Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sacramento women rush for 49ers cheerleading ‘gold’ 

Posted by Sasha at 5:45 PM ET

By Ed Fletcher
The Sacramento Bee
April 3, 2008

The day starts with a crowded gym floor where nearly 400 women stretch and brace themselves for the audition of a lifetime.

The task is to dance their way into one of 32 slots as a 49ers Gold Rush cheerleader.

"This is the ultimate goal to get to be able to perform in front of 60,000 people," said Geordi Royston, one of more than a dozen Sacramento residents who auditioned.
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Bolstered by the fact that each year some of the Sacramento area's best dancers pirouette on down to the Bay Area to try out, the Gold Rush girls have earned a reputation as one of the National Football League's elite dance squads.

On March 30, a two-left-footed Bee reporter joined 393 women who shimmied, spun and eight-counted for the judges at Maples Pavilion on the Stanford University campus.

Sacramento's women were represented – seven were among the 70 finalists.

"It's the most Sacramento girls ever who have made it to the finals," said Katherine Madariaga, a 49ers spokeswoman.

The day started with everyone on equal footing. None of the women – including the 23 former Gold Rush cheerleaders fighting to win back their spots – knew the routine.

The legion of women followed along as choreographer Jeannine Sabo showed the steps and barked out: "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 … 5 … 6 … 7 and 8."

Rapidly adding more steps and music along the way, one by one many hurriedly cast aside their warmup clothes. The quick-paced lessons had cast aside the morning chill.

Sabo pushed for precision using a mix of a Simon Cowell-like honesty and Paula-esque encouragement.

Dance for the guy in the upper deck, she tells them. Energy is good, but mind the details, she urges.

After less than an hour, the lesson is over.

The girls retreat to quite corners of the stadium to rehearse and wipe the sweat away.

"It will be a relief when we get out there and start to perform. You're thinking, 'I have it now, but will I have it in 10 minutes,' " said Laura Walsh, a Natomas resident and math major at California State University, Sacramento.

Unlike some of the women, Lavette Hernan, who graduated from Bear River High School, doesn't have a lot of dance experience. She hopes her traditional cheerleading background helps.

"I am so nervous, but so excited. I have it memorized, so I'll see what happens," Hernan said minutes before performing in a group of three before the judges.

Unlike before, there's nobody counting and nobody to try to mirror – they miss a step and it's painfully obvious, as they struggle to get back on rhythm.

Rudi Brown, a student at Sacramento City College, felt pretty good after the morning audition.

"I tried my best and I hope I showed the judges how (well) I can dance," Brown said.

Kelly Grieshaber, a gymnastics coach and liberal studies major at Sac State, said focus is key.

"You have to keep your A game the whole time. You can't slack," Grieshaber said.

One area dancer was hoping to restart her professional dance career. Rachel Marks said she spent one season as a Sacramento Kings dancer, but quit to concentrate on school. She is now weeks from graduating from Sac State and ready to move from controlled indoor temperatures to the cold, wind and rain offered by Candlestick Park.

"I am a little worried about the cold, but with the adrenaline it will warm you up," she said.

Hannah Shaw and Jeanine Howland were fighting to keep their spots.

"There is so much more to lose, after being on the team last year," Shaw said.

Howland is hoping this year will be her third on squad.

"We're not guaranteed a spot, so we have to fight for it just as much as they do," Howland said. "We're all in the same spot right now." [Video and Photos]

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