Well, final cuts are over with and the squad is set for the 2009 season.
Not the Redskins, of course. They’ve still got miles to go before they’re finalized — a draft in April, a couple weeks worth of Organized Team Activities over May and June, training camp in the summer, plus an entire preseason — but the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders don’t have that much time to spare. The squad held final cuts for their roster Sunday night at the Bethesda Theatre (or the Bethesda Cinema n’ Drafthouse, as I still think of it, ancient Montgomery County guy that I’ve become).
The performance — which featured the narrowing of the roster from 52 to 40 (plus four alternates) — was open to the public, and the public showed up enthusiastically enough that the folks working the door ran out of lower level tickets and late-comers were forced to settle for the upper level.
I, meanwhile, was trying to convince a skeptical organizer that it was vitally important that I be allowed backstage to get a sense of the drama and hysteria as the finalists got themselves ready. “It’s really, really crowded back there,” she said, eyebrow raised. “Plus the girls are all changing outfits multiple times.” She suggested, politely but firmly, that I just get a sense of the drama and hysteria from the wings or the seats, and I complied.
After the introductions, the performances began. The finalists first performed in groups of four, for what was described to me as “basic dance/cheer” demonstrations.
Once three groups of four had performed, those twelve ladies were split into groups of six , for sideline routines.
Almost all of these were performed to the songs you’d expect — Donna Summer’s Bad Girls and Kevin Rudolf’s Let It Rock along with some newer selections like Lady Gaga’s Just Dance and The Ting Tings’ That’s Not My Name — all the sort of upbeat stuff you’d expect to hear at a cheerleading finals, most of them played multiple times as the various finalists cycled through the different groupings.
And then there was Beyonce’s Halo. This oddly downbeat tune popped up once every few sets, seeming incongruous every time, prompting someone standing near me to mutter, “As a rule, if there’s a string section it’s probably not an optimal song for cheerleading.”
Once half of the finalists had performed, the routines were interrupted by the swimsuit section of the competition. If you’re anything like me or the people around me, you’re probably asking some variant of “What exactly is the difference between the ‘swimsuit competition’ and the portions of the competition where they’re wearing somewhat scanty two-piece cheerleading practice uniforms?”
The answer? A football.
The swimsuit section of the competition had the finalists walk along the stage in swimsuits, striking poses with a football. I’m not going to lie: I was initially a bit skeptical of the importance of this whole routine, but one of the cheerleading alumnae set me straight. “They don’t just cheer at games. They also do photo shoots, the calendar, and stuff like that. If you’re judging, this is something you need to judge.”
But what about the football? Doesn’t it look a little odd?
“Well, they need some sort of prop. Think how awkward it would be to be empty-handed.”
Fair enough. Doing the judging, by the way, were assorted VIPs and other non-affiliated judges. “I just couldn’t do another round of cuts,” said Stephanie Jojokian, Director and Choreographer for the Cheerleaders. “I would keep all 52 of them if I could, and it’s rough when we have to cut people.”
After the pagentry and the performances, the finalists all adjourned to the downstairs changing room while the judges’ votes were tallied in the slightly ominous blacklight of backstage while one of the finalists performed Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You on the other side of the curtains.
This time, I was able to latch onto Rebecca Mejia and the crew from Redskins.com TV and see what this stage was about. And for an event that had featured a whole lot of rigorous dancing, choreography, and all of that stuff that I could never in a million years do … the waiting seemed like the most difficult part of the evening.
“This is my seventh year,” said team captain Jamilla, “and, yes, even the captains are nervous.”
Does it get any easier?
“It doesn’t get any easier, no, but I guess it changes a little bit. Now more of my nervousness is for the other girls, not just for myself. But….” She trailed off and shrugged, looking back at the rookies.
Once the votes had been tallied, Jojokian announced the assigned numbers of the winning cheerleaders over the loudspeaker. As you’d expect from the cheerleader equivalent to cut day, this led to both tears and hugs as the team captains comforted those whose numbers were skipped … and to some extreme enthusiasm from the new team members. All of that “drama and hysteria” I had asked about earlier, basically.
Those rookies who made the team were given their black jerseys, everyone hustled back up backstage, the team was introduced one by one, and the 2009-2010 Washington Redskins Cheerleaders performed as a squad for the first time.
If you want even more than that about the finals, here’s a whole bunch of photos courtesy of Drew from ExtremeSkins, who was onhand with a vastly higher-quality camera than mine.
Tags: cheerleaders, washington redskins, WashingtonRedskins
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