Final cuts are just around the corner. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Football

A Former NFL Cheerleader Goes Behind the Boots of Making the Team: Episodes 8 and 9

First you make the team. Then you get your group.

The season is winding down, and big decisions are being made. In Episode 8, directors Kelli and Judy announced this season’s groups and group leaders. All NFL cheer teams divide their whole team into four groups, averaging nine cheerleaders per group. The cheerleaders are assigned to a group, and that group cheers together for the whole season. Basically, you do almost everything with that group from rehearsals to game-day performances. Think of it as a society within a society. 

For Dallas, each group has a designated group leader. This is DCC’s version of a team captain, and there is a lot of responsibility involved with holding this position. Group leaders work closely with the directors when it comes to relaying information to the team, along with leading practices and their group on game days. 

I was fortunate to be named a captain my last two years. One of my favorite parts was leading my group during games. Not only do cheerleaders perform on the field before the game and at the end of each quarter, but we are also constantly doing so while on the sidelines during game play, too. That’s when the real creativity comes in. While the on-field performances are practiced and set in advance, all dance routines or movements on the sidelines are decided spur of the moment. Every time a song came on in the stadium between gameplay — during a commercial break, play transition, penalty review, you name it — as captain I had seconds to listen to the song, pick a dance routine that matched the song’s style and tempo, and then begin performing.  

At the same time, the girls in my group would watch me and instantly need to know which routine to perform based on the first few moves. I would have to make these on-the-spot decisions throughout the game while making it look effortless. It might sound like it was stressful all the time, but, truthfully, by the time I became captain and was able to lead on the field, I had already cheered at 30 games. I had gone through these scenarios multiple times, watching and learning from my previous captains. So it came naturally to me when it was my time to lead. There is no substitute for experience.

Kelli and Judy also revealed who would be the point of the triangle for the signature pregame routine. This unveiling has become a DCC tradition over the years, and it’s an honor to be chosen. The spot of point of the triangle is given to a cheerleader who is a top performer, a leader on the team, a person trusted by the directors. It makes for prime on-screen visibility during the gameday performance, especially since that lucky cheerleader gets to keep that spot all season. This season, fifth-year veteran and group leader Gina was assigned to the point, and I think she definitely deserves it. She has been a powerhouse dancer since her rookie year, and you can tell all of her teammates respect her. 

I was the point of our triangle for our pregame routines two times during my career. Unlike DCC, which has the same pregame routine that they perform at every game, every season, the team I was on changed pregame routines every three games. Every team handles it differently, but no matter how they do, it is a big deal to perform front and center on the 50 yard line. You are essentially leading your team while performing, the rest of the cheer team dancing behind you, with thousands of fans watching. No pressure!

In less happy news, with only one episode left, the cuts keep coming. Along with two rookie candidates being cut from training camp, these two episodes treated us to a pair of surprise veteran departures. Third-year veteran Lisa had to drop out due to an injury. She had spent every practice in pain, so she decided it was in her best interest to recover and heal properly to prevent any permanent damage. I’ve been there myself, so I understand where she’s coming from.

Then, second-year veteran Alora removed herself from training camp after it came to light that she was considering auditioning for the Rockettes later in the year. Kelli and Judy were caught off guard and upset; they felt that Alora had wasted their time going through training camp if there was a chance she ultimately didn’t want to be there. Is that fair? It’s worth remembering that Making the Team is a heavily edited reality show, and there is probably a lot more backstory to the decision. If Alora was on the fence about whether she wanted to be a DCC this year, I’m just glad she removed herself before the final team was announced to allow a rookie candidate to take her spot. Because the biggest truth this reality show captures well is that the demands of this job are too big for anyone to be halfway in. It takes total commitment. And, just like any other sport, when you have it, that’s what makes a good team great. 

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