Making the Cut

A Look Inside NFL Cheerleader Tryouts

by Heather Cartonia

It’s that time of year again, when girls across the country put all of their hard work and preparation to the test in hopes of becoming a part of the 2011-2012 football season. April marks the month when most of the NFL teams have either announced their 2011-2012 squads or are in the process of their auditions. I wanted to cover this topic this week because one of the most common questions I have been asked is, “What does the audition process consist of?”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader tryouts.
Hopefuls at the 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader tryouts. Matt May/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Of course every team varies a little, but for the most part many follow a very similar structure. It is a lot more intensive and complex than people sometimes may think. There has been some public exposure from reality shows in the past that featured different NFL teams “making the final cut.” Each year, thousands of girls try out but only a small percentage will make it to the final round.

In the preliminary stage of the audition process, any girl age 18 and above is invited to come and show off not only her dancing abilities but her physique and personality as well. When a woman is representing an NFL team, it is crucial to be completely well rounded and carry herself in a respectful and professional manner. What is done off the field is just as important as it is on game day.

Some teams open their auditions to the public, which really amplifies the level of intensity in the room. Not only are the girls performing in front of a panel of judges, but also hundreds of individuals who are there to watch and support the girls. In most cases there are workshops offered before auditions that invite any prospective cheerleader to come and learn a routine that she will use as her audition piece. Such classes are not mandatory, but they are extremely helpful if you want to be successful. They allow the girls to learn moves that are commonly used as well as give insight on what the judges will be looking for.

On the day of the audition, each girl is given a number that represents her throughout the entire process. Dancing skills are the main thing judges are looking for at this point as well as the girls’ knowledge of the team. It is actually quite common for part of the process to entail a Q&A with the cheerleader to see how much she knows about the team. It is very important to thoroughly know who and what you are representing, and it is expected at all times.

Once everyone has performed to the best of their abilities, the first round of cuts are made and instructions are given to the girls who advanced. Emotions are always flying high and the first glimpse of audition numbers on the roster list is almost unbearable.

One common misconception about each NFL cheerleading team is the thought that each girl doesn’t have to try out again once she made the team the first time. Every year it is a requirement to go through the audition process again just like every other girl. This is done to always ensure that the girls are staying sharp and want it just as badly as they did the first time they made the team. Captains, however, are exempt from having to try out. They help to run the audition process and guide girls if anyone is looking for help.

A few days later, Round 2 begins. This portion requires a lot of quick learning and retention skills. The girls are shown a brand-new routine and only have a short window of time to learn it and perform it for the same panel of judges. Once again cuts are made and the number dwindles down.

And along comes the final round.

At this point, there is no performing involved, just an interview. One by one, each girl meets with the team coach, choreographer, coordinator and additional judges to discuss why she would be an essential element to the final team. It is a very intense interview and each girl must not only articulate herself well, but also have a strong knowledge of what the organization is all about. Proper etiquette and strong professionalism are only a few necessities because of all the public appearances that are made throughout the season. Girls are judged on their responses, and at this point the judges will make up their mind about whether or not they will move forward.

Once all of the interviews are complete and the judges make their final deliberations, the girls come together in one room and the final roster is announced. The level of tension and anxiety is running at all-time highs and that moment of truth is right before their eyes.

In the end, the final group comes together and has an initial meeting to introduce themselves to one another. Some girls are returning veterans while others are shocked rookies who are simply taking it all in.

The entire process is more than one would most likely expect, and it is all done with purpose. Each team always wants to ensure they have the “best of the best” and will take its time to intricately look for exactly that. This upcoming season will be sure to showcase some of the most talented women across the country who will entertain thousands of passionate fans. Good luck to all of the hopefuls out there and a much deserved congratulations to the women who have already made their 2011-2012 teams.

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