Alyssa Jones felt numb Saturday as she gathered with dozens of other girls on the basketball court of the Downtown Athletic Club.
Dressed in teeny shorts and bedazzled bra tops, the 220 ladies, and some guys as well, were all there pursuing the same dream: to become a Ravens cheerleader.
Tryout weekend is an annual event that is as important to some women as getting into college or becoming mothers. It is something they have worked toward for years.
Competition is fierce for just 50 to 60 spots on the team, either on the stunt team or the dance team. All the ladies know many of them will go home disappointed.
“I want this so bad,” Jones said. “I have been cheering my whole life to get to this point.”
Participants practice for weeks, but have just a few minutes to impress a panel of judges that includes current and former cheer coaches and staff from the Ravens front office. And that’s just to advance through the first round.
Winners are announced at the end of the month. Another round of tryouts is scheduled for Sunday to weed out even more girls. There is also an interview portion in coming days.
The team is looking for well-rounded members, coaches said.
They need to have the image. During tryouts the girls were told their hair should have curl and volume. Red lipstick is best because it stands out on the lips. Cover up tattoos, they were advised.
Then there’s skill, including sharp and precise dance moves. The ladies all learned a routine they had to perform for the judges.
The job of a cheerleader includes charity work and community appearances. So the team is also looking for ladies who are well-spoken and engaging.
“They are an ambassador for the organization,” said Keren Kreitzer, the team’s dance coach.
Kreitzer said the team is not looking for perfection. If a girl messes up during tryouts, how well she recovers is important. If a girl doesn’t know the most advanced dance moves and has other qualities, she may still make the team.
Even current cheerleaders have to try out.
“I hate to do it, but I have cut girls who just don’t have what it takes this time around,” said Tina Galdieri, the Ravens cheerleader coach for 15 years.
Leslie A., who is retiring from the team after 11 years, said tryouts are sometimes more intense for current cheerleaders than newbies.
“You’re a veteran so they expect more from you,” she said. “You can’t really make little mistakes.”
The cheerleader hopefuls come from all walks of life. The gig is part-time so everyone is required to have a fulltime job, enroll as a fulltime student or be a stay-at-home mom.
Kasie Bey-Keys, 21, is from Cockeysville but is studying at Norfolk State University in Virginia. She’s willing to make the trip every weekend from campus if it means getting a spot on the team. She was eyeing the competition Saturday and admitted she was nervous.
“All the girls have skills,” she said.
Current cheerleaders helped the girls with their routines and passed on tips. For instance, make sure your performance has energy.
Whitney J. made the team last year and gave this advice:
“You have to act like you’re already a Ravens cheerleader,” she said. “You have to have that kind of mentality and confidence.”
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