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.
She took every dance class possible, including a prep class for aspiring cheerleaders taught by former Broncos girls. Among the twentysomething dancers, she kept her age and impressive cheerleading credentials to herself. She went on the South Beach Diet. She did 250 sit-ups nightly. She skipped beer and bread, but never the sit-ups. "I knew I had to get those abs back."
About a month into her training, Gauger attended an official pre-audition workshop at Invesco Field hosted by the Broncos cheerleaders. It was then she realized dance had changed in the last 17 years. Hip-hop had evolved. As Gauger puts it, "I had the Paula Abdul but not the Britney." Luckily, a friend's husband was a hip-hop choreographer and offered lessons in his Boulder studio. For Gauger, the Boulder studio became something of a dance time machine. As she popped-and-locked her way into 2004, Gauger practiced her moves at home for devoted fan, Max.
The big question remaining was the hair: Would she go with a modern version of her tried-and-true Dallas 'do, or attempt the stick-straight look that's apparently so Denver. She consulted with Chad. It was a risk, but, as he advised, she went with flowing curls. "We thought, look at Jessica Simpson, look at Charlie's Angels, this hair is back in fashion."
Audition day was closing in. She'd dropped 20 pounds, but she'd pulled her hamstring and within a week of auditions she came down with the flu. No biggie, it was only Tuesday and she knew she'd be better by Sunday. She bought the latest dance shoes and an audition outfit: a black cropped shirt with "dance" written in silver studs. She even took the new dance pants to her tailor to ensure a flattering fit. She was ready.
Cheerleader Truth No. 6: It takes a village to raise a cheerleader.
"Stop - look and listen, baby that's my philosophy. It's called rubberneckin' baby, but that's alright with me..." Back at auditions, after lunch on day one, and we're on round two. A techno remix of an Elvis number plays nonstop. The field of 400 women has been cut to 94. Hundreds of hopefuls, some in tears, have trickled out to the parking lot. For those who made the cut, there remains another routine to learn, and they are rehearsing in the hallways. Some of the girls display fierce concentration. Other women, perhaps the more seasoned vets, seem to walk through the motions during rehearsal time. Their ease with the competition seems like a confidence power play. Most of these girls were in diapers when Gauger cheered for the Cowboys.
For the lucky few who make this year's Broncos squad, it means a year of low-key fame. Today's Broncos cheerleaders practice twice weekly and earn between $125 and $150 per game - believe it or not, this is the highest rate in the NFL. They do volunteer work within the community and have the opportunity to get paid extra for personal appearances, generally another $100 an hour. Compared to the Cowboys cheerleading regimen that Gauger lived, the Broncos time commitment is far more reasonable. If she makes the team, she'll make the time.