I wrote this article for the old Professional Cheerleader Blog and it was originally published on February 23, 2009.
Stacie Gazonas has cheered for the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Diego Chargers and performed in the 2007 NFL Pro Bowl. In a Professional Cheerleader Blog exclusive, Stacie discusses her experiences as an NFL cheerleader and answers the question, “is there life after cheerleading?”
Early Dance Background
Stacie Gazonas grew up in Lenexa, Kansas about 20 minutes outside of Kansas City. She started taking dance classes at the young age of 3 and began designing leotards for her dance studio at age 13. After being crowned Miss Dance Heart America, Stacie went on to dance on a cruise ship at the age of 19, performing in Las Vegas style productions. She accepted a dance scholarship to the University of Arizona, but quickly realized that she didn’t need a degree in dance to perform in front of a live audience, and changed her major to fashion design, her second love.
While in college, a friend suggested that she tryout for the Kansas City Chiefs cheerleaders, a squad that she made at the ripe old age of 18. It was the start of a long and distinguished career in professional cheerleading. Stacie has said that being a professional cheerleader has really shaped who she is today and has blessed her with the ability to combine her passion for dance and fashion design into a lifelong career.
PCB: Why did you become an NFL cheerleader?
SG: I became an NFL cheerleader because I really missed dancing when I was in college and my passion was always in performing, not necessarily in taking ballet classes. My dream came true when I stepped onto the field at Arrowhead stadium for the first time as a Chiefs cheerleader and performed before 80,000 people. I had chills up and down my spine.
My favorite part about cheerleading was the friendships I made on the squad and dancing in front of such a huge crowd. I loved every minute of it! It was all very glamorous too. At the age of 18, not a lot of women are able to have their hair and make up done for them or have a total makeover to really polish their look. The Chiefs cheerleaders always set a standard of being a classy cheerleading team and not to portray themselves like the many stereotypes of professional cheerleaders.
PCB: For many girls, tryouts can be daunting. Please tell us about your tryout experiences and what it was like to make the Charger Girls
SG: It was crazy! There were approximately 400 girls at tryouts and I believe there was a handful that had cheered for other NFL teams. I was so nervous and anxious…the waiting process almost killed me. In my case, I was in a different position than a lot of girls because I knew what it was like to be on an NFL team, so I knew exactly what I was going for and what I had to lose if I didn’t make it. I knew how my life was going to change if I made the squad and I missed it (professional cheerleading) so much I couldn’t wait to be on a team again.
SG: The audition was very competitive. Some of these girls try out year after year and know the exact process. I made sure that I looked like a Charger Girl with my hair, make-up, fitness, and attire. I wanted the judges to look at me and say, “she looks like a Charger Girl”. I definitely think my dance ability helped me stand out, along with having the “NFL look”. I get nervous during interviews, so that was the area I felt weakest going into tryouts. As funny as it sounds, I would have rather done a solo in front of ten judges than have an interview.
PCB: As with many challenges in life, it is often preparation that is the key to success. How did you prepare for tryouts?
SG: I am not much of a “go to the gym girl”, so I told myself if I go everyday for a month then I can’t be too disappointed with how I looked at tryouts. I made sure my hair was long so I could flip it around and I had the perfect outfit to make a statement. Preparation and knowing what the judges are looking for is the key to any tryout or job interview. It also shows how much you care and want it!
PCB: I think it’s fair to say that most people don’t realize how involved it is to be a professional cheerleader. What can a person expect if they make the squad?
SG: We practiced Monday and Wednesday from 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm and on Saturdays. You also have, maybe, one or two promotions a week along with other events and junior Charger Girl programs. We do a lot of appearances throughout the San Diego area and even some international appearances. It is a lot of work, but it is so much fun to be able to get out into the community and meet the fans.
PCB: How many routines do you learn in a week?
SG: At the beginning of the season you learn the majority of your material, so it can be a lot at first. Then as the season starts you add a routine here and there. You always need to practice and make sure you stay on top of your routines!
PCB: What’s your game day schedule like?
SG: It’s crazy! Arrive at 7:30 am, have meetings, a full practice on the field, time to get ready, promotions in the parking lot and even a pregame routine on occasion…and that is all before the game even starts. It is such a long day, but I can’t tell you how excited I was to wake up and get Big Sunday started! Probably my favorite day of the week!
PCB: Life is complicated, particularly when balancing work, school and the obligations of being a professional cheerleader. Is it difficult to maintain all these responsibilities, be a cheerleader and maintain an active social life?
SG: It is definitely a balancing act when it comes to handling work, school, family, and cheerleading. A lot of the times, these organizations want women that have great careers or own their own companies, but then they expect you to be at an event in the middle of the day or take off work to go do a promo. You really have to be flexible and find a way to make it all work.
A lot of times you go…go…go…and the season flashes by because you were so busy. I would always tell the rookies to make sure to take in every moment because it is over so quickly and you never know if you will be back on the team the following year. I will say…it is all worth it!
PCB: I am sure that many of our readers have seen the CMT television series on the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and are familiar with their emphasis on being physically fit and trim. Are there concerns regarding weight or body image in professional cheerleading?
SG: I definitely think you can have a healthy lifestyle as a professional cheerleader. You just need to balance it out. I do think sometimes women put a lot of pressure on themselves and get into bad situations or gain weight after tryouts. Everyone needs to work hard to stay fit and make sure and do it in a healthy way or it will come back to haunt them later. I make sure I work extra hard in practice because I do enjoy eating out and having French fries, calamari and pasta. I know those kind of foods would definitely catch up with me if I didn’t burn those extra calories.
PCB: Have you had any embarrassing moments you’d like to share with our readers?
SG: I have never had a wardrobe malfunction or fell on the field, but my last year on the team, every time we came to a stop after a transition, Alicia, now a Raiderette, would run into the back of me. And it would always crack me up when she tried to cover it up by acting as if she had to tell me something…lol…sorry Alicia!
PCB: So, what’s the best thing about being an NFL cheerleader?
SG: The friendships, hands down. I have made a handful of lifelong friends on this team and I am blessed everyday to have them in my life!
PCB: I’ve been attending Charger games for many years and from a fan’s perspective, I think the two most anticipated games of the season are the Halloween game and the Christmas game. It’s those sexy costumes and the blue velvet Christmas uniforms that the fans love. I am sure you have some interesting thoughts on the topic.
SG: I loved dressing up for the Halloween game. It’s so much fun to show the crowd a different side of you. The Christmas game is always fun. The fans love the uniforms; however, the girls aren’t so fond of them. Maybe it’s because the uniforms are older than some of the girls.
SG: You definitely have to make sure the Halloween costume you choose will stay on. We do not change choreography for this game, so making it work is the key. As for the Christmas uniforms, the girls usually eat a little more than usual before the game since our midriff is covered for once!
PCB: Some might say that they are too sexy and revealing. Your thoughts?
SG: All of the Halloween costumes are approved, so we never wear anything more revealing than our official uniform. We always try to stay family friendly and keep it sexy, but classy.
PCB: While in San Diego, you were a Line Captain for two years. For those of us that don’t know, what are the responsibilities of a Line Captain and how do they differ from that of being a cheerleader?
SG: A line captain is someone who is there for their whole team. They have to know the material inside and out and pay attention to the details in meetings, so they can answer any question at any time. It is a big responsibility and a little more weight on your shoulders, but I love helping out people, so it felt pretty natural for me to step into that position.
PCB: Now, turning to life after cheerleading. You have started your own fashion design company. Please tell us a little about your business and why you started Zonas Designs.
SG: I started my own company, Zonas Designs, officially in November of 2007. I did not originally plan to start one, but after producing uniforms and outfits for friends, demand for my designs grew. I had reached a point that I needed photos of my past uniforms posted somewhere for people to view and have a forum where they could contact me with their requests, so I created a website. Once the website was done, it only was natural to form a company.
Zonas Designs offers three different categories of clothing: dance/cheer attire, jersey attire for women, and swimsuits. Everything we produce is custom made to your specifications. We will help you choose a style, color, detail and then make it to your measurements. Each piece is a unique creation.
PCB: I read that you recently designed new uniforms for the Clippers Spirit. How did that come about and what was the process in custom designing a uniform for the Clippers Spirit?
SG: This season I had the honor of designing a hot outfit for the Clippers Spirit dance team. A lot of times, team directors will see my creations on girls that are auditioning and contact me about my designs and what I can do for them. And that was what happened in this case. A great friend of mine, Harmony, auditioned for her 4th year on the Clippers Spirit dance team wearing one of my designs. That outfit was amazing…it was made from a jersey, but totally reconstructed to get all the great details in the form of a small, sexy top. And that was the inspiration for the Clipper Spirit uniform.
Team directors will email me with their ideas and then I will create 4-6 design sketches. We will tweak the design until they are 100% satisfied with the concept. Then Zonas Designs will produce a sample for approval before proceeding with the final order.
PCB: I seem to recall that you designed some of the swimwear worn by the Charger Girls in their past swimsuit calendar.
SG: The swimwear that I make for calendars, such as the Charger Girls, Redskins, and Chiefs, are a little more detailed and unique than my line of ready to wear swimwear I sell to the public. I specifically design suits that represent the team’s overall image and make it sexy and flattering to get that perfect shot for the calendar.
PCB: Some swimwear is not meant to be worn while swimming and are more for lounging poolside. Are your designs functional as well? Can a girl wear them while swimming in the surf or jet skiing?
SG: My ready to wear swimwear line is definitely functional and has tie sides, neck and back to get the perfect fit and to ensure that you won’t lose anything while jet skiing! As for the calendar shoots, a lot of time the suits have strings or hardware that may not stay in place…so I always find out what my client wants before constructing and designing their suit.
PCB: Your Jersey line seems to be quite popular, certainly among the fans that saw you model one of them during the 2007 Halloween game against the Texans. How popular are these jersey with your customers.
SG: This is probably my #1 selling outfit, yet each is customized for the team, amount of detail and stones wanted. I believe I have made at least one for every team in the NFL!
PCB: Are they individually customized designs or can people purchase them ready to wear?
SG: The jerseys are all customized. Customers send me the jersey they would like to use, that way they get the color, player name and team that they want before customization begins. Then we cut it to specifications and add all the details that make it special and unique.
PCB: Personally, I think these jerseys would be hot sellers, but I can’t seem to find one anywhere. Where can people buy one?
SG: You just order it online at my website, ZonasDesigns.com. Jerseys can be completed in just one week due to our great turn around time. We just need the jersey and your measurements in order to get started.
PCB: Have you considered selling them at online at the NFL Team stores or popular retail outlets?
SG: Yes, that’s definitely a future plan of mine. There are licensing issues and other legal aspects that I do not have in place yet…but I know they would sell out in a second!
PCB: I’ve seen photos of some veteran Charger Girls wearing your dance wear at tryouts. What makes your dance wear designs unique?
SG: I think I have a huge advantage when it comes to designing audition wear. As a former NFL cheerleader, I was in these girl’s shoes many times and know exactly what they want and what the judges want to see. I make sure the fit is flattering, comfortable and will compliment each girl’s skin color.
PCB: Many of our readers are young women who aspire to become professional cheerleaders. How important is it to wear the right dance wear when auditioning?
SG: If you feel great about what you are wearing and feel confident, it will definitely show on the outside and show through your audition. You want an outfit that will accentuate your strong body parts and a color that compliments your skin tone. Choosing the wrong color can definitely affect the whole mood the judges get from your audition. Zonas Designs works closely with our customers to recommend a style and color that will compliment their figure to maximize their chances of making their dance dreams come true.
PCB: Does more stylish and sexy dance wear really get the judges attention?
SG: Definitely…I know a lot of times the judges will refer to a girl as the “yellow top girl” or whatever particular color that girl was wearing. After seeing 400 girls, it is hard for them to remember names or numbers, but it’s much easier for them to remember individual girls by describing the outfits they wore.
PCB: Is it important to stand out in a good way and does the right outfit make that happen?
SG: Most definitely. That is the number one way to catch a judge’s attention before they even see you dance or speak. First impressions always stick!
PCB: In closing, what does the future hold for you? Is there truly life after cheerleading?
SG: I am so happy with everything I have accomplished. I still have a lot I want to do in life and sometimes I think that I will cheer one more time…for whom, I am not sure. But I still have that itch and passion. The great thing about my job is that I am in contact with dancers and girls on teams, so I am still a part of that world. Even though I am not performing in the spotlight, my outfits definitely are!
PCB: And what advice do you have for those readers who want to become a professional cheerleader or business owner.
SG: I think you should follow your dreams. Sometimes I wake up and think how did I get here and then I realize something my Dad had instilled in me when I was young. He said to always believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything you want to in life.