Los Angeles Laker coach Phil Jackson once called the city of Sacramento, an old “cowtown”. I suppose the old zen master said that to get a rise out of his opponents, whom at the time, were putting up a fierce fight during the NBA playoffs many a year ago. And as time passed, that moniker has stuck even though Sacramento is the capital of California, perhaps the most modern and prosperous state in the Union.
In truth, while I was driving around Sacramento I did see more than a few of the lovable bovines, but I would suggest to coach Phil that a more appropriate name might be “cheertown” because as I found out, there’s a lot of dance talent in old Sac-town.
This past Saturday, the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL held the first of two preliminary auditions for their 2011 cheerleading squad. More than forty young women braved the cold weather to audition for the Lady Lions. And though it was cold outside, the auditions were hot.
Lindsay Shoemaker, the Director of the Lady Lions, provided me with full access to cover the audition which began at 11:00 am with sign in and registration. Several girls were already present when I arrived. They were ready to go and get the day started. Fees were paid, forms filled out and most importantly, the waiver of liability was completed and returned.
The first part of the auditions weren’t scheduled to begin until noon, so the girls took the opportunity to stretch and touch up their make up.
Russ Edmondson, the Lions Director of Public Relations, gathered the girls to take headshots. I took the opportunity to snap a few photos myself.
At noon, Lindsay addressed the candidates and let them know what the proceedings of the day would entail. First up, warm up.
Choreographer Isela Perez led the group through a few across the floor exercises including a jazz walk, high kicks and spins. There would be no judging during this portion of the audition.
At 12:30 pm, Isela demonstrated the audition routine by breaking down the choreography into individual eight count segments. For those who have never attended an audition, routines are installed in individual segments and repeated from the beginning, introducing new segments in intervals.
It can be a bit tedious, but repetition helps the muscles memorize the individual steps and allows the dancer to respond naturally instead of consciously thinking about what comes next. So, for a two minute routine, it may take an hour and half or more to demonstrate and learn the entire routine.
At 1:15 pm, the girls were given a brief break and then it was back to rehearsing the routine. The candidates were divided into three groups and practiced the routine to the music several times. If a girl had a question, Isela was there to answer them and demonstrate the movement.
As a casual observer, I believe this is where having prior dance training helps candidates to learn routines quickly and perform them with skill and confidence. Just being able to understand the terminology and having the experience to translate verbal instructions into dance movement, can be a difference maker when you have only a few hours to learn a brand new routine and perform it in front a panel of judges.
One thing I noticed was that there were several girls that were wearing dance pants and that they were exceptional dancers. Of course these were the returning veterans who were going to be trying out again, but they were given a free pass to the finals on April 1st. At the end of the rehearsal, Lindsay called up the 13 returning veterans to perform the audition routine.
They were flawless in their execution. With their big smiles and big moves, they showed us why they were the veterans.
At 2:00 pm the judging portion of the audition began. Candidates would be judged on six criteria: appearance, physique, performance, technique, stage presence, and knowledge of the routine.
The girls were called up in groups of two and were asked to introduce themselves and tell the judges why they wanted to become a Lady Lion. Then they would perform the choreography twice before the panel. The judges would have ample opportunity to determine which girls had the potential to become a Lady Lion and which girls needed more seasoning.
At 3:30 pm the performances were over and the judges retired to deliberate and review the scores. The girls took a moment to relax and unwind as they awaited the judges decision.
I took the opportunity to snap a photo of three girls that stood out to me. Let’s just call them diamonds in the rough and see whether or not they make the final cut in April. But for now, you could tell these three had potential based upon the six criteria the judges used.
At 4:00 pm, the judges returned and Lindsay announced the results.
Those whose numbers were called made it to the next level, the finals. Those who missed the cut were excused and encouraged to try out again at the next preliminary audition, March 12th. So, all hope was not lost for those who did not make it on this day.
Those who made the cut were asked to stay to discuss the next step for them. Lindsay informed them that new this year would be a weekly boot camp, which would emphasize fitness. It would also be a bonding experience and allow the new girls to get to know the veterans. She also handed out some additional information and had the girls schedule a time for interviews, which for this group would be held beginning next week.
Finals would be on held April 1st, but Lindsay let these finalists know that there would be several rehearsals prior to the last event. So, for the 20 girls who made it to the next level, this was only the beginning.
Oh, and Phil Jackson was wrong when he spoke of Sacramento. This ain’t no cowtown, baby.
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On a personal note, I would like to thank Lindsay Shoemaker and Russ Edmondson for allowing me the privilege of covering the 2011 Sacramento Mountain Lion Cheerleader auditions. I had great time and hope to visit them again during the regular season.