Dancing up a storm

THE BLUE ROSE OF TORONTO: Brooklyn accepts her honorary blue t-shirt and rose ushering her in as an Argos cheerleader for the second time.

Amid chandeliers, white wainscoting, russet-coloured carpets — reminiscent of Victorian opulence — young women practise their dance routines.

More than a hundred ladies have lined up, numbers tagged to one side of their hips, hope attached to the expressions on their faces.

No Starbucks in sight, yet the lack of caffeine in the early morning has not resulted in them dragging themselves out of bed. Their source of energy is the chance to join the Toronto Argonauts cheerleading squad.

Inside the Northern Lights Ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel, a sound system booms the same dance number. Three-by-three, the hopefuls are brought into the room before an Argonauts backdrop and four judges.

One judge is Stefanie Williams, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, who only moments before expressed her disappointment with the lack of respect by some — critics of cheerleading — for what the girls go through.

“There’s a misconception when people hear the word ‘cheerleader’,” she said. “They think it’s going to be what they see in movies, which is like acrobatics and cheering.

“These are young women that are putting themselves out there, and there’s nothing wrong with being confident in yourself.”

Not one to focus on stigmas, Williams shifts to what she enjoyed most.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to work with the community,” she said. “That’s what I really, really liked — was being able to go to hospitals and put a smile on children’s faces.”

But to shine a little light, this day will witness intense competition. From 120 the numbers will drop to 40. Then on day two, the final 24 will be honoured.

One thing is certain, there is no cattiness, as the ladies support each other. Enter midtowners Brooke and Jackie, two aspirants who are looking to rah-rah the judges. Continuing with tradition, the Argos refer to their dancers by first names only.

“Why not do it?” 18 year old Brooke asks.

Former Ottawa Renegades cheerleader Jackie agrees.

“I miss it so, so much, and now I’m back in Toronto, fingers crossed that I get it,” the master’s grad said.

There’s nary room for anyone to tiptoe through as the ladies await their numbers to be called. Some sit down, backs to the walls, chatting with each other. A few twirl, flex, mold their pliable forms, working out their anxious kinks.

The energy charges through the corridors like a running back through a defensive line, and the noise parallels that of a Grey Cup game.

That vibrancy is all a part of the package, team coach Jorie Brown says.

‘CHEER’-FUL SMILES beam from the faces of midtown girls (from left) Jackie, Brooklyn, Brooke and Lauren after being named to Toronto Argonauts’ cheerleading squad.

“Girls with a dance background, strong performers, have a great look — we’re really trying to push fitness inside and outside of practice — and lastly a great personality,” she says. “The fans are very important to us, so we want (the cheerleaders) to speak intelligently.”

Though the pressure may be on the new recruits, Brown says it’s more on the returning members.

“They know what they’ve had,” she said. “They know what it’s like to be a part of this team and they don’t want to miss out on it.”

What would be lacking from their weeks would be two three-hour practices a week. Game days rife with one-hour practices, promotions, tailgate parties and three-hour games of non-stop dancing.

“They have to uphold a great physical endurance because they’re going to be on the sidelines all the time,” Brown said.

But most important is the charity work. Each cheerleader makes 20 appearances a year. This season the Double Blue’s Huddle Up program will have them chat about bullying with female students across the GTA.

After two days of solid dancing, Brooke and Jackie were honoured on the Sunday with a blue rose and the chance to raise the spirits of Argos fans in 2011.

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