Thunder Struck: The 2011 P-R-O Convention – Part One

Each year the top cheerleaders and dancers from professional sports convene in Atlanta to attend the premier professional dance convention, the P-R-O Convention.  Over 260 girls from as far away as Seattle, Arizona, New York, Canada and Mexico came to learn routines from the best choreographers in professional cheer and dance.  The 2011 P-R-O Convention is an amazing weekend of dance.  See for yourself.

The P-R-O Convention is the premier professional dance convention and the instructors represent the very best in professional cheerleading and dance.  This year’s instructors included:

Jakene Ashford – Atlanta Falcons (NFL)
Sandy Charboneau – ProTour Productions
Denise Garvey – New York Jets Flight Crew (NFL)
Alto Gary – Houston Texans (NFL)
Tamara Jenkins – FC Dallas (MLS)
Heather Karberg – Arizona Cardinals (NFL)
Stacie Kinder – Tennessee Titans (NFL)
Tami Krause – Minnesota Vikings (NFL) & Minnesota Swarm (NLL)
Brandii McCoy – Charlotte Bobcats (NBA) & Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Tracy Rutledge – Former NBA Atlanta Hawks
Derric Whitfield – Houston Energy (WPFL)

James Blakey and I were given exclusive access by the organizers of the event, AllPro 3.  For our readers who have never attended a dance convention, the following report will give an idea of what goes on during a weekend of nonstop dance action.

SATURDAY

With a 9:00 am start on Saturday, most of the attendees arrived in Atlanta on Friday, including James and myself.  We flew in, but some squads that were more local made the drive to Atlanta.  That may have been a good idea because the weather forecast was for thunderstorms stretching from the gulf coast to the mid Atlantic.  Weather would be a factor as some people were affected and their travel plans delayed.  The Arizona Cardinals were delayed three hours as their flight had to maneuver around the storms and it was even worse for the St. Louis Rams cheerleaders who missed a good portion of Saturday’s events due to the adverse weather.  I guess you could say they were thunder struck.

I made my way to the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel around 8:15 am.  Registration was at 9:00 am, but I wanted to get there early to snap a few photos of the sponsors and cheerleaders before the days events began.  I met James downstairs and we chatted a bit, discussing what each of us would shoot to provide the best possible coverage for our readers.  We agreed that he would focus on his squad reports and that I would document the events for our readers.  So, I started to work…and it is work.  You would think that photographing 260 of the hottest professional cheerleaders in sport would be a fun gig (and it is!), but UltimateCheerleaders.com is a legitimate site dedicated to professional cheer and dance and we take this responsibility seriously.

The girls began trickling in a little before 9:00 am.  The sponsors were still setting up their displays, so most of the girls ate a little something or fixed their hair and make up.  Some girls took the opportunity to scan the schedule of events and decide which breakout session to attend.

Some girls began to check out the sponsor tables.  One of the most popular sponsors was Peavey Hosiery, which was giving out free pantyhose to each attendee.  You many know Peavey Hosiery as the brand of pantyhose that the Hooters Girls wear.  They also provide hosiery to several NFL and NBA teams.

The Line Up was another popular sponsor.  They had a large display with several sample uniforms.  They provide uniforms for several squads that were in attendance, most notably, the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, Tennessee Titans and New Jets Flight Crew.

GTM Sportswear was a new sponsor to the event and had a display of their team branded sportswear.  They are also the sponsor that provided the work out wear for the instructors and their line of work out clothes is very popular.

Many people may be familiar with Satin Stitches.  They provide dance team uniforms to the NBA and NHL, most notably the Knick City Dancers, and their performance audition wear is becoming a big part of their business.

Visey Cosmetics was a first time sponsor at the event and they gave out samples of their cosmetic line.  On Sunday, there was a long line of cheerleaders sampling their wares at the conclusion of the event…a good first time showing, I think.

Angela King Designs was also present, showcasing their custom designed uniforms.  They are another one of the leading suppliers of uniforms to professional sports teams and they were also showing their new line of audition wear.

Perhaps the most popular table was the P-R-O Convention table, which was selling their own convention sportswear.

Savvy convention-goers hit this table first because their shirts sell out quickly and you want to make sure you get your commemorative shirt before they’re gone.  And if my memory serves correct, this was the most popular shirt…and it sold out quickly.

A little before 10:00 am Catie, the official host, welcomed all attendees to the 2011 P-R-O convention and introduced the guest instructors.  Administrative issues were discussed, such as the locations of the breakout sessions and when would lunch be served.  Then it was time to introduce those girls who were selected for the Sidelines Dis-traction magazine.

That’s one of the cool things about P-R-O…they print their own magazine featuring stories and pictorials of some of the cheerleaders in attendance.

At 10:00 am, Stacie Kinder got things going by running the girls through stretching and warm up exercises.

Stacie Kinder

You could tell it was Saturday from the excited smiles on the girls’ faces.  They were eager at the prospects of a full weekend of dance instruction.

With the girls fully stretched out and warmed up, the group dance up was first up.  The group dance is one of my favorite events to cover because it kicks off the convention and it has a festive feel to it. But with over 260 girls packed into the grand ballroom, it is also a difficult dance to shoot.  The room was literally packed from wall to wall with cheerleaders…and with arms, legs and hair flailing about, it was difficult to get nice clean shots of the girls.  But James and I did our best.

Now for those people who may not be familiar with formal dance instruction, this routine lasted about 1 ½ minutes and is composed of several 8 count segments.  To teach a routine each portion has to be broken down and demonstrated in 8 count segments in succession.  So, for this brief group dance, it took roughly an hour and a half for Derric Whitfield to demonstrate the entire routine.

After the group dance, the girls had a choice of four breakout dance sessions to choose from.  In the grand ballroom, Alto Gary was demonstrating a latin shake routine to the song, “Bon Bon” by Pitbull.  In room 2, Denise Garvey choreographed a routine to The Rolling Stones song, “Satisfaction”.  In room 3, Tamara Jenkins taught a funky dance routine to the song “Boom”.  In room 4, Stacie Kinder led the group in a pom routine to the Adam Lambert song, “If I had you”.

At the conclusion of the first breakout sessions, the girls gathered back in the grand ballroom to showcase what they had learned.

It was 1:00 pm and the attendees adjourned for lunch which was sponsored by GTM Sportswear.  James and I sat with Washington Wizard Girls.  As we dined, the instructors were giving their Real Deal workshop which discusses professional cheerleading from a director’s point of view.  They focused on the type of person they are looking for and the skill sets required to be successful in this endeavor.  Physical fitness, appearance and the proper attitude were discussed in a frank and pragmatic way.

I enjoy the Real Deal workshop because you get to hear about the business from the management side and get to understand what they deal with.  But most of all, I enjoy all the cheerleader witticisms like this one from Heather Karberg of the Arizona Cardinals, “full out or get out!” when taking about the effort level required at auditions.  Or my favorite from Stacie Kinder of the Tennessee Titans about maintaining your weight, “if you are fatty, you’re outty!”

The professional cheerleading community is a tight one apparently, at least among the directors.  And one of the most useful tips was about not being negative and not sharing these thoughts on social media.  In this media savvy era, you don’t know who might be reading your posts, so you want to avoid negativity because word gets around and there’s no place for negative attitudes in professional cheerleading.

At the lunch break, some of the squads changed uniforms.  The Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans come to mind.  They must have brought several alternate uniforms because there were many different uniform changes during the weekend.  And that was good news for me because I enjoy photographing the girls in their various game day uniforms.  So to those squads that took the time and effort to bring their “Sunday best” uniforms, you have my gratitude. Your efforts to be glamorous were much appreciated.

After the lunch break, the girls gathered back in the grand ballroom to check the schedule and venture off into their various 2:00 pm breakout sessions.  In the grand ballroom, Derric Whitfield demonstrated a jazz dance routine to the Kesha song, “Blow”.  Tracy Rutledge led her group in a country dance routine to the song, “Country Girl Shake It” in room 2.  In room 3, Jakene Ashford taught a football/funk oriented routine to the song, “Gimme Dat”.  And in room 4, Heather Karberg demonstrated a pom/jazz routine to the Rob Thomas song, “This is How a Heart Breaks”.

Once again, at the conclusion of the second breakout sessions, the girls reconvened in the grand ballroom to demonstrate what they had learned.

After the second showcase, it was time for the third breakout session.  No break time here.   It was straight to the small rooms for more dance instruction.  In the grand ballroom, Sandy Charboneau taught a pom routine to the song, “Super Bass”.  In room 2, Brandii McCoy demonstrated something called a booty/jazz routine to the song, “Pause”.  In room 3, Tami Krause led her group in a kick line routine to the song, “Shake It”.  And in room 4, Tracy Rutledge and Alto Gary choreographed a routine in honor of breast cancer awareness.

At 4:30 pm, the dancers gathered back in the grand ballroom to once again showcase the routines they had just learned.

And at the conclusion of the showcase, all the girls were called to the floor to perform the group dance they had learned that morning.

It was 5:00 pm and the girls were excused for the day.  Some cheerleaders were asked to stay and record their performance on video, which would be given to each squad at the end of the convention so that they would have a record of the routines taught this weekend.

And that was it, the end of an amazing day of dance.  260 cheerleaders, six hours of intensive instruction, and 13 hot, hot, hot dance routines.  I was thunder struck.

Up next: Day two from P-R-O.

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I want to take this opportunity to thank Brandii McCoy, Alto Gary, Tracey Rutledge and the staff of AllPro3 for allowing me the opportunity to cover the 2011 P-R-O Convention. I had a wonderful time and hope to be back next year.

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