Danielle S. got her first experience cheerleading for the Baltimore Ravens when she was in the fourth grade.
The Eldersburg native distinctly remembers being dressed in her purple uniform, and going through her routines during a game.
Sure, her outfit wasn't official Ravens gear, and yes, her moves were only seen by her family while she stood next to the television. Yet, that enthusiasm and desire to perform for her hometown team were part of a crucial first step for someone who had hopes of one day doing the real thing.
"This was my dream," said Danielle, a 2011 Liberty High School graduate. "And I'm so fortunate to have made the team."
Danielle is entering her second season as a member of the Ravens cheerleading squad, which, as a policy, does not publish the last names of its members.
On Friday, she took part in the final day of the Lil Ravens Cheerleading Camp at M&T Bank Stadium, where children ages 6-14 got a chance to learn the sport from current professionals in the business.
Last year, Danielle was a counselor for the camp. The year before, when she was a member of the Chesapeake Bayhawks "Hawkettes" cheer squad, she was asked to lend a hand as well.
Being a part of the camp is one of the best things about the job, says Danielle, who wished she had been a camper when she was growing up.
"It gives me goose bumps," she said. "It's the best feeling ever, because I was once in their place, looking up to professional cheerleaders. … So it's great to teach them [to] get along, make friends, be nice to others, and then some awesome cheer skills as well."
Danielle's impact on some of the campers over the last few years has been vast, as evidenced by the group of girls surrounding the cheerleader during the final day of camp.
Kaitlyn Osborne, 10, was one of the girls sitting with Danielle as her fellow campers performed their final routines to close out the week. The Severna Park native said Danielle is "so sweet, and she makes me feel like I'm a part of her family."
Growing up in Carroll County, Danielle said she was a member of the Sykesville Raiders cheerleading team. As she became more serious about the sport, she went on to cheer for four years on varsity at Liberty, as well as competitively for TNT in Westminster.
Tina Galdieri, director and coach for the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders who has been in the position since the squad's inception in 1998, said that candidates trying out for the squad often don't make it on their first try.
When she's selecting new cheerleaders for the squad, she said she's looking for athletes who are dependable, as well as mature.
"A big part of it is how successful they are going to be," Galdieri said. "Meaning, are they in college? Are they furthering their life? Are they out of college and at a job? I want well-rounded individuals, and I'm not looking for cookie-cutter."
It took Danielle three years to finally hear her named called among those who made the final cut for the team.
Perspective cheerleaders go through two days of physical tryouts, followed by a business-like interview. If they are asked to come back, the candidates show their skills in a routine with other hopefuls. Finally, following a physical, the process could take more than one month to complete.
In Danielle's case, honing her skills for a few years with the Hawkettes, as well as the Baltimore Blast — both led by former Ravens cheerleaders — gave her an inside track to learning what it would take to get to the next step.
"She's really turned the corner on maturity, dependability, dedication," Galdieri said. "And when I saw that, I knew she had matured enough to understand the process and what I'm looking for."
Now that she's made the team for the second time, Danielle said her focus has shifted to maintaining her spot, and improving her skills. She's hoping to stay a part of the organization for as long as they'll have her.
It's all about a lifestyle shift, she said, which will keep her mind and body in shape for the physically demanding sport. That means eating healthy and exercising outside of practice.
"They definitely make sure we're in shape, but they don't overdo it," she added.
Danielle's father, Daniel, watched her interact with the children at the camp Friday from the stands in the stadium. Danielle never gave up, the proud father said, balancing her family life, work and continued efforts in perfecting her craft.
"She's 100 percent busy 100 percent of the time," he said. "She's very dedicated, very smart, very beautiful."
Danielle is currently pursuing her associate degree at Carroll Community College. When that's complete, she has hopes of moving on to Towson University.
As a Ravens cheerleader, Danielle is surrounded by other men and women who are still in school, recently graduated, or even full-fledged members of the workforce outside of the cheerleading arena.
Danielle said she wants to become a physician's assistant, adding another goal to her list as she continues to chase her dreams.
"I think that's more important, because they're only going to be cheerleaders for so long," said Galdieri. "But they've got to be really good, successful human beings for the rest of their lives."