Friday, August 15, 2008
This past spring, the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders were the first in the NFL to venture to India to cheer for the IPL (Indian Premier League).
The IPL introduced a shortened version of cricket called twenty-twenty. This new format shortened the game from five days to a few hours. But that is not the only thing that changed. The owners of the IPL wanted this new cricket league to resemble the game atmosphere of the NFL.
Enter the cheerleaders.
The first group of 12 Redskins Cheerleaders boarded the plane for India just a couple of days after our auditions for the 2008 NFL season. I wanted to be on that plane. I tried to rearrange my schedule, but I just couldn't make the two and a half week trip fit.
The disappointment only lasted a little while. Soon after the Redskins Cheerleaders arrived in India, our team, the Bangalore Royal Challengers, extended the stay of the cheerleaders for the rest of the cricket season.
Thanks to the hard work of DNA Networks, the entertainment group that organized most of the aspects of the entertainment, the opening ceremonies and games were so exciting and kept the fans engaged throughout each and every minute.
Luckily, I was able to leave graduate school a week early and be part of the second wave of cheerleaders to go to Bangalore. I was eager to get there. I made check lists, packed, visited travel websites, and talked to the cheerleaders returning to get as much information as I could.
I was determined to make this tour, right up to boarding the plane leaving Washington. It was then I realized, I was traveling to a different country, and was to be immersed into a culture I knew very little about.
Okay...I admit a little fear crept into my thoughts. The arrival in India did not help. We made it to India after a 24-hour flight through Germany. When we arrived at the airport, we did not see anyone we recognized there to pick us up.
It was 1 a.m. in India. We nearly got into a taxi with a driver who said he was supposed to take us to our hotel, but he didn't have our names or information. There were dozens of drivers waiting to pick up arriving passengers and take them to their hotels.
Luckily, we soon found our driver holding a "Red Skin" sign, and made our way, in the dark of night through Bangalore, to our hotel. From the time we landed to the time we took our flight home, we were constantly on the move.
The first few minutes of arrival in India were a little intimidating, but from that point on, the trip can only be described as once in a lifetime.
Unlike the NFL, cheerleaders for the IPL travel to away games. This meant we not only got the opportunity to see sights in Bangalore, but also Chennai, Calcutta, and one of my favorite areas, Punjab.
As traveling cheerleaders, we had the opportunity to see the visiting team's cheerleaders. Other teams in the IPL had hired cheerleaders from England, Russia and Australia to cheer for their teams. Cheerleading is a uniquely American sport, so seeing other country's version of it was fun and interesting.
Cricket is not a game widely embraced in the United States, but is easy to learn and truly engaging. The 2008 cheerleader rookies have yet to cheer at a Redskins game, but some have already had the thrill of cheering for thousands through this experience.
First year team member Dawn says the cricket matches stand out in her memories of our trip.
"My most memorable experience was walking out onto the field for my first game in New Delhi," Dawn said. "I can remember everything but at the same time everything was such a blur. The only way to describe it was a complete sensory overload from the seas of screaming fans, the smell of the field and the surprisingly warm night heat, to the pulsing beat of the Royal Challengers theme song echoing through the stadium while cheering in India's capital."
During our stay, we would often have time between matches to venture into the city of Bangalore. We loved to shop. Bangalore offered an array of shopping to please every taste.
We first ventured to Commercial Street, though it would have been more aptly named Commercial Mile because the shops seemed to go on forever. This was an open market where most locals would do their shopping. Bangles worn on the wrist were the favorite purchase for every cheerleader. We also took advantage of the great fabrics, and of course we had to purchase authentic Indian clothes.
The shopping was great, but the mode of transportation to get there could be tricky. We went everywhere in motorized rickshaws. We first paid our driver 70 Rupee (about $2) for a short trip. We soon realized locals only paid about 14 Rupee for the same trip.
Regardless of the cost, the trip was always a carnival ride. The traffic laws are not as strictly enforced as they are in the United States. Our drivers would run red lights, take sharp corners full speed, and drive into oncoming traffic.
Walking wasn't much better. Crosswalks were not observed, so nightly we would play a game of "frogger" to get across four lanes of traffic. It was only because our director Donald yelled "Go" and dragged me across the street that I am here to write this story. (Thanks, Donald!)
The next best thing to shopping in India was eating in India. Admittedly, I am not an adventurous eater. However, when in Rome...
We had an Indian restaurant in our hotel. I chose a few entrees that would be my mainstay foods, but always tried something new, often by sharing food with my teammates.
Strangely enough, we ate some of the best Chinese food...in India.
As I said, I had left graduate school a little early to make this trip. Leaving early did not excuse me from the work. Unfortunately, I had to miss the trip to the dancing village to finish my final papers, but Abby described it as the best part of the trip.
"I could have sat there for hours just staring," Abby said. "They were so beautiful and the dance style was so intricate, classic and beautiful."
The cheerleaders had the opportunity to watch the local dancers rehearse for a show later that week. While the dance was different in style, my teammates tell me the discipline and dedication are similar to our own team.
Once we had traveled to a few cities and visited a few local hot spots, I began to understand and take an interest in the culture of India.
The only times we had a chance to really get to know some of the local people were as we traveled.
While waiting for a plane in Mumbai, I met a young fan who loves American culture and was fascinated with the shows "Friends" and "Grey's Anatomy." When I told him I used to live in Seattle, the site of "Grey's Anatomy," he asked if I knew Meredith, the main character. I am not sure he understood that they don't really live there.
I also had the opportunity to learn about India through one of our security guards. He told me about his upbringing and his arranged marriage to an Indian-American woman.
An arranged marriage is such a strange concept to me, but for him, the American style of dating and marriage seemed strange.
Having the opportunity to speak with people about their lives and the differences in our cultures--it was one of the best parts of the trip.
Bollywood movies and magazine also helped us understand Indian culture better.
In my three weeks in India I took more than 15 flights, and most flights included Bollywood entertainment filled with dances and singing, some in English and some in other languages.
I bought Cosmopolitan India in an airport and kept it as a reminder of some of the differences and similarities in our cultures.
The trip was exciting and irreplaceable.
I would be remiss if I did not include that being a 5-9 blonde (and the only one on our team) did make me a little conspicuous. But after all the travel, food, clothes, new people and fun, I am glad I went. The experience can never be replicated.
For video of the Redskins Cheerleaders' trip to India, check out Redskins.com.