photo by Janell Davis
"Cheerleading, Ive always thought, is not so much a real sport as a pleat-skirted excuse for attention-starved girls who want to make it with the first string quarterback. Ive long believed that cheerleaders aren't real athletes, just frustrated acrobats with great lungs. They wear bows in their hair and seriously discuss things like "spirit fingers." And dance teams? Come on, theyre just mute cheerleaders. So when the Flyer received a press release about the open auditions for the Memphis Grizzlies Dance Team, how could I resist? It would be hilarious. I faked a resume (5 years of hip-hop dance experience was required) and had the Flyer's art department mock up a professional-looking headshot. They had a blast photoshopping my face and the resume was quite possibly the best fiction I've ever written. In it I discussed how I had experience "integrating innovative dance techniques into traditional environments." -- i.e., making up shit on the dance floor. And I copied my "hobbies" section straight from the Laker Girls website, stealing such tasty morsels as "I enjoy dog watching (watching?) and working with underprivileged children," from the bio of an actual Laker girl. I'm a tough chick, a kickboxer. My girliness only shows itself in a sincere love for make-up, clothes, and women's magazines. And I've always been a tomboy. At age six my dance teacher asked me to quit ballet classes after I royally ruined the recital. Incidentally, that same year my troop leader asked me to quit the Brownies. She said something about a bad attitude. So to prepare for the try outs, I watched the cheerleading movie "Bring It On" four times and agonized over my audition outfit. The day of the audition, what I lacked in talent and experience, I made up for in look and attitude. The press release said that women should wear "beige tights, dance trunks, and a sports bra." I had beige tights, leftover from a Halloween costume, and I certainly had sports bras -- even some cute ones. But "dance trunks" I wasn't so sure about. I guessed that they were those bloomery-underweary looking things that all the girls in "A Chorus Line" wear. And, digging through my workout wear, I found a pair that looked right enough. However, when I put them on over the tights and practiced dancing in the mirror, I realized that the insta-wedgie look wasn't an attractive one on me. So I improvised dance trunks by rolling up the legs of some boy shorts. Seriously, it looked cute. Arriving at 8:57 (registration was from 8:30 to 9:00) was a very smart, though unintentional, move. My number, 126, was one of the last ones to be given out and the audition would go according to number. The poor eager girl who got there first was screwed. I expected to find a room full of washed=up high school cheerleaders, strippers craving legitimacy, and leg-warmered dancers who had perfected their "jazz hands." Minus the leg warmers I was right on with the last category, and there were a few washed up cheerleaders, but no (obvious) strippers. Everyone was stretching and practicing little dance moves, each trying to psyche out everyone around them. Knowing that none of my karate moves would impress the dancers, I focused on dazzling them with my stretches, and it must have worked on a few of the girls standing around. At one point pre-audition, just after we'd been shown the routine, two BAP-ish women (big hair, big booties, gold teeth) approached me and asked if I would teach it to them. Only able to momentarily bask in their appreciation of my stretches, I quickly had to tell them that I would if I could, but that I, too, was totally clueless. At this admission one of the women said, Girl, I thought they said hip-hop dancing. This shit is ballet." My sentiments exactly. I came ready to percolate, to butterfly, to slide, bounce, booty shake and squat dance low on the floor. I soon realized that none of this would be enough. If you couldn't pirouette, do gazelle-ish flying leaps, and back handsprings -- all in perfect time to the music -- you had as much chance of making the team as a dwarf does of playing in the NBA. We were all gathered up and introduced to the choreographer, a pixie-ish woman who, we were told, was once a Laker Girl herself - a.k.a., a goddess in the cheerleading hierarchy. Moreover, she later went on to choreograph for the Laker Girls. Which led to her also choreographing videos for "Paula Abdul and Janet," (apparently no last name required). Everyone present aaahed audibly and then whispered, "Oh my God, Janet," to each other - in noticeably reverential tones. I was definitely in over my head. We were told that the first cut would come after everyone performed for the judges, who were seated at table on the long side of the basketball court. The routine was shown to us, again and again and again. "Pah-duh-beret, sha-ta-say"- (these are my phonetic spellings), the choreographer ordered. My first thought was, 'Does she know she's not in Canada anymore and that we speak English here?' But looking around and realizing that many of the girls knew what these words meant reaffirmed my notion that showing up for this try-out had been a BIG mistake. All I could figure was that you do a little kicky thing, spin left once, spin right twice, spin left again, spin right again, throw your hands out, throw your hands up, and step back. As you might guess, I didn't make it past the first cut. In fact, the first cut eliminated most everyone over 30, wearing Princess Reeboks, spandex bike shorts, or -- like me -- who simply fancied themselves to be extraordinary night club dancers. Which turned out to be a very good thing. Sure, I was disappointed and bummed out at first, but later realized that never in my life have I been so happy to fail. To succeed past the first cut was to expose oneself to further humiliation, toil, and hamstring pulling torture. So I stuck around to watch. As the day went on, I witnessed dozens of people expertly executing super-human feats. They sailed through the air with gravity-defying ease and danced while standing on their heads. They bounced from one corner of the floor to the other on their hands and did toe-touches ten feet off the ground. These were girls (and boys) whose resumes were real, not faked like mine; who had spent years leaning on barres, not bars; whose toe shoes didn't have spike heels; and who wore dance trunks made by Danceskin - not just modified boy shorts. I actually caught myself feeling guilty for all those years that I made fun of cheerleaders and laughed at girls who took dance classes. The men and women who made the final cut, I now have no problem saying, are world-class athletes, honed and toned to perfection by years of grueling practice. It was a humbling day, to be sure, but not entirely a waste of time for me. I'm even thinking about signing up for some dance classes. Because if I learned one thing from my two counts of eight across the floor, it's that I may be a lover and a fighter, but I ain't no dancer.