Monday, July 23, 2007

Wild's Dance Squad Works Long Hours for Fans' Appreciation 

Posted by James at 10:35 AM ET

By Cinthia Ritchie
Anchorage Daily News
Kira Lamb, 20, punched metallic pompoms over her head, her dark hair flashing in the overhead lights.

"Let's go, Wild!"

Around her, 15 other young women jumped and yelled and fussed with their hair. It was April 12, the first Alaska Wild indoor-football game, and Alaska's only professional cheerleaders were working the crowd. They wore red velvet short-shorts and tops the size of sports bras. Their shoulders sparkled with glitter, and their blond, black, red and platinum curls stayed in place even during the highest of jumps.

"We want a touchdown," they yelled, stamping their chunky knee-high black boots.

When halftime arrived, the squad ran out on the field and began a series of chorus-high kicks. They twirled their hips, ran their hands up their legs, bent over and shook their toned behinds. Then they threw out a few more kicks and slid down into fast and furious splits.

A collective male cheer rose up from the crowd.

Josh Tofaeono, 17, who stood by the concession area waiting for a hearty portion of junk food, raved about the show.

"They've got everything a cheerleader needs," he said. "They're hot. They've got the moves. They add spice."

But according to squad coach Rebbecca Dragan, 22, being an Alaska Wild cheerleader isn't all fluff and pretty pompoms. It's also dance practice and cardiovascular training, publicity appearances and learning more than 30 sideline routines.

Kira, Wild Cheerleader

"It's a hard life," she said with a shrug.

A former cheerleader for the Dallas Desperados, an Arena Football League team associated with the NFL's Cowboys, Dragan has a degree in biochemistry and runs practice sessions with steady confidence. She calls the squad members back to order when they break into chatty groups and expects a ninth and 10th run-through even after routines have been perfectly executed.

"Her girls" have to be in shape, she explained, and they have to know the moves as if they were second nature. They don't just perform the halftime shows at all the home games, which totaled seven this year; they also dance from the sidelines plus perform short programs during timeouts and penalties.

"Basically, they're dancing for two and a half hours," she said.

Auditions were in November, and about 80 young women tried out for the 16 positions. Initial requirements were basic: Each had to be at least 18 and have either a high school diploma or GED. After performing kicks and dance routines, contestants were interviewed by a panel of judges and scored according to skill, personality and execution of complex moves.

Cheerleaders range in age from 18 to 24. All have outside jobs, many are students, none is married and Lamb is the only mother.

"I'm showing people that just because you have a baby doesn't mean you can't go after your dreams," she said.

Current cheerleader contracts run out in November, and tryouts for next year's squad will take place around that time. Competition is tough; there's no guarantee that this year's team members will automatically make next year's cut. One cheerleader, according to Dragan, was removed early on due to a conflicting attitude.

Alaska Wild cheerleaders make the same money as those in the NFL: $50. That's per game, not per week. If you figure in the lengthy practices, the workouts and pre- and post-game signings, that comes out to less than $1 an hour.

(Editor's note: Depending on the squad, NFL Cheeerleaders can make more or less than $50/game - James)

"You can't make a living off of it," Dragan said.

But they all receive free services for pre-game hair styling, makeup and fake tans.

This season, the team showed up all over town, participating in community events including Special Olympics and Big Brothers Big Sisters, and they hosted a cheerleading camp for the Boys and Girls Club. They also did autograph sessions at Harley-Davidson, Run to the Sun, the Sportsman Show and 'Koots.

The pace is demanding. Practices are three times a week and nightly before games, and if you miss practice before a game, you can't perform.

Elizabeth, Wild Cheerleader

Elizabeth Draden, a 20-year-old UAA business major, sees cheerleading as an opportunity to dance in front of large and enthusiastic crowd.

"It isn't like everyone thinks," she said. "It's hard work. You have to have your own personality within your body."

Cheerleaders, Dragan said, also have to fight the pretty-girl stereotype. But they're not dim-witted. More skin doesn't mean less intelligence.

"Most of us have degrees," she said. "We have brains. And talent."

As far as the short uniforms, well, that's part of the game.

"I'd challenge anyone to come and work out with us," she said.

Elizabeth, Wild Cheerleader

Amanda Dickens, 23, an advertising executive for the Daily News, doesn't believe the squad emphasizes looks over ability. Still, the first time she saw herself in her skimpy uniform, she found it "shocking."

"But you get used to it fairly quickly," she said.

Cheerleading is a high-energy lifestyle, and while most of the time it's exhilarating, the schedule commitment can be intense, said nail technician Carolyn "Car" Laurion, 18.

But when game night arrives, they run out on the field. They stand beneath the bright lights, and the crowd begins to cheer.

"Then," she said, "it's worth it."

Online home of the Alaska Wild Cheerleaders here.

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