Ogilvie says she was surprised at the friendliness of the environment. Located on the Iraq-Kuwait border, the facility serves as a prison for some 18,000 military detainees.

“It’s a very simple setting, but it’s very intimate,” says Ogilvie. “The group that took us around was very close-knit; we could tell by how they interacted with each other. We got a great feeling from them and really bonded with them. I actually cried when we flew away.”

Out of respect for the conventions of Middle Eastern culture, Shams and her colleagues left their regular cheerleading costumes at home. “We dressed very conservatively the whole time we were there, mostly in jeans,” Ogilvie says. “We also wore long-sleeved under-armor shirts, and T-shirts provided by Pro MVP.”

Despite the presence of uniformed troops — both American and Iraqi — carrying weapons of various descriptions, neither Ogilvie nor Shams say they felt afraid. Both were happy to entrust their safety to their escorts, and report that they were protected quite rigorously. Still, there were a few instances that reminded the pair that they weren’t exactly in Kansas anymore.

“At one point I felt a little jittery: We were out on the Green Zone, in an area that’s run by the Iraqi military, and we were swarmed by their troops,” Ogilvie says. “Another time we were staying in a hotel in Baghdad, right across from Saddam Hussein’s Al Faw Palace. I sat in a chair that was given to him by [late Palestinian President] Yasser Arafat. I definitely got a creepy feeling, being around things that used to belong to Hussein. But our escorts knew the best ways to keep us safe, and we basically did what they told us to do and we were fine.”

What led the Los Gatans to trade comfort zone for war zone? Says Ogilvie, a Los Gatos native and graduate of Los Gatos High School: “We’re in this beautiful`bubble’ in this town. I wanted to have a more authentic idea of what the world is like. When we got there, the military really took the time to educate us about their mission, they gave us the history of the bases, and helped us to understand why they’re there. I feel like I have a much clearer idea of what’s going on now.”

Adds Shams, “The soldiers were so appreciative of us taking the time to visit them. A lot of the time they think that no one remembers they’re there.”

Given their cover-girl looks and figures (not to mention the outfits they wear on game day), it would be far too simple to dismiss “Football’s Fabulous Females” as stereotypically vapid vessels. Not so fast: Shams, a graduate of Murray State University in her home state of Kentucky, is a sales and marketing executive for a line of skin-care products and antioxidant supplements, is a former member of the Northern California Women’s Hockey League and is active in several organizations dedicated to fighting breast cancer. Her personal life is active as well, as wife to Saratoga native and Sereno Group sales executive Ryan Iwanaga and stepmom to Iwanaga’s 11-year-daughter.

Ogilvie, a graduate of UC-Santa Barbara, where she was on the dean’s list, is pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at Argosy University in San Francisco. After earning her Ph.D., Ogilvie hopes to work with underserved children in the Bay Area. For the near term she’ll be enjoying some welcome time with her future husband: After 12 years with the Marines and several tours of duty throughout the Middle East, including Afghanistan and Kosovo, Lamb will receive a medical discharge next month.

The cheerleaders’ achievements come as little surprise to Kovac, who herself holds a master’s degree in international business. As the Raiderettes’ chief choreographer for the past 13 years, and having served as the squad’s director since 2004, Kovac is never satisfied with merely adding another pretty face to the lineup.

“When a young woman auditions, which everyone has to do every year — even those who are currently on the squad — I look carefully at every application,” says Kovac. “I insist that a Raiderette must either be in school full time or hold down a full-time job. A few are moms, and if they’re doing that, more power to them. I want everyone to be fully engaged in some way, because they have to be strong role models for youths.

“Anyone can put on makeup and do their hair. What’s important is what’s on the inside.”

While they consider where their travels will lead them next, Shams and Ogilvie will both be taking part in the Raiderettes’ April 19 tryouts. Shams says the process is stressful for Iwanaga each season.

“He’ll call me on the day we’re supposed to hear whether we made it or not, and tell me that he’s pacing up and down and can’t focus,” Shams laughs. “He’s a huge football fan, and he also knows how hard I’ve worked to get here. I didn’t make it onto the team until my third try.”

Ogilvie, who says she rarely feels fear, admits that the process of auditioning is always daunting. But if she were asked to retire her pom-poms after this season, it appears that the Sunday afternoon lineup wouldn’t be the biggest thing she’d miss.

“It’s definitely cool being a cheerleader, because you have opportunities to travel and do things you’d never do otherwise,” she says. “But having the chance to support our troops was really an incredible experience.”

Raiderette auditions will be held April 19 at Club One in Oakland. Interested candidates can visit www.raiders.com/Raiderettes.

PCB Field Trip: ChivaGirl Preliminary Auditions

ChivaGirl auditions started on Sunday Feb 15th at the Home Depot Center in Carson, which is a bit south of Los Angeles. I took tons of photos for you all so you can see how the process went. If you haven’t had a chance to look at them, you can do that right here




I was so excited to be invited because I was really really really looking forward to it. I love going to auditions. LOVE it.

(I’d love it even more if there were no cuts, but alas, that is the nature of the beast…)

One thing about auditions is they are crazy repetitive, but that’s actually one of the best things about the process. It’s a great opportunity to see new choreography, to see what the dancers are made of, to see familiar faces from other auditions and see how they’ve progressed, to see which dancers rise to the top of the pack, and of course it gives me a chance to work on my photography skills (such as they are).

I was particularly excited for these auditions because firstly, I (heart) the ChivaGirls and their director Aimee Edmundson. Secondly, I was hoping that Mr. John Peters would do the choreography, because Mr. John Peters is super-cool. And thirdly, the auditions were scheduled to take place in a building called the Velodrome. What’s a velodrome? Heck if I knew, but once I became aware of its existence, I was compelled to know what goes on inside.

Velodrome…It sounds like a place where mysterious and exciting things happen. As in “Welcome to the Velodrome, where cheerful elves make fairy dust out of rainbows and happy thoughts!”

On the other hand, the Velodrome could also be a place where dark, sinister things happen. Dancers check in, but they don’t check out. As in “Welcome to the Velodrome. Abandon all hope ye who enter here. (Kindly ignore the screams from the basement)”

Continued…

So on Sunday morning, I motored over to the Home Depot Center campus. There are several different venues on the premises, but some helpful person had posted arrows to guide cars in the right direction. When I got there, the nervous-looking girls standing around in track suits were also a good indication that I was in the right place.

I was heading inside, when veteran ChivaGirl Alana, drove into the lot.

When you see a veteran first thing in the morning on audition day, it is NEVER good news.

Alana, it seems, is planning to study abroad this year. And since you can’t be a ChivaGirl whilst living in another country, she is “taking a year off.” WhatEVER. That is no different from when your boyfriend says he wants to “take a break.” Shyeah. You know you’re never gonna see that dude again. We all know what happened when Ross and Rachel took a “break.”

I went inside and woohoo! Harris sister spotting! I love me some Harris sisters. But then, I looked a little farther down the table, and there’s Linette, another ChivaGirl veteran. That did not bode well.

On the one hand, she was wearing dance clothes. On the other hand, she was standing BEHIND the table. Linette retiring too? I told her this was completely unacceptable. She gave me the big old twinkly Linette smile with the dimples and everything. Like that was going to make it ok. I told her to talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listenin’.

So now I was in a MOOD. Because now I had to do a headcount and figure out who all else was flaking out on me.

Yeah, I take it personal when people retire on me. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: you veterans really need to tell me ahead of time if you’re not going to re-audition. You can’t just spring it on me. I’m a very sensitive person and I find this kind of surprise very upsetting. (Clippers Girls, this goes for you too especially. Consider yourselves warned.)

Thankfully, I didn’t see anymore veterans, so I opened the double doors and got my first look at…


The Velodrome

(Imagine the NFL theme music playing in the background.
Wrong sport, but whatever)

The Velodrome is a place where people in spandex, who take biking very seriously, go around and around and around in circles. It’s a big oval track that curves up in some places like the walls in a skate park. Picture a big wooden bowl with twisty sides and a flat bottom.

Random thought: I’ve never been to a roller derby, but this looked like a place where a roller derby might go down. That could be interesting.

You enter the Velodrome at the top, and step downward through the stands to the track. Barriers are in place to keep rowdy fans from jumping down on the track. Another set of barriers separate the track from the floor at the bottom. (I guess those barriers are meant to keep rowdy cyclists from jumping down on the floor…?)

The ChivaGirls audition would of course take place down on the floor. Duh. But there didn’t seem to be a direct path to get down there. This looked to be a serious problem. I was prepared to jump over the barrier if I had to, but that seemed a little extreme.

Then I heard someone call my name and saw my girl Kelley waving from the floor. She then explained to me that – get this – in order to get down there where she was, I’d have to walk down the hall and go through a secret door the ladies room.

THROUGH the ladies room, you say?

Riiiiight. That doesn’t sound shady at all.

I thought we were friends, Kelley, but you know what? You can talk to the hand too. I’ll find my own way down there.

Turns out I owe Kelley an apology for all the uncomplimentary things I said about her under my breath. She was right. You do have to go into the little girls room, where there’s a door that leads to a set of stairs. Those stairs end at another door that takes you outside of the building. Then you have to go along the sidewalk to another door, where you go back inside the building and down another set of stairs, and then up a little ramp and out onto the floor.

I’m not saying the person who designed this building was high at the time. I’m just saying that I do not understand the thought process behind it at all.

If nothing else, the design is horribly inefficient.

Down on the floor, the judges were chatting, and many of the aspiring ChivaGirls were warming up. The veterans were there, which I wasn’t expecting. I eyeballed them and came out with 9 veterans re-auditioning for a team of 17 to 20 dancers. If I were a newbie, I’d consider those pretty good odds.

Best part – two former Clippers girls were auditioning, Tiffany and Laura. Yesss! The two teams I (heart) most are ChivaGirls and Clippers Spirit. When they overlap, it makes me happy. Especially since Laura was one of the girls, and she was, is, and will always be, a freakin’ rock star.



Laura and Tiffany

Meanwhile, I had to find Aimee right away, because I had a little gift for her.

Sidebar: At some point during my formative years, I can’t remember exactly when – somebody, somewhere produced an obscure made-for-tv movie about the Laker Girls. All I remembered was that Tina Yothers was in it and she could not dance at all. Like, not even a little bit. And there was another girl who auditioned who was supposed to be a ballet dancer and she couldn’t dance either. Ballet or otherwise.

Anyway, at a Chivas USA Game last summer, I’d mentioned the movie to Aimee, and she’d revealed that she not only knew about the movie, she was in it.

She was IN the movie.
With Tina Yothers.
And the ballet chick.
Wearing MC Hammer pants.

We were in the ChivaGirls locker room at the time, and Ashley, one of the ChivaGirls, overheard our conversation. Ashley had recently been selected to the 2008-09 Laker Girls, so when she heard us discussing the Laker Girls, her ears perked up. (Not literally, of course). Ashley had never heard of the Laker Girls movie.

Ohmigawd, I had to fix that situation right away.

That night, I went home and scoured the internet for that movie. I really wanted to see Aimee doing the running man in purple and gold harem pants. I also thought it would be educational for Ashley to learn a little about the history of her new team. (I can’t believe they don’t sit all the Laker Girls down and force them to watch this movie as part of their initiation.)

I didn’t find anything on youtube or any of the other video sites, but shockingly, I DID find it on DVD on Amazon. It was only $6 y’all! I immediately ordered three copies. One for Aimee, one for Ashley, and one for myself. (You can get one right here.)

You have GOT to see this movie. It is so awesomely bad. Tina Yothers starts out as a rollerskating carhop somewhere in the Midwest. From there it just gets better and better.

All the major themes for cinematic excellence are represented here. A hero. A villain. Sibling rivalry. Adventure. Dance. Glamour. Romance. Ambition. Deceipt. Forgiveness. Fame and fortune. What it lacks in explosions and high speed chase scenes, it makes up for in big hair and belted leotards.

I could not wait to give the DVD to Aimee, so when I found her I presented it with a flourish. As if I’d done something extremely clever.

Mr. John Peters came over while I was talking to Aimee. Mr. John Peters is THE MAN when it comes to this type of choreography. Nobody can touch him. He knows right where the line is with this kind of dance. Big, but not too big. Sassy, but not trashy. Cute but not cutsie. The man knows the value of a well-placed kick or turn.



So he came over, cool hair and all, and revealed a deep dark secret: Not only was Aimee in the Laker Girl movie, but she was also in the movie Teen Witch.

Shut. Up. Teen Witch???

This is totally off-topic, but I have to reminisce for a moment. You HAVE seen Teen Witch, right? Not “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” I’m talking about the original, the first, the OG movie. Dorky girl finds out she’s a witch and uses her magical powers to transform herself into the most popular girl in school and snag the hunky captain of the football team.

That’s not even the best thing about this movie. The best thing is ….

…wait for it…

….it is a MUSICAL. Featured songs include “I like boys” and “I’m gonna be the most popular girl.”

“I like boys” features the cool girls who rule the school dancing around in the girls locker room. The lyrics go something like this: “I’m turning in my teddy bear for a leather mini skirt because I. LIKE. BOYS.”




There is also a rap number.

So. Awesome.

I have a whoooole new level of respect for Aimee. And for Mr. John Peters, who actually sang part of the chorus for me.

(I don’t know why I call him Mr. John Peters. I just do. I’m sure his pals call him John, or Peters, or Johnny P., or something.)

Still reeling after that revelation, I trotted off to get my camera stuff together. I was skipping along happily, when WHAM! Next thing I know, I’m on the floor. Had I been paying attention, I might have noticed the five-inch drop from the wooden layer to the concrete floor beneath it.

I landed on my hands and knees, which you might think is no big deal, except it made a really loud noise when my palms slapped down on the wooden floor. THWAP! So of course Aimee and Mr. John Peters, and God knows who else turned around, and I’m trying to jump up like “I’m okay, I’m okay, nothing to see here folks.” Only I can’t jump right up because my ankle kind of hurts, and the only thing worse than falling in the first place, is trying to get up and then falling again.



A sign would’ve been helpful.

I don’t know how it did it, but I managed to get up, all casual-like, and stroll over to a seat, where I took a few minutes to break into a nervous sweat, calm down, cool down, and evaluate myself for broken body parts.

All of my limbs were intact, so it was time to get to work. First order of business: get photos of all the dancers before the auditions. This has always been the hardest part for me, walking up to a total stranger like “hey, what’s up, can I take a picture?” So here’s how I handled it: I’d mosey on up to a group of girls and ask if any of them saw me fall on my face just now.




After that, it was time to start the auditions. Aimee welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming, and then Mr. John Peters began teaching the choreography. He had some helpers to assist him in demonstrating the dance: Linette, of course. Summer from the Charger Girls, and Laker Girls Jeri-Faye and Nicole.

FYI: there were Laker Girls, past and present, throughout this whole ChivaGirls experience. It was a bit shocking, as I have been scheming to ingratiate myself with the Laker Girls for several years now – with zero progress. But I will not give up. Some of my Clippers girls and ChivaGirls are over there, and I demand to know what they’re up to.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m obsessed with the Laker Girls, it just that the harder they make it for me, the more determined I am to infiltrate the entire organization. Um…on second thought, I probably shouldn’t be writing this in a public forum.

My point, anyway, is that this pro dance stuff is a small world. I’m starting to see a lot of familiar faces.

By the way, I’ve decided that I would also like to have a hyphenated name. Sasha-Faye? Sasha-Lee? Sasha-Lynn, maybe? Perhaps I’ll change my name to Sasha-Lynn and pursue a career in country music.



Jeri-Faye and Nicole.
FYI: Jeri-Faye was a ChivaGirl in 2007


Summer

Wow, do I know how to veer off topic, or what?
Back to the ChivaGirls audition…

While the teaching and learning was going on, I circled around to find the best angle for photos. See, the first thing you gotta do in this situation is figure out which way everyone will be facing for the money shots – the kicks, the leaps, the moments in the dance when they slow down for half a second. There were 2 or 3 professional photographers there, so I tried to watch and imitate.

For a while, I sat on the floor in front of the judges table, but then I noticed a short set of stairs leading up to a small platform above the judges. A couple of the photographers were up there and I thought to myself “hmmm…this looks promising.” So up I went. It was a good spot for capturing the action. (In a minute, you’ll understand why this is relevant.)

The music was a song called “Krazy” by Pitbull (feat. Lil Jon). I hadn’t heard this song before. It goes like this: “…(la la la la) KRAZY, (la la la la ) Krazy, (la la la la) Krazy.” (The “la la la’s” being the part I didn’t know.) I’m pretty sure one of the lines is “Yo mama, she gets Krazy.” Here’s a link, so’s you can hear the song.

One of the things that makes Mr. John Peters fun is the way he teaches. The way he describes everything not only makes it easier to do, but also easier to remember. There’s the “karate,” the “kick the cat,” (I forgive you Mr. John Peters for being a cat hater,) the “hand on the shelf,” the “single hootchie,” the “double hootchie,” and my favorite, the “Disney.” He had to help some of the girls figure out the vibe of the dance. It wasn’t supposed to be all “pretty pretty princess,” you know? But don’t go too far in the other direction – this isn’t a 50 Cent video. This is a dance team, ok? It’s family entertainment, not the nudie bar.

Not that I know what goes on at the nudie bar.




They were about halfway through the choreography when I managed to make a jackass of myself all over again. Only this time it wasn’t just a few people who saw me. Everyone saw me. EVERYONE. I am not exaggerating in any way, shape, or form. I actually hid afterward.

Remember that I mentioned I was sitting up on the platform behind the judges? Everything was fine – until I decided to get up. Somehow, in the process of standing up, I managed to crack my head on a metal sign attached to nearby pole.

It is very important to me that you understand that this sign was attached to a free-standing metal stand. I don’t just go around knocking into stationary objects. This sign had been moved to a place where I did not expect it to be. I’m not saying someone was out to get me. I’m just saying that thing was NOT there when I sat down.

I didn’t knock it over or fall on it or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking. No no, that would be too simple. Let me tell you about this sign. This sign had a bell on it. I’m not talking about cute little jingle bells, or sleigh bells, or door bells. I’m talking about a big “have you been to Philadelphia and seen the Liberty Bell?” kind of bell. I hit the sign, and the bell went “BONG.” It wasn’t a little “bong” either. It was an enormous “Hey everybody, stop what you’re doing and look at me!!!” BOOOOONG.


Why me, God?
Why me all the time?

Aimee looked up and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was working on a concussion, and she was like “geez, I can’t take you anywhere.”

One of the other photographers just looked at me and shook his head.



Stupid bleeping sign.

Oh well. It wasn’t the most embarrassing moment of my life, and it for sure won’t be the last.

I waited for everyone to go back to what they were doing, then gingerly made my way back down to the floor, where I stayed put and did not move one inch until Round One started. My head hurt. My ankle hurt, and my dignity was in tatters. I was thinking, Aimee’s going to make me sign a waiver before she lets me into finals. If she lets me into finals.

First my ankle and then my skull. Things tend to happen in threes, you know. I spent the rest of the day expecting an anvil to fall from the sky and flatten me like a pancake, Wile E. Coyote-style.

After teaching the combination, the DJ put the song on a continuous loop so the dancers could practice. I noticed that they all scooted off to one side, out of the judges’ direct line of vision.

I scurried over to my bag, pausing to warn the Harris sisters to be careful, as it was obvious the whole entire building was booby trapped.

The time between learning the choreography and the actual audition, is one of the most interesting parts of the day. This is the part when you look around and start picking your favorites. (You don’t discuss any of this with the judges of course.) Some girls sat down and looked rather relaxed. Some marked the choreography along with the music. A few danced full out.


Don’t forget, there are loads more photos right here


It warmed the cockles of my heart to see the veterans helping some of the other girls. I noticed Amy and Marie in particular, walking through the counts with a couple of girls who seemed unsure about the steps.

If Dr. Laura was here, she would point at Marie and Amy and say (in her grand Dr. Laura way) “those two are women of character!” (That’s a complement, by the way. Dr. Laura is sometimes right about things.)

Speaking of Marie, I forgot to mention one other thing. The ChivaGirls 2009 calendar has just been released. Marie made me remember, because she’s on the cover (with Alana and Jessica.)

That calendar came out gore-juss. I’ll tell you lots more about the calendar some other time, but I assure you, it’s a fine piece of work. I spotted a stack of calendars, helped myself to one, and took it around the room for everyone to oooh and ahhh with me.



(This crappy photo I took doesn’t do justice to the cover at all.)

I am awfully proud of that calendar, which makes no sense, since I had nothing to do with the making of it.

Meanwhile, this was a good time to check out the outfits. Most of the girls were wearing the standard bright-colored two-piece ensemble. There were a few notable exceptions, though. One girl was wearing a teeny yellow skirt, which was super cute. Another girl was wearing a sparkly bra-top under a black mesh top. A third girl was wearing silver hot pants and matching silver shoes.

Nothing says “confidence” like silver hot pants.

My favorite top was red with a bow in the middle and red paillettes all over. (Pailettes are big fancy sequins with the hole at the top instead of in the middle.)

(Why am I explaining this? There is not one person reading this, thinking “Wow, I always wondered what pailettes are, and now I know. Thanks Sasha!”)

The bow is what put it over the top for me. Not as cute in the photo as in real life, but still super cute, right?

I’ve seen this girl at a few different auditions now. I wish I knew her name, so I could be all “hey, there’s Cindy.” (Or whatever her name is.) Instead of “hey, there’s that blonde girl I’ve seen before.”




Right. So after some rehearsal, it was time to start the auditions. There they went, three at a time. It was not easy. They had to freestyle for a few counts and then jump right into the choreography at a place that wasn’t completely obvious. I thought they all did a good job, and a few really sparkled. It went really fast.

La la la la Krazy. La la la la Krazy. La la la la Krazy.

I found out later that Silver Hot Pants messed up the choreography and instead of freaking out, she did a couple back flips. I can’t believe I missed it. Let that be a lesson to all. If you screw up, it’s not about how bad you look, it’s about how well you recover. Seems to me like a pretty good way to get the judges’ attention – if you’re willing to risk it. The judges don’t remember her as “the girl who messed up.” They remember her as “the girl who did a back flip.” (And made it to finals, by the way.)

In silver hot pants.

After everyone had a turn to perform, there was a break for the judges to deliberate. (I try to tune out during that part. Otherwise, I might offer my advice at a time when nobody’s looking for it.)



Spying on the judges. Mwahahahaha…

I think this is when the bikers started to show up. Not “Hell’s Angels” bikers. Bicycle bikers. Going around and around, like there was nothing else going on in the room.



If I were a professional bike rider, I’d put some cool tassels on my handle bars.

It wasn’t too long before the judges announced the first cut. One of the girls I was particularly rooting for didn’t make it, leaving me with some very upset feelings, in addition to the throbbing in my ankle and the dent in the top of my head.

After the cut, we took a group photo of all the girls who made it to the next round.




Then it was time to learn the rest. Rather than teaching a different combination for the second round, Mr. John Peters added on to the choreography they’d already learned. The new stuff included a calypso leap, (anything with the word “calypso” in it is bound to be fun), and ended with a dramatic, Flashdancy kind of pose.


calypso!


The big finish


I can’t remember if the new stuff was longer than the old stuff. It seemed to take less time to learn it though. And then it was time for the second cut.



Each group of 3 performed the dance. After that, they were called up to the judges’ table to say their name and a little about their dance history.

The first few groups had to answer off the cuff. Later groups found out what the questions were, and had a moment or two to prepare. Unfair, I say!

Each girl was asked if she speaks Spanish. Woe unto to those who lied about it, though because then one of the judges would ask a couple of questions in Spanish. It wasn’t difficult stuff – what do you like to do in your free time, what’s your favorite food, where are your parents from, etc. But it was enough to tell a native speaker from a poser. There were no posers in the house though. Those who couldn’t speak Spanish admitted it, and several volunteered to purchase Rosetta Stone. That’s not to say that you have to speak Spanish to be a ChivaGirl. Many of the veterans do not speak Spanish. But they do like to have at least a few Spanish-speakers on the team.




After that, there were more deliberations, and then another cut. I took the opportunity to go out to my car to fetch Ashley’s copy of the Laker Girls movie. I don’t have Ashley’s contact info, so I wasn’t sure how to get it to her, but as luck would have it, Jeri-Faye agreed to pass it on. (After giving me the “you are a very strange person” look, which was understandable. If I weren’t me, I’d wonder what I was doing running around with an obscure Laker Girls DVD like it was secret footage of the aliens crashing at Roswell.)

By this time, I was feeling some pain. I managed to play it off and walk normally while inside the Thunderdome. Er… I mean the Velodrome. But as soon as those double doors closed behind me, it was like “OOOOOOW, ow, ow, ow, ow!” It seemed to take forever to get up those stairs, shuffle out to my car, grab the movie, and shuffle back inside and down the stairs.

(FYI: going down the stairs actually hurts waaaaay more than going up them. That was a nasty little surprise.)

I handed the DVD to Jeri-Faye. She wanted to watch the movie too, and I told her she absolutely should. I think they should pass it around and all the Laker Girls should watch it. If for no other reason than to see their director Lisa Estrada, in the role of “Beth” the choreographer. Tee hee.

I made it back inside just in time for the final cut. All of the veterans made it. A couple of my other favorites also made it. All in all, 30 girls were left standing. I had them all gather together for another group photo, and then it was time to go.


Day 1 was over.


Candidate interviews were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, leading up to Wednesday’s finals. (I’ll tell you about finals in a few days.)

Incidentally, for those who care, that night my ankle blew up to the size of a small grapefruit. I couldn’t walk on it at all, but I needed an ice pack and some Advil in the worst way so I had to find a way to get to the kitchen. Unfortunately, my knees were horribly bruised too, so I couldn’t even crawl there. I wound up using my vacuum cleaner as a crutch. (By the way, I do NOT recommend that, as most vacuum cleaners have wheels on the bottom and sometimes move when you do not expect them to.)


Stupid Velodrome.

Read on…


Cutting footloose: 250 vie for spot on Patriots spirit squad

By Renee Nadeau
The Boston Herald
March 1, 2009

About 250 exuberant hopefuls got their pompoms on yesterday, vying for a coveted spot on the 2009 New England Patriots [team stats] cheerleading team.

The first round of auditions at Gillette Stadium saw the athletic and attractive ladies master two dance routines, in addition to showing their talents in a freestyle segment.

Two rounds of eliminations cut the contestant pool to about 50 by the end of the day. The lucky finalists will be grilled in interviews this week before tackling the final auditions Saturday. Up to 28 cheerleaders will make the cut.

After the painstaking auditions, the pompom crew can relax on the beaches of Aruba, where the gang is jetting in April to shoot the 2010 Patriots Cheerleaders swimsuit calendar.

Patriots cheerleaders, who practice twice a week as a squad, perform at every home game in Foxboro and visit U.S. armed forces stationed overseas.

Photo Gallery:
2009 Patriots Cheerleader try-outs

Cheering with the Force: Shannon McClattie

From the Website of the South Carolina Force:

Shannon McClattie was named Director and Choreographer of your South Carolina Force Cheerleaders.

She comes to the organization with a wealth of experience in dance and professional cheerleader knowledge. An 11-year professional cheerleading veteran with the Panthers, she has assisted in choreographing show team shows, the 2000 millennium halftime show, and performed in St. John’s, Newfoundland at the 2001 Bud Bowl. In 2005 she represented the Panthers at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii and in 2006 in a nationally televised show competing with other professional cheerleading teams.

Shannon is no stranger to hard work and works full time as a Forensic Social Work Investigator for the Department of Social Services.

She earned a BA in Criminal Justice from Fort Valley State University where she served 3 years as Captain of the Blue Machine Marching Band Dance team, The Dancing Dolls. After graduating college, she choreographed dance routines for high schools in Georgia and Florida.

“My goal is to have a great season with this organization and bring my professionalism to the cheerleading team so that the finished product is one the city and surrounding area can be proud of. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with the Force and look forward to a winning season” says McClattie. Shannon also states “My motto has always been ‘Don’t watch the show, be the show’ and I plan to incorporate my enthusiasm and love for dance and football together to bring to the fans the best cheerleading team in the AIFA”

The South Carolina Force gladly welcomes Shannon McClattie into its organization.

Auditions for the South Carolina Force Cheerleaders are Sunday, March 8th in Greeneville. Complete details here.

2009 Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader Workshop

Eagles Cheerleaders

Over two hundred young ladies turned out for the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader Workshop this past Wednesday. The hopefuls participated in sessions on Fitness, Hair & Make Up, Choreography. They also ran through a Mock Audition and got to pick the brains of current Eagles Cheerleaders in a Q&A. All this was designed to let them prepare and know what to expect at next month’s Open Call Auditions.

See photos from the workshop at the Eagles Website.

Watch a report from Philadelphia’s NBC10 here.

See a slide show from Philadelphia’s CBS3 here.

Open Call auditions are Saturday, March 28th. Full details here.

Eagles Cheerleader Around Town

Reader Mike sends some photos of the Eagles Cheerleaders from last Saturday, quite possibly the last photos of the 2008-09 squad we will have.

Eagles CheerleadersEagles Cheerleaders
Alexandra and Kristin at the Travel Expo Event at the Linc.

Eagles Cheerleaders
Dana and Marisa at the Vorhees Town Center

Eagles CheerleadersEagles Cheerleaders
Marisa and Dana

Open Call Auditions for the 2009-10 Eagles Cheerleaders are Saturday, March 28th. Full details here.

Eagles seek new cheerleaders

By Peter Mucha, Staff Writer
Philadelphia Inquirer
Feb. 17, 2009

[Last] weekend’s combine isn’t the only talent search gearing up in the NFL.

During the next nine weeks, the Eagles will host a series of events to restock their cheerleading squad.

Every year, about 15 rookies earn spots, along with about two dozen returning vets.

“We have a really busy couple of months planned,” said Barbara Zaun, director of cheerleading.

And that’s not including late April’s NFL draft party, the yearly May calendar shoot, or the July visit by six cheerleaders to Iraq to entertain troops.

Regular Eagles fans should know that only two of these events are open to the public, the draft party and the April 21 cheerleader audition finals.

This year, the finale will be at a smaller venue, the Prince Music Theater in Center City. So the tickets – $22.50 each – are likely to disappear quickly when they go on sale later this month, Zaun said.

Here are the dates that rah-rah wannabes, who must be 18 and a high school graduate, will want to know:

Pre-Audition Workshop, Feb. 25. Optional event at Lincoln Financial Field. Experts, including team choreographer Suzy Zucker, will advise about dancing, hair and makeup, and health and fitness. Includes mock tryout, plus question-and-answer session with current cheerleaders. No judging. Cost is $45.

Open Call Tryouts, March 28. Lincoln Financial Field. Required for would-be rookies. Hundreds of women learn a dance routine, then take turns performing in groups of five before two panels of judges.

Audition Semifinals, March 30 and April 1: About 130 invitees, including squad members seeking to return, will be given a dance routine to learn at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia. The following day, they’ll perform in groups of three, and talk with judges about themselves.

Audition Finals, April 21: Sixty finalists will compete in a variety of categories, including dance, fitness and beauty at Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.

Next week’s workshop will be limited to 250 contestants, who will automatically be registered for the open-call auditions, Zaun said.

The workshop helps women who might be worried about their confidence, and can improve prospects’ chances, Zaun said. They get how-to tips on everything from fitness (“to firm up your abs, exactly”) to beauty (“to help them understand the glamorous aspect of being an Eagles cheerleader”) to proper nutrition.

Improve your diet, she said, and “your body’s going to look much better in just a month’s time.”

For sign-up information, go to www.philadelphiaeagles.com and click “Cheerleaders.”

Once the squad is set, following the finals, members quickly prepare for the new squad’s debut at the annual draft day party.

Then comes the calendar shoot.

“We are looking for a tropical destination again, and most likely it would early to mid May,” Zaun said.

The cheerleaders, who are paid an hourly rate, make $400 to $1,000 a month and usually hold other jobs.

Pats Cheerleader’s Pro Bowl Journal

Patriots.com
2/24/09

New England Patriots cheerleader Alyssa was the 2009 Patriots Pro Bowl cheerleader. Read her journal from the 2009 Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii.

View Pro Bowl Photos >>

Hey Pats Fans!

I can’t believe we’re closing on a year since I last posted; what a whirlwind it’s been! I bet you think we are off vacationing since our beloved team did not make the playoffs (despite an incredible year), but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In addition to preparing for the auditions for next season, many of us have been traveling around the world to visit fans near and far.

I was personally blessed with the opportunity to represent the Pats Cheerleaders at the 2009 Pro Bowl at the beginning of this month. Pat Patriot, our team mascot, was also chosen to participate!

While this might sound like a vacation, there was actually so much to do in preparation. Immediately after arriving in beautiful Honolulu, 26 girls from across the league and approximately 10 mascots, met and began practices and promotions with the goal of performing as a team! It was clear that everyone “did their homework”, and we pulled it off quite well (if I say so myself).

For those of you that haven’t been to Hawaii, let me just say it is truly a paradise. This was my first trip there and I absolutely cannot wait to go back. Pat Patriot has actually been to the Pro Bowl four times, so he’s an old pro!! As this was also the last year that the ProBowl will take place in Hawaii, the people of Honolulu rolled out the red carpet for each of us. I hope to bring a little of this “Aloha Spirit” back to chilly Boston!

The week was jam packed with events, from visits to the Children’s Hospital and Schofield Barracks, to the Pro Bowl Block Party on Kalakaua Avenue at Waikiki Beach. One of my favorite events was Ohana (family) day, at Aloha stadium.

The Saturday before the big game families are invited to the stadium to watch the AFC and NFC teams practice, and there are tons of fun events for everyone. We got to perform, sign autographs for fans, and I even got to catch a pass from Kurt Warner! So cool!

Before I could blink it seemed like our trip had ended, but I knew I had so much more to look forward to. Though it was sad to part with my 25 new friends I was also excited to get home to see my teammates. I slept the entire flight home and arrived just early enough to attend our regular weekly practice! After catching up with everyone and running through some routines it was time for me to head home to…. REPACK?!?!

Be sure to visit the next link, where I will tell you all about our 2009 South America Armed Forces Entertainment Tour!!

Cheers,
Alyssa

Tips for hopeful 2009 Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader contestants

Get Your Eagle On!
Tips for hopeful 2009 Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader contestants

By Alyssa D’Egidio
NBCPhiladelphia.com
Feb 25, 2009

BCPhiladelphia.com intern, Alyssa D’Egidio, cheered for the Philadelphia Eagles during the 06′ and 07′ season. She will be providing tips for contestants on how to nail this year’s audition.

It has been almost three years since I had my first audition for the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleading Squad. Although a few years ago, memories of my first audition are still fresh in my mind as I think about stepping into the crowded room at Lincoln Financial Field.

For anyone who is planning to audition, this is the most intimidating part. Sprawled across the upper level of the stadium awaits nearly 500 girls who are primping, stretching and practicing dance moves while waiting to learn the routine. Seeing this will most likely raise your blood pressure but it is important to stay calm and rely on all the preparation you’ve put in prior to the open call.

As far as preparation goes, the most important thing to concentrate on is physical fitness and dance ability. At the open call audition contestants will be put into groups and walk into a room with a long table of judges. At this point, the judges are focusing on two main things: fitness and dance ability.

Focus: Fitness

With just a few weeks left until the March 28th auditions, it is important to start sculpting and toning your body. The judges are looking for toned stomachs, arms and legs. One thing they are not looking for is stick thin women. It is important to look healthy but fit.

Stephen Williamson, a trainer and owner of Body Blast at Weston Fitness has a few helpful tips for perfecting physiques in a short period of time.

“I think women trying out for the team are going to want to look aesthetically pleasing. The girls need to be able to move which is why an integration of strength training, plyometrics and cardio will be best for these women,” Stephen said.

Let’s break down what each of these consist of and how many times a week they should be done:

Strength Training is important for being able to push your own body weight. Exercises to do include lunges, leg presses and calf extensions. For toned arms and back muscles, push ups are great.

Cardio is also good for keeping your lungs in good condition. “Cheerleaders don’t need to run marathons therefore a combination of sprints and jogging at a pace will keep their lungs in good shape for their dance routines,” Stephen said.

Lastly, plyometric training is used for speed and agility. This training helps the neuromuscular system for quick steps and foot moves. This is great for dancing and picking up choreography quickly.

Stephen suggests doing a combination of these three. “A full body routine twice a week which is made up of half strength training and half plyometrics should do the trick,” Stephen said. “Cardio should be done two or three times a week for 20-30 minutes.”

Diet is also an important part of a cheerleader’s life, so sticking to a high fiber diet will help keep the pounds off. “Taking in a diet of 40 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrates and 20 percent fat will energize the body and keep it slim,” Stephen said.

Focus: Dance

Once your physique is at its peek, the next goal is to get your dance moves down. At the audition, a short choreography routine will be taught, which contestants have about 20 minutes to learn and an hour to perfect. Obviously contestants can’t practice the dance until the day of the audition, but there are some ways to help make this part a lot easier.

Many college campus gyms offer dance classes from hip-hop to ballet. College students who are auditioning should try to go to at least three dance classes a week prior to the auditions. I did before I auditioned and it really helped me pick up the choreography much quicker. Try taking a hip hop or jazz class which is more the choreography style of the Eagles Cheerleading Squad.

Not a college student? Well, many dance classes are offered in the city and surrounding areas.

Society Hill Dance Academy and Koresh School of Dance in center city offer hip-hop classes for $15 to $20. Classes focus on cardio, movement training and choreography.

The Dancers Studio on Passyunk Avenue offers an hour long Wednesday night jazz/hip-hop class at 6:30 pm. A four-week session costs $15 and will give contestants four paid classes to work on their dance techniques. Call 215-271-6277 for more information.

If you are not sure what kind of dancing the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders do, then it would be helpful to watch last year’s Final Audition Webcast on the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders web site. Before I auditioned, I watched the previous year’s webcast which helped me get a feel for the style of dance the squad does.