A Hot Time in Old Arizona: The 2010 Arizona Cardinals Cheerleader Auditions

Author’s note: I was given unprecedented access to the 2010 Arizona Cardinals Cheerleader auditions and in this article, I will document the process from the preliminary auditions through the first and second round cuts.  For those people who have never been to an audition, I hope to give you a glimpse into the journey from candidate to cheerleader.

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FRIDAY

Friday, April 16th.  6:10 p.m.  It was hot, very hot.  It was 93 degrees as I pulled into the parking lot of the Arizona Cardinals Training Facility in Tempe.  I must have been late because the registration table was of devoid of people.  As I walked on to the practice field, I realized two things:  1) there are more than 200 beautiful and physically fit girls on the field and 2) I am the only guy in sight.  I quickly focused my attention on the job at hand, after all I came here to work.

I was invited to attend Friday’s festivities by Heather Karberg, the Director of the Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders, because in a deviation from last year, cuts would be made this night.  No judges, only Heather and her staff would decide.

I attended last year’s auditions and I must say that generally speaking this year’s group of aspirants appeared to be more physically fit and attractive.  It looks like its going to be a more competitive process this time round.  That’s a good thing.

At 6:30 p.m., Heather came out and spoke to the candidates to let them know of tonight’s audition process.  Candidates would be taught a brief routine and then perform it across the practice field.  A preliminary round of cuts would then ensue.  For the remaining candidates, they would be taught a dance routine that they would perform in the second round, should they make it that far.

But, first things first and that was warm ups and stretching.  Candidates were led through a brief warm up period and then taught an across the floor dance routine.

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The routine was broken down into several 8 count segments, in which each portion was carefully demonstrated by Heather Karberg.

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Throughout the process, the candidates were able to practice the routine by following the spoken cadence and then to carefully selected music.  After the full routine was demonstrated, the candidates were lined up in groups of four, where they would perform the material in front of Heather and her staff.

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In a departure from previous years, cuts were made this day.  Returning veterans were excused from this round of cuts. As each group of four completed their performance, Heather and her staff evaluated each candidate on their dance technique, appearance and physical fitness.  Those candidates that had the potential to make the squad were given a ticket and an audition number that would allow them to proceed to Saturday’s auditions.  Those who did not make the cut were encouraged to work on their deficiencies and to contact Heather for specific feedback on how to improve their performance for next time.

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Upon conclusion of this phase, more than 120 candidates remained from what I could tell.  These young women clearly could dance and had the requisite looks to be Arizona Cardinal Cheerleaders.  But this was only the first part of the audition process and the evening was still not over.

By now, the sun had set in the west and the practice field was illuminated by the orange security lights atop the facility.  It was dark and it was still hot.  The veterans returned to the practice field.  Heather and her staff demonstrated the dance routine that would be performed during the next stage, a pom routine choreographed to the Rob Thomas song “This is How a Heart Breaks.  As before, the routine was introduced in 8 count segments.

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The candidates practiced the entire routine in large groups. They repeated the material several times and committed the sequence to memory.  This is where prior dance training helps.  To quickly learn a routine and repeat it with precision is probably what separates candidates from those girls who go on to become cheerleaders.  It was a lot of material to learn and you could see those you “got it” and those that were having more difficulty.

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A few minutes later, Heather told the girls to gather at the patio where they would be separated into two groups and would be able to practice the routine to the music.  Each group performed the routine several times.  Those girls that had questions were able to get answers from the instructors.  By the end of the evening, the candidates had ample opportunity to learn the material.

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Two and a half hours of dance, two routines, a preliminary round of cuts and this was only the first day.  Heather excused the remaining candidates and informed them to reconvene tomorrow at UOP stadium.

It was 9:00 p.m. and it was still hot.

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SATURDAY

The next phase of the auditions would be held at University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals.  I was eager to get the day started because I had never been there and I wanted to check out the architecturally distinctive building.  It vaguely resembles a coiled snake, though in truth I have never seen a metallic rattle snake.

As I walked through the gates, I was impressed with the facility.  Everything was new looking, clean and designed with functional and aesthetic values in mind.  I am used to the aging and decrepit confines of San Diego’s Qualcomm stadium, so this was an added treat for me. Needless to say, I was in awe of the place.

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Built with terraced seating levels, a retractable roof and movable grass field, UOP stadium is a spectacular place to watch football.  It is also the perfect place to hold the 2010 Arizona Cardinals Cheerleader auditions, giving the candidates a glimpse of where they would be performing on Sundays in the fall.

A large stage was set up on the wide expanse of the upper level concourse. There was ambient lighting from the semi translucent roof and ample lighting illuminating the stage, quite a contrast from the night before.  I was excited to get started.

It was 10:00 a.m. and the girls were beginning to trickle in.  I reviewed my shoot list and started to snap a few photos of the candidates as they arrived.  It was going to be a long day.  Another routine to learn and then a round of cuts.  Those surviving would then have to perform the routine learned last night and then another round of cuts.  As it turned out, we wouldn’t be finished until 3:30 p.m.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

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The first order of the day was stretching.  Pro Bowl cheerleader Amy and retiring veterans M.J. and Angie led the assembled candidates through a rigorous stretching program.  I often feel uncomfortable shooting the girls as they stretch because in all honesty, they are, at times, in some “awkward” positions, if you get my meaning and we take a decidedly modest approach here at UltimateCheerleaders.com.  However, I am writing this article to document the entire process and to give people who never have experienced the audition process some insight into what goes on.  So, here are some obligatory and modest photographs of the candidates warming up.

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During the next phase of the first round of auditions, the candidates were taught a new routine that consisted of a freestyle portion, followed by a choreographed portion and concluding with another freestyle portion.  Now, if memory serves correct, this would have been the third routine learned to this point.  Angie took the lead in demonstrating the choreographed portion.  Candidates were given ample opportunity to practice and ask questions as each segment of the routine was implemented.

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The first round of judging was set to begin at 11:30 a.m.  As the judges settled into their places, Heather discussed the scoring sheet with them.  For this round of judging, the each candidate would be scored with a “YES”, “NO” or “MAYBE”.

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Returning veterans were excused from this phase of judging.  The candidates were led in groups of four to the stage, where they would perform in front of the judges.  Over 120 girls took the stage, performing the brief routine they learned a few minutes before.   They had roughly 45 seconds or so to make an impression on the judges…a favorable impression.

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When the last group was called, Heather informed the candidates that a short break was in order so that the results could be tabulated.  The girls used that time to rest and rehydrate themselves.  It was a tad warm inside the stadium and any chance to cool down was appreciated because the day was just beginning.

Fifteen minutes.  Heather returned to inform the candidates of the results.  Heartbreak and happiness ensued as she called out the numbers of those that were proceeding onto the next round.

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This is always an awkward moment for me, to take a photograph of a girl’s disappointment upon learning that their dreams of making the squad are gone. I find it somewhat insensitive and invasive to do so, so I don’t.  I try to focus on those expressions of joy and happiness.

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For those candidates whose day was over, Heather let them know that they could contact her and get feedback as to what they need to do to better their chances for the next time they try out.  I would like to think that some of the girls will take the opportunity to do so because the difference between those who made the cut from those that didn’t wasn’t so great.  That feedback could make all the difference.  And in truth, I recognized at least four girls who were eliminated during the first round last year that made it through this round of cuts. I should think that they took advantage of the opportunity and spoke with Heather last year, got some very important feedback and worked on those areas that they needed to do to improve their chances.   So, there is always the hope of next year.

The girls that were eliminated said their goodbyes, gathered their belongings and left the building to brave the hot Arizona sun.  It was 97 degrees outside.

Their day was over, but for those remaining and for the returning veterans, the second round was about to begin.  The judges retired for lunch because as we know, judging makes for some hungry work.  Not so for the candidates.  After a brief respite, the remaining candidates returned to the practice area to reacquaint themselves with the dance routine they learned last night.  A short time later, Heather returned in work out attire to lead the group in rehearsal of the material, a pom routine choreographed to the Rob Thomas song “This is How a Heart Breaks”.

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I appreciate that Heather is hands on with the candidates and from these photos, you can tell she can still rock it with the girls.  In her former life as a cheerleader, Heather was a Charger Girl…and as it so happens, I have a photograph of her that I took back in the day. We go way back.

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As the second round of judging was about to begin, Heather called remaining candidates together to tell them a story about Mary Lou Retton, Olympic champion.  In an interview, Retton recalled her mindset before performing her gymnastics routine that would earn her the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.  She said that before she took the floor, she already knew she was a “10”.  Heather encouraged her candidates to be confident and give it their all, to be a “10”.

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The candidates were lined up in order of their numbers and given pom poms for this next stage of judging.  As the other candidates were performing, those waiting were not allowed to practice the material to maintain fairness to all candidates.  All that was left was to perform the routine.

One minute.  One minute to make a statement.  One minute to impress the judges.  That’s what it all came down to.  All the long hours, hard work, prep classes came down to one minute in front of the judges.

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Candidates were scored on the basis of appearance, knowledge and technique, and showmanship.  A total of 50 points were possible.  By 2:30 p.m., all the performances were completed, but the tabulation of the scores would take another thirty minutes to compile.  The candidates adjourned to the practice area to rehydrate, snack and await the results.

At 3:00 p.m., Heather and Scott, a Cardinal employee who also dons the mascot uniform on Sundays, returned with results in hand.   The tension in the air was palpable as this was the culmination of a year’s worth of work for some of these girls.

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As the numbers were called, there were a few muted sounds of excitement.  Girls  quietly hugged each other.  Girls quietly consoled each other.

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Those candidates whose numbers were not called were excused and encouraged to try out again next year.  Saturday’s auditions were over, but the process would continue.  Interviews were scheduled for Sunday and then another round of judging would ensue later that day.  Even though auditions were not yet completed, Heather scheduled several personal appearances with the remaining candidates.   The life of a professional cheerleader is a busy one.

Of the over 200 girls that started the process, roughly 45 survived the cuts on Friday and Saturday to make it to this point.  From this pool of candidates, the 2010 Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders would be chosen.

This squad is going to be hot.

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At this point, I want to thank Arizona Cardinals Cheerleader Director Heather Karberg for allowing UltimateCheerleaders.com unprecedented access in covering their 2010 auditions.  I had an amazing time in Arizona, thank you.

And I would like thank Amy, Angie, and M.J. for their hospitality.  I should point out that Amy is an amazing dancer, one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Her moves are fast. Her moves are big.  Her moves are precise. She really sells her dance routines.  She is what a dancer should be.

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