Spring time is the season of renewal and like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, each year hundreds of hopefuls tryout out for NFL cheerleading teams that hope to renew their squads. For the Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders, it is a new era. Under the leadership of incoming director Erin La Grassa, the 2014 Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders look to build upon the past and add to the tradition of excellence established by former director Heather Karberg.
This past weekend, over a hundred young women tried out for the 2014 Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders in a season where the local team will host the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl. Held over the course of several days, the auditions include three rounds of dancing, an interview portion, and a physical fitness/agility test.
The auditions were held at the landmark Arizona Biltmore Hotel, the same location where they had been held the previous two years. Registration opened at 12:00 noon and by the time I arrived, there was a group of eager candidates already awaiting in the foyer. After the paperwork was turned in and fees paid, the girls began to stretch and warm up. The auditions were not scheduled to begin for an another hour, so this was the time to get muscles limbered up.
At 1:00 pm, Erin addressed the assembled group and informed the candidates of the day’s proceedings.
There would be two rounds today, an across the floor routine and a more formal dance portion. After the introduction, there was a brief period where the girls stretched and warmed up.
After the warm up session, the staff demonstrated the across the floor routine for those in attendance. It is a series of spins and kicks connected by a jazz walk section and then the sequence is repeated. It is a routine used to determine those girls who do not have the requisite dance skills or physical fitness required to be an Arizona Cardinals Cheerleader.
Once the routine was demonstrated, the candidates were given several minutes to rehearse what they had learned.
Once the rehearsal period had concluded, the girls were lined up on columns and ushered into the room in groups of four to perform the across the floor routine.
Several member of the ACC staff were throughout the room to assess each candidates performance. If the hopefuls passed this test, they were given a ticket to round two and escorted back to the registration area to receive their audition number. For those lucky girls who would be moving on, their day was only beginning.
Previously, returning veterans got a free pass to the final dance round held on Sunday, but in a departure from prior years, the returning veterans had to audition this round. Because only a handful of girls were eliminated in the across the floor round, I was certain that there were more girls in Round Two than in Round One. And with the returning veterans, the competition level increased measurably.
Another brief warm up period ensued to give the returning veterans a chance to get stretched and ready to perform. Chelsey Davis, the Cardinals Pro Bowl Cheerleader, would be demonstrating this dance routine, a dance she learned at the 2014 Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Normally she would have a free pass to get back on the squad, but Chelsey accepted a job offer from the local CBS affiliate and was retiring from the Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders.
After the rehearsal portion, the girls were lined up in numerical order and the panel of judges brought in. Girls were called up in groups of three and performed the routine to music. They were scored on appearance, physical fitness, dance technique and showmanship.
After the last group had performed, the judges retired to deliberate and the scores were tabulated. Soon after, Erin came back with the results. Over one hundred hopefuls started the day, but only 60 would remain. All of the returning veterans made it back to the next round, which one would expect. And most of the training group made it too, as they should being that they been involved with the program for nearly a year. But it was nail biting time for some.
With the 60 finalists selected, the next order of business was the final dance routine. Erin took the floor and performed the routine, showing off that panache that made her one of the more noteworthy Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders of the recent past. And as is my custom, here is a photo of Erin that I took of her at the 2010 ACC auditions at UOP Stadium.
For the next sixty minutes, Erin and the remaining candidates rehearsed the final audition routine. It was 6:30 pm and the staff retired for the night, but the girls were allowed to practice with music until 7:00 pm and most of them did, taking every opportunity to perfect their performance. I am sure many of the girls continued to practice throughout the night, but with an 8:00 am call time, I departed for my own hotel so that I could recharge my camera batteries and download my files from Day One.
I arrived back at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel at 7:30 am because I wanted to get there early. It never pays to be late because you never know when things will get started and they got started early for the girls, many of whom were already there, practicing in the foyer and then inside the room.
At 8:00 am, Erin addressed the girls to let them know that today there would be the final dance audition and panel interviews. Then it was more warm up exercises and stretching.
After the warm up session, the girls had a chance to formally run through the final dance audition routine a few times before the judging began.
At 8:15 am, the 60 finalists were gathered up in numerical order and the judges were brought into the room. The final dance auditions began with Erin demonstrating the routine for the judges. She wanted to let them know what to expect from the candidates.
Then it was time for the candidates to show off what they had learned.
The girls were shuttled up in front of the judges in groups of three and with 60 finalists things finished rather quickly. The scoring was tabulated, but there were no cuts at this point. The final dance score would be one factor in determining the final squad. The interview portion would also factor in and the girls had a few hours to occupy themselves before they had to appear before a second panel of judges…just enough time to change out of their dance wear and tidy up a bit. Their day was only beginning, but mine was over. I had a long drive home, so I parted company and made the trek back to the car with my photographic equipment in tow. Time to go home.
Every spring, NFL dance teams have to renew and reinvent themselves, much like the Phoenix rises from the ashes. Sometimes it’s only the cheerleaders that are renewed and sometimes it’s a director. And with each renewal, a team is reborn.