James Blakey, UltimateCheerleaders.com’s publisher and our illustrious leader here at the blog, celebrated his 50th birthday two days prior to this year’s P-R-O Convention. I, myself, am…um…a tad older than James. And let me say that photographing hundreds of beautiful and talented professional cheerleaders is exhausting work…physically demanding work…mentally draining work.
It’s not for the faint of heart, nor the infirmed. I should know…I took a little spill off the stage on Saturday…nothing serious, just a scrape of the knee as my leg buckled…no, not from MS or something like that…just old age. At least I spared my camera equipment from a nasty crash by falling on my right side. “Superstar!”
An event like this is for the young. Young cheerleaders and young photographers. This convention is no country for old men…unfortunately, old men is all we got.
* * * * *
The P-R-O Convention is the premier professional cheerleading convention and over 250 dancers from all over the country gathered in Atlanta, Georgia for two days of intensive dance training and team building. This year, we celebrate the 12th year anniversary of this wonderful event. And if you weren’t in Atlanta, here’s what you missed.
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)
Tara Battiato – Tampa Bay Bucaneers (NFL)
Sandy Charboneau – ProTour Productions
Tricia Crawford – Milwaukee Bucks (NBA)
Denise Garvey – New York Jets Flight Crew (NFL)
Alto Gary – Houston Texans (NFL)
Stephanie Jojokian – Washington Redskins (NFL)
Stacie Kinder – Tennessee Titans (NFL)
Shannon Kingsley – Seattle Seahawks (NFL)
Tami Krause – Minnesota Vikings (NFL) & Minnesota Swarm (NLL)
Brandii McCoy – Charlotte Bobcats (NBA) & Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Tracy Rutledge – former NBA Atlanta Hawks & South Georgia Wildcats
Derric Whitfield – Washington Wizards (NBA)
James and I were given exclusive access by the organizers of the event, All-Pro3. 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.
As is our custom, James and I met for breakfast in the hotel restaurant to catch up on old times and discuss what each of us will cover. He had a late flight on Friday, so we could not do our customary walk through and that might have been a good thing because there were a few physical changes, like a larger main stage and new backdrops…minor changes that ultimately required a few niggling workarounds to what we’ve done in the past.
Around 8:20 am, we spotted our first attendees…a few Jets Flight Crew members who were hovering around the P-R-O Convention table. It turned out that they were second year members and this was their first time at P-R-O. They were looking over the merchandise, scoping out the cutest pro cheerleader shirts that were for sale. Though it was their first year, they were savvy enough to queue up early and be able to have their pick of the hottie-wear. Usually it’s the Titans or Texans Cheerleaders who line up early, but they were not to be seen in line.
At 8:30 am, Tracy Rutledge and her staff were open for business and an endless horde of cheerleaders lined up to snap up their purchases.
At 9:00 am, registration opened and all of the attendees were required to complete some mandatory paper work. As the teams completed the registration process, some of the girls were able to check out the P-R-O Convention sponsor tables. Long time convention sponsor Peavey hosiery was there, handing out free pairs of pantyhose and footless tights. The Line Up, the premier provider of custom dance costumes and creative performance apparel, was showcasing their innovative and sexy new designs. GTM sportwear, a national provider of custom-embellished uniforms, warm-ups and practice apparel for college, school and club sports teams, was also in attendance. Other sponsors were Love Pastry designer shoes, It Works body wraps and Plexus Slim nutritional products.
With the actual instruction set to begin at 10:00 am, I used this time to gather a few cheerleaders and take some posed photos for my P-R-O Convention All Star series. Free time like this is rare at this convention and my shoot list was expansive, so I maximized my time and photographed as many of those notable cheerleaders as possible. They were all fresh faced and relaxed, so it was a good shooting experience, but all too brief.
Before I knew it, my quality time was at and end. It was 10:00 am and the P-R-O staff formally called the all the attendees into the grand ballroom. The 2015 P-R-O Convention was finally on!
There was an initial rush once the doors were opened. The Washington Wizard Girls rushed in followed by their sisters from the Redskins, Houston Texans, the Jets Flight Crew, Atlanta Falcons, and the Tennessee Titans.
Space up front is a scarce commodity and as I have observed over the years, there is a designated pecking order. Teams may come and go, but it is usually the Titans, Redskins, Wizards Girls, Texans, Jets, Falcons from my left to right. Late comers get to hang out in the rear of the ballroom with the wallflowers, far away from the instructors and the aging UltimateCheerleaders.com photographers.
Staff members welcomed all the attendees and opened this year’s convention by calling all the instructors to the stage. This year’s instructors, thirteen in total, came from the NBA, NHL and the NFL and represented the finest choreographers in professional sports entertainment.
A variety of dance styles and routines would be taught, suitable for the hard court of the NBA to the grass sidelines of the NFL and type every field in between.
With the introductions over, the girls were led through a brisk warm up and stretching session by the uber fit and flexible director of the Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders, Stacie Kinder.
With the girls warmed up and stretched, it was time to dance. The first dance taught at every P-R-O Convention that I’ve been to is the group dance. It is the dance that opens the convention and it is the dance that closes the convention. It is the only dance that all the girls perform together and this year, Brandii McCoy from the Charlotte Hornets, did the honors and broke down the dance into eight count segments for the girls to learn.
Once the group dance routine was taught, it was time to recognize this year’s Sidelines Distractions magazine honorees. The names of the girls who made the magazine selection process were announced and they were called up to the front of the stage. There must have been over twenty five girls names called and the final one was this year’s cover girl…Baranese from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Once all the girls were recognized, the staff distributed the magazine for all to read.
In addition to honoring those special cheerleaders, the Sidelines Distractions magazine includes the schedule for the weekend. With the opening festivities under their belt, the cheerleaders took a few moments to study the schedule and assign girls to each room.
It was noon and for the first breakout session of the day, Jakene Ashford choreographed a novelty dance in the grand ballroom. In room 2, Tami Krause demonstrated a funky pom dance. In room 3, Tracy Rutledge showed off a sassy, jazzy pom routine. And in room 4, Stephanie Jojokian taught a funk/pom routine.
At the conclusion of the session, the girls reconvened in the grand ballroom to showcase what they had learned.
With the first session concluded, we broke for lunch. James and I sat at a table with a group of second year Jets Flight Crew, who were also first timers to this convention, and one third year veteran. We had an nice little chat with them and James and I were both impressed with their engaging and well spoken conversational skills. Denise Garvey should be proud of her girls as they represent the very best that cheerleaders have to offer.
After the lunch break, it was back to the dance sessions. It was 2:45 pm and the girls had already learned five routines. In the grand ballroom, Alto Gary choreographed a sassy jazz dance. In room 2, Tara Battiato led her group in a straight up country dance. In room 3, Derric Whitfield treated his girls to a funky hip hop routine. And in room 4, Sandy Charboneau demonstrated a funky pom routine.
At the conclusion of the showcase, the girls were quickly ushered on to their final sessions of the day. In the grand ballroom, Denise Garvey presented a jazz dance routine. In room 2, Brandii McCoy choreographed a jazzy Latin number. In room 3, Shannon Kingsley demonstrated a jazz/pom dance routine. And in room 4, Tricia Crawford showcased a funky jazz dance.
As was usual, the girls reconvened at the end of the session to showcase what they had learned.
At the end of the showcase, the instructors gathered all the dancers together to perform the group dance that they had learned earlier in the day. It would have been a fitting end to an amazing day of dance, but there was a special surprise in store for the girls. It wouldn’t be P-R-O if there wasn’t something special in store for the girls.
It was referred to as “extra fun” in the schedule, but in fact it was recording artist Samantha J., here at P-R-O to record a music video with the girls to her hit song, “Cheerleader”.
Six hours of instruction, thirteen dances, Samantha J. and a music video recording session! Day one was in the books and this old man was ready for a nap.
Up next: Day Two from P-R-O. Please check back soon.
* * * * *
I want to take this opportunity to thank Brandii McCoy, Alto Gary, Tracy Rutledge and the staff of AllPro3 for allowing me the opportunity to cover the 2015 P-R-O Convention. I had a great time, got some killer photos and hope to be back next year.