Monday, April 07, 2008
By Andy Kent
Special for MiamiDolphins.com
April 7, 2008
Dolphin Stadium was transformed into a land of hopes and dreams Saturday for hundreds of women of all ages vying for a spot on the Miami Dolphins' renowned cheerleading squad. By the end of what was an eight-hour day for some, 56 lucky ladies remained in contention and were given a packet full of instructions to prepare for a critical week of interviews and auditions that will help the selection committee choose the final 40-woman roster.
The open audition attracted an incredible array of talent, ranging from a high school senior who is co-captain of her school's cheerleading squad to a 42-year-old wife and mother looking to burst any stereotypes associated with middle-aged women. There was a trio of waitresses from the Outback Restaurant in Coral Springs supporting each other in their quest, along with a dancer from Virginia who just moved back to Miami within the past week to chase her dream.
And in the midst of all of these hopefuls, there were a handful of former Dolphins cheerleaders trying to make a comeback, knowing up front that it could all come down to a numbers game because 28 veterans from last year's squad already had automatically advanced into the finals. This coming Saturday, a maximum of 80 dancers will perform in front of a live audience at the Aventura Mall, and this also will serve as their final audition, so the pressure only intensifies from here on out.
"We have a very busy week," said Dorie Grogan, Dolphins Director of Event Entertainment who oversaw the judging. "Starting with Monday the girls will come in and will sit down and do a one-on-one interview so that we can see, 'Do they know how to hold an intelligent conversation? Do they know how to dress properly? What do they look like close up? How do they hold themselves?' Then the next day we'll go into the dancing part."
The first round of cuts will take place that Tuesday based on the interview or on the dance performance that day, and a second round of cuts will follow Wednesday in order to get the squad down to an even 80 dancers, which means a minimum of four girls will be cut between Tuesday and Wednesday. That doesn't leave much time for those that made it through on Saturday to get prepared.
Djinji, 20, Nicole, 21, and Sharon, 20, all work together at The Outback in Coral Springs and without a doubt experienced the most drama over the course of the day. All three attended the advance preparatory dance classes at the team's training facility in Davie the week leading up to the open audition and Djinji earned a free pass into the semifinals. But Nicole and Sharon had showed up at the stadium at 7 a.m., fighting for a spot in the second round. They rejoiced upon seeing their numbers on the board among the 102 that got to stay for the second session, which was a choreographed group dance and kick line they had 20 minutes to learn.
Nicole and Sharon were in the last group of three dancers to perform, meaning theirs would be the last impression made on the judges. Their names were called at the end one after the other to take the stage with the other finalists, but Djinji was kept in suspense until the last spot was filled.
"I heard my friends' names first and I was just hoping and wondering were they going to call my name or not," Djinji said. "When they did call my name I felt relieved and excited at the same time and it was even more rewarding that all three of us got to move on. I love that. I'm not fully ready but I'm about as ready as you can be."
Of course with the smiles that abounded from the 56 finalists came some tears from those that did not make the cut. For some of the participants this was the fourth or fifth year in a row while for others it was their first attempt. Some came alone, some were driven by their mothers and others came with friends, armed with a dream to be able to put on the Dolphins uniform or just prove something to themselves.
Marilyn, 42, of Coconut Grove has been married 17 years and has a 13-year-old daughter. Exactly a year ago she saw a television news report about the cheerleader tryouts and decided to challenge herself to be ready for the 2008 tryouts. Marilyn immediately hired a trainer and added two smaller goals to her agenda that she wanted to reach before the tryouts – to win a fitness contest at her gym and to finish a half marathon, both of which she accomplished.
"The third thing that I did was that I got down to my goal weight, which is important, and I'm actually lighter than I was in high school and college," Marilyn said. "Now I'm thinking about being a fitness trainer, and I couldn't have done any of this without the support of my husband and daughter. I hired two choreographers to help me with the dancing and I went through the prep classes, so I was ready for my freestyle dance in the morning."
Unfortunately, Marilyn's name was not called after the semifinals, and she was prepared for that, saying she was ready to go back to being a mom, to being a wife, to going to the grocery store, and she took the news in stride.
"I made it this far and I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish," Marilyn said before leaving the stadium. "That's what life's all about. If you want something bad enough and you work hard at it, what's the worst thing that happened? I got into great shape and I had a great time doing it. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn't change a thing and I did the best that I could do, which is what I am trying to teach my daughter. Nothing's too far out of your reach and if you work hard at it and you want it bad enough you'll be able to achieve anything."
As nerve-racking as it was for the participants, the judges felt a lot of pressure as well. And there was a variety of backgrounds on the panel, too, with former Dolphins tight end Troy Drayton weighing in with Grogan and radio DJ Kenny Walker among others. There even was a member of the United States Army on the panel thanks to his winning a radio contest.
Drayton has been a judge in the past so he knew what to expect, but part of it was still an eye-opening experience for him.
"You don't realize how scrutinized these girls are and how much goes into this thing judging these girls, because they want to represent the Miami Dolphins in the best light," said Drayton, who is co-host of Miami Dolphins All-Access on WQAM 560. "They're trying to find the best talent, girls who are committed, and you don't have to be perfect, but if they can mold you and shape you, then that goes a long way."
All of the judges are given some basic guidelines to follow, like paying attention to the girls' personalities, smile, dance and other criteria.
"We sit in a room and we just pretty much fight back and forth about who we think should be on the squad," Drayton explained. "We go down the list, say what we think and they put the names in a pile and the process continues. Your vote has weight, but if the other judges disagree with you then now you have a fight on your hands."
Drayton has seen girls come back a second or third time and shown improvement and actually advance further than they had before. Rena, 31, of Naples is an example, having reached the finals in her third attempt. She actually made it that far the first time around but was eliminated before the semifinals last year, and she used what she learned from those experiences to better prepare for this year's audition.
"As a 31-year-old I'm not getting much younger so I wanted to give it another go," she said. "My first time around I just did it because I wanted to try out and see how I could do, and then last year I didn't really prepare for it, so this time I practiced my kick and my double turn and I felt good about my performances today. As the names were being called I was a little concerned, but when I heard my name I was like, 'Whew.' Now I've got a week of hard work ahead and a little bit more of fitness and watching what I'm eating. I had requested some time off from work just in case."
So all of these new faces with mingle with the familiar faces this week as the squad gets closer to taking shape. Grogan characterized the group of performers she and the judges saw on Saturday as one of the most talented she has seen, with a lot of beauty and uniqueness among them. And she also took pleasure in seeing some names from past squads reappear during the audition.
"I love to see girls returning from years past," Grogan said. "It shows that maybe they had to take a break because they needed to get married or they were graduating from college or they just had some other life commitment, and now they want to come back and they want to be a part of it. That's always exciting to see them come back because they know what they're getting into, so we already know that the commitment level's there and that they have what it takes."
The commitment has only just begun.