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.
The dancers are back on the floor for the afternoon round, sets of three rumbling once again. The cut has made it tougher to judge. Everyone seems to be dancing better than this morning. Yet no matter what internal butterflies are hatching inside their washboard abs, these women appear to be having the time of their lives. There's a redhead in particular. Every time she comes onto the dance floor I think, Man, it must be good to be her. It's not so much that I yearn to be a hot cheerleader with fierce dance moves - though that would be nice. What I really want is their courage. Their ability to flash a smile and give a great hair flip when I'm scared shitless.
Maybe that's why we need cheerleaders in the seriously frightening era of 2004. It's not just bonus eye candy for professional sports. There is an unflappable optimism coming from cheerleaders that is missing in everyday life. When people talk about the home-team advantage, it's the cheerleaders who bring it. They get the crowd fired up and get us believing that - scoreboard be damned - we can win.
George W. Bush was a cheerleader in high school at Philips Academy. One could argue it was this same spirit that helped him connect with the public following 9/11. He's forever championing the notion of America as the ultimate varsity. Iraq, Osama, we will, we will, rock you. Katie Couric was also a high school cheerleader in suburban Virginia. Is the engine driving her "Today" show demeanor really anything more than a spunky pom-pom girl? So what if she probably spends more on shoes than most of us earn in a year, she's fun and enthusiastic as she leads that pep rally for us every morning while we fumble for coffee. And get this: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a cheerleader. The Brooklyn teenager rallied her teams at James Madison High School. Knowing that, it's not so crazy to wonder if, back in the Court's chambers, she lets down that tightly wound black bun of hers and turns on the cheerleader charm to persuade Justice Antonin Scalia (who was never a cheerleader) to see things her way.
"La la la la la la - Hey Mama...," chant the Black Eyed Peas. I am beyond hearing words at this point. I'm only feeling the beat pound my bones. It's the second and final day of auditions, and of the original 400, 58 girls have survived. We've been through another round of threesome dance-offs and the interview process. Girls are asked one personal question and one football-related question. There shouldn't be any surprises. It turns out the football answers were given to the girls in a packet they received at the end of day one. If they miss those questions it's only because they didn't read the packet. Despite the cheat sheet, some still fumble.
For the final element of the competition, the dancers are given 30 seconds to freestyle. It's the first time Schroeder has brought this element into the auditions, and it's a no-holds-barred flashdance after flashdance just before the judges head back down to our chambers for the final time. I'd tell you what happened in those closed-door discussions, but we judges have taken an oath: What happens in the judges' room stays in the judges' room. What I will say is that striking a United Nations-like balance was a concern, and I will reveal that we made the final cut in a remarkably short time, about 20 minutes: 32 women, two alternates, with three veterans sent packing.