By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"Don't be nervous!"
The makeup girl smiles as she attempts to brush a wad of Cowboys cheerleader pink across my lips, but suddenly my knees are shaking so much that I can't even keep my face still.
Thing is, I totally had the situation under control, like, two seconds ago. I'd been waiting six hours to audition for a spot on the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader squad. Of course, I was there as a reporter. I didn't actually want to get on the team.
So why were my knees shaking?
It might have been the hours of watching other girls dancing like spastic 10-year-olds in desperate need of Ritalin. It might have been hearing them talk about their years of ballet experience. Or it could have been that, deep down, I wanted skeevy middle-aged male Cowboys fans to think that I'm a super-hot babe on the yearly calendar.
Before I knew it, my group of five cheerleader hopefuls was being ushered onto a makeshift stage in Texas Stadium's Stadium Club for a 90-second bid at a spot on the squad. We would have a minute and a half to do a freestyle, unchoreographed dance to a random tune of the DJ's choice--as a group. That's five flailing bodies trying not to knock anybody off a 15-foot square of parquet flooring. Behind us, a wall of floor-to-ceiling glass looked out on the field, a sea of empty blue seats just waiting to be filled with game-day oglers. Each group had a few seconds for introductions before the dance-off, providing valuable insight into the mindset of my competitors: "I'm a stay-at-home mom ready to start having a little fun!" exclaimed one.
Just imagine it: "Your mom's got a minivan? My mom's got no visible cellulite!"
Another boasted, "I'm a dance major at OU, but right now I'm working as a magician's assistant." From magician's assistant to Cowboys cheerleader? Is that a step up or down the career ladder?
And yet another: "I found out yesterday that I have cervical cancer." The hundreds of people now made aware of her diagnosis applaud appreciatively. I'm pretty sure her high kick was above average too.
When our music started, I whipped out a 10-year-old routine I remembered from my jazz-tap-ballet classes at Lisa's Dance Studio in Arlington. In my matching teal hot pants and bra top, I figured 10 years of dance instruction--though it had been 10 years since that last dance instruction--would somehow come back to me in a blaze of incredible talent. Turns out, not so much. But at least the moment had finally come.
I'd arrived just before 8 a.m. that Saturday. The line was already long at Texas Stadium when I pulled up. Later, the Country Music Television camera guys shooting the tryouts would tell bystanders they'd been there since a little after six filming the first arrivals. I'm dedicated to journalism, but I'm not 6 a.m. dedicated to journalism.
After mentally comparing thigh circumference with everyone around me, I was brought into the Stadium Club along with about 400 other hopefuls, numbered like marathon runners with big white labels on our chests, up to the mid-600's. I can't seem to get anybody to explain how 400 people get numbered up to 600, but then there is no math portion of the audition process. If you make it to the final round, though, there is a short-answer essay series about Dallas Cowboys history, the NFL and "current events."
I forked over an $18 audition check and started stretching. If I'd known that because of the set-up, wait, adjust cameras, re-set up, wait methodology of the reality show being filmed around me I wouldn't actually need to use my legs until two that afternoon, I'd have sat my ass down and eaten some fruit.
Around me, girls returned four or five times to the room's giant mirrors with styling apparatuses in hand, curling and re-curling their invariably long, flowing locks. Others re-drew layer after layer of cobalt eyeliner. Some broke out with amazing splits, legs splayed in a variety of inhuman directions. If I could do the splits like that, I'd be down at Babydolls milking wallets on weekends, not auditioning for a $50-per-home-game gig with the Cowboys cheerleaders. Who actually needs self-respect?
We were instructed to ditch our warm-up wear and strip to the required hot pants and bra tops for a trip into the stadium, where we were greeted by the perpetually well-coiffed squad director Kelli McGonagill Finglass. The auburn-dyed, blond-highlighted Finglass addressed us constantly as "ladies," a term that conjures up memories of antidepressant-popping dance instructors and overweight volleyball coaches. Anyone who's ever been on the receiving end of a "Let's go, ladies!" knows it translates roughly into "Get movin', heifers."
At the Finglass-led info session, we were inspired by a tale of how we might meet our future best friend and maid of honor at this year's tryouts. We were told of the magic and the mystique of the Cowboys cheerleader and what an honor it would be to wear the uniform. Those who weren't worried about the humidity mussing their hair nodded earnestly. We were waved back to our seats with a shrill, "Good luck, ladies!"
It was mid-afternoon before my group was shuffled into a staged "Fluff 'n' Puff" primping room and ominously supervised by CMT cameras.
We were a motley bunch. Two thin, pretty brunette dance instructors with sweet country accents. A tall, gorgeous blonde sure to make it in on her remarkable boobs alone and a miniature version, Lacey, who had all the boobs and none of the height. And me. The conversation was gripping.
"Ohmygod, I'm sonervous!"
"Ohmygod, I'm so nervous!"
"Do you think we'll have enough time to stretch? What if we can't stretch before we go on? I need to stretch. Ohmygod, I'm so nervous!"
A half-hour later, I found myself gripping a make-up chair, then striding onto the parquet floor in a line with my group. I mentally willed the DJ to play any of his random songs except Aretha Franklin's "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," the selection I'd decided would be most painful to dance to. Luckily, a hip-hop beat rang out through the speakers, and I found myself grinding wildly to 90 seconds of a rap song. Paying little attention to the song's actual beat, I threw my arms out to the left, then the right. I whipped my neck around like an amateur stripper, hair flying in every direction. Barely balancing on one leg, I spun in circles, stumbling onto two feet when I became dizzy. When I ran out of what I thought were actual dance moves, I just shook my ass in circles and started over at the beginning. As abruptly as it began, the song stopped, and I froze in mid-pirouette.
When we returned to our seats to watch the rest of the audition, I slipped out to the bathroom. It was packed with girls on cell phones giving audition play-by-plays to their mothers and boyfriends. The redhead in black-and-white horizontally striped shorts who'd been dropped off by her parents that morning was systematically asking everyone coming in through the door whether we saw her "do the same thing over and over again" once the music started. I told her I hadn't noticed.
It was after 6 p.m. before my section's results were revealed on a giant chalkboard, with my No. 433 nowhere to be found. I told myself I was staying around to hear the joyous squeals of those who made it to the semifinals. Not because I actually wanted to get there myself. No, I wanted to be able to relate to my readers exactly what a life's dream being realized sounds like. For the record, it's roughly a cross between a cat in heat and a starved 18-month-old.
Not that I'm bitter.