Thirty-six-year-old wife, mother, and career woman Leigh Gauger embarkd on a secret mission to be a professional cheerleader. Again. If only for a little while.
"No attorneys to plead my case, no orbits to send me into outta space," growls pop star Pink as her "Trouble" begins what will be a two-hour loop on the speakers. The first three candidates line up at their positions on the dance floor and simultaneously turn on their big, white smiles. In my hand, I hold tally sheets preprinted with contestant numbers. Director Schroeder's instructions to the judges are simple: Rate contestants in the categories of "dance," "appearance," and "interview." Specifically, when considering "dance" and "appearance," the questions we're to ask ourselves are: "Can she dance?" and "Does she look like a Broncos cheerleader?" Schroeder says it's a you know it when you see it thing. I guess I'll have to see it.
Two hundred and sixty-two contestants later, with the hard guitar-riffing sound track of Pink pounding my eardrums, I feel like I'm witnessing a dance rumble between really hot girls who all shop at Danskin. The pants are all tight and black. Audition numbers hang on hips. The tops are all sports bras. The low-cut variety abounds. Some of the smaller-chested women opt for a chic, black-lace halter. Sitting on my right at the judges' table, eBay-guy Goodfellow feels like his successful bid - around $400 that went to the Denver Broncos Charities Fund - was worth every penny. "It's a beautiful day outside," he says. "But who cares?"
To my left is former Broncos cheerleader Beth Wilderotter. Dressed in a simple suit, she chats easily with some of the girls she knows from her days on the squad. I feel like Skipper to her Barbie, in my Levis with a shirt from Target, one that I've already dribbled Diet Coke on. On one of Wilderotter's slender fingers is an enormous gold Super Bowl ring, with the horsey Broncos logo and at least a dozen diamonds. It's a status symbol among the cheerleaders, and I start to look for it on the hands of the other ladies. (Cheerleader-in-Charge Schroeder has two rings. She usually wears both of them on audition day, but today she forgot to put on either one.)
As the dancers take their turns, Wilderotter smiles at them and gives supportive nods. I quickly start mimicking her. "You can tell the really good ones right away," she tells me. And, as I'm noticing, the bad ones too. You do know it when you see it. Wilderotter recommends that I weed out the good and the bad quickly and then focus my attention on the dancers in the middle ground. Her counsel helps me rate the dance category. Judging appearance, on the other hand, is tougher than I thought. I was never a cheerleader, I played trumpet in the high school marching band. Back then I thought cheerleaders were popular and stupid. Today, I expected my preferences to lean toward members of my brunette sorority and toward a "nontraditional" cheerleader body type - say a size 10 rather than a size 2. Very shortly into the process, though, I find myself drawn to the dancers with long, straight, blonde hair, bright white teeth, and killer abs. I realize I have a type, and she's a hot blonde.
I also discover that the world of cheerleading is built on several axioms. Cheerleader Truth No. 1: It's best to be between 20 and 23 years old. Former Broncos cheerleaders advised wannabes to not mention their age if they were younger or older than that range. Truth No. 2: Ten pounds makes a difference, especially in a sports bra and yoga pants. Truth No. 3: Long hair is sexy. Truth No. 4: Long, straight, blonde hair is sexier. Truth No. 5: Abs are more important than boobs. Killer abs are required for the Broncos cheerleader outfit, which markets the midsection. Unlike boobs, you can't buy good abs.
Nearly two hours into the competition, we're up to contestant No. 263. Her hair is flowy in that "Charlie's Angels" way. She executes an impressive high kick, and I see for the first time that it is Leigh Gauger, my old friend whom I met when I, too, worked at the Denver Business Journal.
Every office has that one person whom everyone gets along with, and Gauger [pronounced, Gay-ger] was ours. Although she was in advertising sales, she never seemed motivated by the schmooze and shtick. She was genuine - the kind of girl who makes friends in the produce section at Safeway. Rarely did she talk about her days with the Cowboys. She was there during the 1987 to 1988 season, still the Tom Landry era, when the Cowboys were America's Team. The cheerleaders in their boots and tie-up tops were icons. It was before "Girls Gone Wild," and though the Cowboys cheerleaders were sex symbols, they were wholesome, well-mannered, all-American ones. Then-owner Tex Schramm insisted every woman in his kick-line was a lady.