Sunday, April 02, 2006

Adrianne and Audrea: Setting the Bar 

Posted by Sasha at 8:53 AM ET

I originally posted this about a month ago. I thought I'd post it again for anyone out there who needs a little inspiration during audition season. Besides, I worked hard on this, darn it. Sometimes a girl needs to honk her own horn :-)

It’s hard to believe that the NBA season is half over and NFL cheerleader auditions are just around the corner. This is the time of year when veterans turn in their uniforms, audition workshops begin, and hopefuls prepare to try their luck. This is also the time of year when everyone starts to get a little nervous about tryouts. As any veteran will tell you, it doesn’t matter how much dance experience you have, how cute you are, or how many years you’ve been on the squad, auditioning is scary business.

That’s why this is the perfect time of year
to post our very first PCB profile.

Adrianne and Audrea, the two ladies featured in this piece, exemplify all that is good about this industry. The enthusiasm, commitment, and heart they demonstrated during their time as pro cheerleaders inspired everyone around them. Whether you’re a newbie, thinking of auditioning for the very first time, a veteran wondering if you have the energy to try out for another year, or a retired vet who’s thinking of making a comeback, there is so much you can take away from their experience. Hopefully, their story will inspire you to give it all you’ve got.


This is Adrianne and Audrea:
sisters, best friends, and accomplished performers.

Though both have now retired from pro cheerleading, their dance careers were marked by a longevity rarely seen in the industry. Taken together, they have almost 25 years of experience performing in the world of pro sports dancing. They believe the experience has enriched their lives in too many ways to count and feel blessed to have had a sister and best friend to share it with. They’re modest about their accomplishments, but if there were such a thing as a Pro Cheer Hall of Fame, Adrianne and Audrea would be two of its inaugural members. If anyone deserves a “Been there, done that” t-shirt, it’s these two.

Where it all started

The sisters, 18 months apart in age, were born and raised in a close-knit family in Southern California. Growing up, their parents encouraged them to try a wide variety of activities, from music to sports to drama, but it was dance that caught and held their attention from the very beginning. Adrianne, the older of the two, led the way but Audrea wasted no time catching up. To say they took to performing like a duck takes to water is a major understatement.

Coming from a family of dedicated sports fans, it was inevitable that sooner or later, they’d find themselves performing on the sidelines. Like many young girls, Adrianne and Audrea started cheering for a Little League team (coincidentally called the L.A. Raiders) and went on to cheer and dance in middle school and high school. And if not for a key event in Adrianne’s life, perhaps it would’ve ended there.

When Adrianne was 14, she met a group of Los Angeles Raiderettes at a local cheer competition. The cheerleaders made a huge impression on Adrianne and encouraged her to try out for the squad when she got a little older. It was an idea that immediately took root and started to grow.

Four years later, a nervous Adrianne decided to go for it. She went to tryouts and gave it her all, making it all the way to finals. Her family was thrilled and excited for her. But in the end, she was passed over for the team. This would have devastated some girls, but in Adrianne’s case, it just made her more determined.

When it was time for Raiderette auditions the following spring, Adrianne, now a sophomore at the University of Southern California (USC), was ready to try again. The whole family – mom, dad, sister and brother – went with her to finals at the Los Angeles Hilton. While Adrianne was going through the audition process, her family was outside, nervously awaiting the news. This time, when Adrianne emerged from the ballroom there was cause for celebration! Adrianne was chosen to become one of “Football’s Fabulous Females.” It was, as they say, “the beginning of something big!”

Going Pro

Adrianne spent the next few years performing for the Silver and Black, while juggling a part-time job and full course load in school. She says it wasn’t that difficult to manage it all, but don’t you believe that for a second. That kind of schedule means a lot of late night studying and weekend rehearsals while everyone else your age is partying at night and sleeping in late. Those time management skills paid off in 1991 when Adrianne graduated from USC with a B.A. in Communications.

Audrea followed in her sister’s footsteps, dancing through all four years of high school, then graduating and enrolling at USC. But unlike her sister, she was ready for a break from dance. Or so she thought! She sat out for a couple of years and focused on her studies. But by the end of her sophomore year, she was ready to get back into the action. Although Adrianne encouraged her to try out for the Raiders, Audrea had her eye on a spot with her college dance team, the famous USC Song Girls. She auditioned, made the team, and spent her remaining college years cheering the Trojans to victory.

When Audrea graduated from USC in 1993 (with a B.A. in Psychology thankyouverymuch), she wasn’t quite ready to give up performing. She knew she wanted to keep dancing, and that meant moving on to the pros. By that time, Adrianne had been a Raiderette for four seasons. She encouraged Audrea once again to try out for the team, but in the spirit of younger sisters everywhere, Audrea decided to go her own way. She tried out for other NFL team in town - the L.A. Rams - and made the squad her first time at bat. The girls enjoyed a friendly rivalry during that time and found that being on different teams gave them the chance to compare notes and support each other from the stands. (Meanwhile, younger brother Derek, still in high school, had two sisters who were professional NFL cheerleaders. Poor kid. I’m sure this made him incredibly unpopular with the guys in his class.)

Shaking things up

After six years with the Raiders, Adrianne was a bit restless and ready for something new. She wasn’t quite ready to hang up her poms though, so she auditioned for the Los Angeles Laker Girls. This was actually her second audition for the Lakers. She wasn’t selected for the team, but she did make finals both times. That was no small feat in Los Angeles where every other person you meet is a performer of some sort. Undaunted, Adrianne decided what she really needed was a change of scenery, so she packed up and moved to San Francisco.
San Francisco quickly began to feel like home, but in the beginning, Adrianne found herself looking for something familiar in an unfamiliar place. She found that “something familiar” with the San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush Cheerleaders. She decided to audition, knowing that the six years of experience under her belt gave her an advantage but by no means a guarantee. She went out there and worked it and at the end of auditions, she was selected to join the team.

Though Adrianne missed her Raiderette sisters, she was very excited about the Gold Rush program, her new teammates, and their fantastic director Angela King-Twitero (a former Gold Rush cheerleader herself). She knew that, Raiderette or not, she was a rookie with the 49ers organization. She’d have to start from scratch and learn the ropes just like all of the other new girls. Adrianne approached the opportunity with respect, humility, and an excitement for the change, and the 49ers fans welcomed her with open arms. (Well, except for that very first game. The 49ers introduce the cheerleaders individually during pre game. When Adrianne stepped up for her brief solo and the loudspeakers boomed “…USC graduate coming to us by way of the Los Angeles Raiders, the lovely Adrianne!!!” the crowd actually booo’ed. Ouch! But Adrianne knew it wasn’t personal and let it roll off her back. Everyone knows football fans are incredibly loyal and those 49er fans were not interested in hearing anything about the Raiders.

While Adrianne was settling in up North, Audrea was experiencing a few changes of her own. The Rams had relocated to St. Louis in 1995, so she was looking for a new challenge. Audrea and several of her Rams teammates got together and decided to try out for the Los Angeles Clippers Spirit Dance team. Audrea flew through the audition with ease and the next thing she knew, she was running out on the court for her first performance.

Audrea quickly discovered that though her experience with the Song Girls and the Rams had prepared her for large crowds, performing for the NBA was a whole other animal. Basketball arenas are much more intimate than football stadiums, the fans are a lot closer, the choreography more intricate, and instead of 40 dancers, there were only 12. Because of that, her first Clippers game was a little nerve-racking. But halfway through the first routine, those nerves completely disappeared and it was nothing but fun and excitement. She remembers that first game like it was yesterday. The Clippers were up against the Orlando Magic, and Audrea, a HUGE Penny Hardaway fan, was in seventh heaven.

NBA dance teams move at a much faster pace than NFL teams but Audrea rose to the challenge. In the NBA, there are several games a week. That usually means working all day at a regular full-time job, then zipping over to the arena for a few hours of practice before show time. The dancers are often called upon to learn choreography fast, make it clean, and perform it flawlessly two days later. Like Adrianne, Audrea downplays the difficulty of balancing dance, career, and personal life. But as I said before, don’t you believe it! I am beginning to think these two have never vegged out for more than two minutes at a time. That is, if they’ve EVER vegged out. Which – given their track record - I kind of doubt.

After her first year with the Clippers, Audrea became a dance captain and she retained that leadership position for the next three years. She enjoyed every moment of her time with the Clippers, but then, like her older sister, she got a little restless. And like her older sister, she headed north. But where Adrianne stopped in San Francisco, Audrea kept going – all the way to Seattle, home of the Seahawks, the Sonics, and the Storm.

Soon after relocating, she auditioned for the Sonics Dance Team. And again, she made it on her first try. What can I say? The woman has skills! In fact, those skills were recognized the two years later, when she was offered the position of Director for the Sonics Dance Team and the Seattle Storm Dance Troop. It wasn't an easy decision. Audrea still loved performing, and could have continued on for several more years, but she also realized what a terrific opportunity she’d been offered. After some soul searching, she accepted the job, eager to meet the challenge of directing not one, but TWO professional teams at once. It was spring 2002 when Audrea gave her final performance with the Sonics and retired from her career as a pro sports dancer.

Meanwhile, a little further to the south, Adrianne was also making some important decisions. She’d moved back to Los Angeles after her second year with the Gold Rush but continued to commute north for rehearsals and games. Two years, and thousands of frequent flyer miles later, she decided it was time to retire and focus her energy on her acting career. A born performer, she was ready to exercise her acting chops.

Adrianne spent the next several years living the life of a working actress in Los Angeles. Though she missed performing with the other girls, she was finally in her element. A busy schedule of castings, rehearsals, tapings, and performances kept her constantly on the go and her career thrived. But all of that go-go-go can be difficult and after a few years, Adrianne decided it was time for a little hiatus from showbiz. That was her plan - but it’s not what happened. What actually happened was she found an agent in San Francisco and there were so many great acting opportunities there, she continued working in Northern California.

You can go home again

While living in the Bay Area, Adrianne reconnected with her Raiderette roots. She often went to the home games in Oakland and couldn’t help but notice that the Raiderette program had grown by leaps and bounds since the old days in Los Angeles. The Raiderettes had a fresh new vibe, courtesy of Karen Kovac, their new choreographer. The dances were bigger and better than ever and Adrianne realized she missed the excitement, the performing and the camaraderie. Looking back on her decision to retire, she thought that maybe she wasn’t quite ready to give it all up forever. In 2001, she came out of retirement to audition once again and the Raiders eagerly welcomed her back into the fold. In many ways, it was a new team in a new city, but there were a lot of things that were very familiar. It was like a homecoming for Adrianne to go back to her Raiders family and back to the two people who saw something special in her that very first year and put her on the squad - Raiderette Director Mary Barnes and Raiders Executive Director Al Locasale. (Both have since retired)

There were a lot of new faces since Adrianne had cheered in Los Angeles, but the Raiderettes embraced her, affectionately (and respectfully) nicknaming her “Mama.” For four years, she danced for the Silver and Black and at the end of the fourth year she knew It Was Time. She had met and exceeded every goal she’d set for herself as a Raiderette. Her years as a pro sports dancer were an incredibly special time in her life, but it was time to “pass the poms” to the next wave of Raiderettes. It was time to retire for good and find out what else life had to offer. So in 2005 Adrianne hung up her poms, three years after Audrea had done the same. And though both sisters cherish their time in the pros, they are certain that they retired at just the right time. Between the two of them, they’d spent an incredible 25 seasons dancing for the pros. You heard me. Twenty-five. Beat that, if you can!

Looking Back

Adrianne and Audrea attribute their success in the pros to doing their part: staying in shape, taking dance classes, keeping a positive attitude, and working hard to be the example, not the exception. They feel blessed to have danced in the pros for well over ten years each and feel
    “Because I have been involved in professional cheerleading most of my adult life, I can truly say that I am the person I am today because of my experience as a professional cheerleader. I am a more giving and understanding person. I have learned how to get along with people of different backgrounds in all types of situations. I have learned how to stay true to myself and not lose sight of what and who is real. I have learned that I am a winner, can do anything and I will never quit. My mom also taught me all this, and this experience confirmed it.”
Both ladies came away with a closet full of mementos and a heart full of memories. Among Audrea’s favorite memories is that first game as a Sonics Dancer. After four years with the Clippers, it was an interesting twist that her first Sonics performance was at a Sonics/Clippers home game. She kept forgetting which team to cheer for, and when some of the Clippers players recognized her, they teased her for being a “traitor” to the team. She remembers what it felt like the very first time she ran out on the field as a Rams cheerleader. She remembers her favorite costume of all time, the sparkly red dress she wore during the 1995 season. She remembers going to the playoffs as a Clippers dancer and again with the Sonics. And she remembers the second year she auditioned for the Clippers when she – an experienced veteran - donned a hot pink outfit, ran out in front of judges -- and completely forgot the choreography. (Yep, it happens to veterans too.)

Adrianne also has more special memories than she can count: cheering in two Super Bowls, receiving her 49ers Super Bowl ring, visiting the troops in Bosnia, Croatia and Hungary, being selected for the Pro Bowl by her Gold Rush teammates, and hearing her name announced as the Raiderette Rookie of the Year, Raiderette of the Year, Raiderette Dancer of the Year, and recipient of the Wanetta Horton Award, which was voted on by her teammates.

Though Adrianne is known best as a ten-year Raiderette and is most often associated with that organization, she is emphatic that her four years with the Gold Rush were equally important. She marks those years as some of the most outstanding of her career and believes that during that time is when she grew the most as a perfomer, a leader (she was a captain for two years) and as a person. She is proud to have worn both the silver and black and the red and gold. But Adrianne’s greatest treasures are all the people she met and connected with along the way – her teammates, her directors, the Raiders and 49ers organizations, the little girls in the junior Raiderette program, and many, many others.

These Days...

After retirement and a few years spent as director of the Sonics Dancers and the Seattle Storm Dance Troop, Audrea moved back to Los Angeles. Last summer, she worked as a staff assistant for U.S. Spiritleaders, the dance and cheer company where she used to teach. Today, she is back with the Clippers organization, working as a Floor Manager in Game Entertainment. She works with all aspects of entertainment including the color guard, anthem, dance team, fan patrol, halftime, and timeout contests, and loves every moment of it. She also signed on recently to work game days for the Los Angeles Avengers. In between times, she judges college and pro dance team auditions and high school dance competitions.

Adrianne also moved back to the South Land and is focused on her acting career full-time. She remains close with her Gold Rush and Raiderette sisters and is still involved with the Raiders organization. In fact, she recently returned from a trip to Japan and Korea where she served as Tour Manager for a group of Raiderettes visiting the troops. (See "Traveling With the Raiderettes")

The sisters are enjoying life as civilians, happy to be living in the same city once again, and surrounded by friends and family.

They both say pro cheerleading has changed since they first started. The dancing is a lot more technical, and the teams get much more recognition. Just about every team has a web site, a poster, a junior dance team, and an annual calendar shot in exotic locations. The costumes are a bit smaller and the reputations a bit larger. As Audrea says “It keeps growing and evolving and I think it's fantastic!”

These are two special women who have had some extraordinary experiences. And they want you to know that you can do it too. So what if you tried out last year and didn’t make it? TRY AGAIN. You want to switch to a different team? DO IT. You think maybe - just maybe - you retired too soon? IT’S NEVER TOO LATE. To quote an old Nike commercial: You have nothing to lose and everything everything everything to gain. JUST DO IT.

Mama says...

If you’re nervous or haven't quite made up your mind to audition, take this bit of advice from Adrianne:
    Be at your BEST! Competition is fierce! That day, make sure you are well rested, and dressed appropriately, with makeup and hair “beat” (that means flawless). Make sure you feel great inside, about yourself, your competition, the whole experience. Don’t make excuses for why you “can’t go” (tired, weather, distance, your friends, your ride didn’t come, your boyfriend, your own fear, etc…- Mama’s heard ‘em all). GET YOUR BUTT UP, GET PRETTY AND GO TO THE AUDITION!!!! Even if you don’t make it, you are a winner for going instead of sleeping in. You get to learn for next year!

"You never know until you go."

Many thanks to Audrea and Adrianne for their time and all of these great photos.

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