In a barn-like practice field at the Ravens training facility, 121 women pranced, pirouetted and kicked their way through Saturday morning under the watchful eye of the cheerleaders whose ranks they hope to join.
For the past 10 years or so, the cheerleading team has been running clinics before the formal tryouts to help aspirants hone their skills and know what to expect. Director Tina Galdieri said there has been more interest than usual this year on the back of the Ravens' Super Bowl win.
Amber Lloyd, 25, a student at Stevenson University and an army veteran, said it was her second year trying out. She expects the competition to be tough, she said, because this year there are "a lot prettier girls."
Having the clinics lets hopefuls brush up on their skills, but it's also useful for the team, Galdieri said. "I'd rather not run a cheerleading tryout without them knowing what we're looking for," she said.
Anyone who stumped up the $55 fee got the chance to spend three hours in Owings Mills getting direction from current members of the team who kept things moving with a confident air, chirping out hints like "make sure you whip your legs back down!"
Dressed in gray Super Bowl hoodies, the current crop of cheerleaders executed leaps, twists and other dance moves with apparent ease. But when the music stopped after one drill, a giggle rippled through the candidates suggesting that the routine that seemed simple to the slow counts of 5,6,7,8 was actually much tougher at full speed.
A little bit of practice seems a good idea, given a grueling description of the tryouts Galdieri provided.
They formally begin on March 2, and Galdieri said she expects about 300 women to compete to join the 50-60 member team. This year, a few more people are leaving so there could be around 10 open spots, Galdieri said.
Current members get a bye for the first day of judging but have to go through the rest of the process. That keeps them from getting complacent, Galdieri said, and gives hopefuls an idea of the standard they need to reach.
Galdieri said anyone from age 18 until "whenever they stop kicking it" is in contention. The average age on the current team is around 26, she added.
"I like the maturity," Galdieri said. "I'm less of a mom, more of a coach."
The first day of tryouts lasts 12 hours and the best candidates are invited back on Sunday. Then about 30 will be called in for formal interviews, and a physical and medical exam.
Kiana Han, 20, said she had cheered for her "whole entire life" but her nerves sprang to life when she walked onto the training field and got her first chance to size up the competition.
"Nothing prepares you for it," she said.
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