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Follow This Dance Teacher's Journey to Becoming a New England Patriots Cheerleader (for the Sixth Time) #NOTDONE

Photo courtesy of Cocco

As someone from Everett, Massachusetts, a town not far from Boston, being a Patriots' cheerleader has always been a dream. I've tried out for the squad five times, and although I haven't made it, yet, I'm trying again. My quest for a spot on the squad started back in college in 2010. I attended Dean College in Franklin, MA, where I was a young, confused dance major who fully embraced the freshman 15. Franklin is about a 15-minute drive to the Patriot's home at Gillette Stadium, so pretty much every dance major was planning on auditioning.

I showed up to the tryouts out of shape, wearing no makeup and no idea of what to expect. Tryouts took place at the Empowerment Field, where it was filled to the maximum with more than 400 hopefuls, all competing for 22 coveted dance spots on the team, and I was one of them.


Fast-forward to 2018—five auditions, three trips to "finals" and one exciting journey to the squad's "bootcamp" later—and I am trying out to be a New England Patriots Cheerleader again (for the sixth time). But this time, I'm documenting my crazy ride. With the actual Super Bowl rapidly approaching, and the auditions on March 3, I've shifted into high gear with my audition prep. I have learned a lot over the years when it comes to the "do's" and "don'ts" of the process. Follow my journey the week before the Super Bowl, as I strive yet again to be a part of the The New England Patriots Cheerleading Squad.

Week of 1/27/18

Saturday, 9 am

I am start every morning with a 15-minute stretch. It may not seem like a lot, but it really helps with my flexibility because that, without a doubt, is something you need on this team. For breakfast I had a high-protein thinkThin smoothie. It includes dried blueberries and bananas, chia seeds and ground flaxseed mixed with a protein blend of whey, almond and sunflower seeds. It gives me a great boost to start the day.


12 pm

Lunchtime! Today for lunch I kept it pretty simple. Just had some turkey on "Deli Select" wheat bread. Then I had multigrain crackers and guacamole dip. Probably not the most amazing lunch, but hey, we can't all be perfect.

4 pm

This afternoon I did some workouts through an online accountability Facebook group I am part of. It is led by one of the current cheerleaders, which is pretty awesome! She posts things like motivational quotes, recipes and of course workouts. Each workout targets a different area such as abs, glutes or arms, and gives lots of cardio!

8 pm

Tonight I went out with a couple of my college friends to a local bar. Going out "for drinks" while in prep mode is not the easiest thing in the world. I usually just have water instead of actual drinks. I don't need to have a drink to make my nights out fun, but it can be really tough sometimes. It is really important for me to maintain my social life, though, (and sanity) during this time, so I make it a point to still go out and have fun, even if I can't have a cocktail when doing it.

Sunday, 9 am

Started my day again with a 15-minute morning stretch and my protein shake along with a banana. I needed to make sure I was fueled up for the day, because I was teaching a contemporary class for a room full of dance educators at Dance Teacher's Club of Boston later that afternoon.

1 pm

Time for class! I was so honored to teach at the Dance Teacher's Club of Boston meeting for a second time. To teach in a room full of other dance educators is always an amazing experience. Being at the front of the room teaching helps me work on the way I can command a room, which is something I need to do when both dancing and public speaking. (If you get to the final round of the tryouts, an in-person interview with the head coach of the cheerleading team is a part of the process). Being able to speak clearly and in an educated manner is so important as a cheerleader.

2 pm

After my class, I went out with a couple of other dance teachers for a late lunch. Usually there are some healthy options at restaurants (or at least they sound healthy). I had a steak and avocado salad. Did I want a burger? Yes, of course I did, but, what I ordered was pretty good and filling.

6 pm

After a long day of teaching, I try to refocus myself by meditating. I use two different apps depending on how I am feeling, "Calm" and "Relax Melodies." It is pretty hard for a dancer to sit still for 10 minutes, but I am working on it!

8 pm

Sunday nights are always tough. You have to mentally prepare yourself for the week ahead. But meal prepping and packing your bag(s) (let's be real: I never am carrying just one bag at a time) can help make Monday mornings just a little bit easier.

Monday 9 am

This morning I continued with my stretching. I was tired, but I did it and felt pretty good!

11 am

Today was the official send-off for the Patriots players as they head to Minnesota. Of course, I was all over Instagram this afternoon, instead of actually being productive at work. I was checking the cheerleaders' accounts, as well as the Patriots' and Gillette Stadium's account, because following a field on Instagram is normal, right?


6 pm

On Mondays I teach jazz dance for two and a half hours. Teaching helps me prepare for auditions, because it allows me to keep moving and stay active on nights that I am not necessarily "working out." And the memorization skills I have gained from dance over the years absolutely helps me when having to remember multiple routines back-to-back during tryouts.

9 pm

There is nothing I dread more than grocery shopping. I would rather go to the dentist than go grocery shopping. Pushing that cart and spending money on food that will probably go bad in five days is dreadful to me. Healthier food (which is necessary) is a lot more expensive, too. So how do I get through this grueling experience? By constantly reminding myself that I am making these sacrifices for a goal. A goal that is greater than anything I can ever imagine. A goal that could change my life.

Tuesday 9 am

Began my morning "creeping" through every Instagram account connected to the Patriots, the cheerleaders and any sports channel that was streaming live videos. This is how I will be getting my morning news for the week.

12 pm

Curly or straight?! Yet again, instead of doing actual work, I was going and back and forth between if I should curl or straighten my hair for the tryouts. #Firstworldproblems

5 pm

Tuesdays and Thursdays I teach at Dean College. I am a jazz dance adjunct professor within the School of Dance. Dean is actually where the preliminary tryouts will be taking place, so it is nice to be able to get used to the space where I will be performing in front of the judges in a few weeks!

8 pm

Tonight for dinner I ate really healthy. I made steak, brussel sprouts and brown rice. Go me!

Wednesday 10 am

Today at work we are having a "Pre-Super Bowl Party" filled with donuts, chips, cookies, soda and lots of other game-day snacks. There are lots of temptations to want to join in on the fun, but I know that I need to stay focused and resist any of that junk food.

5 pm

Since I don't have to teach tonight, I get to make a healthy dinner again instead of having something on the go/in my car. It's the little things...

7 pm

After a very busy few days, it is time for a rest day. I do not have to teach and will not be working out. It is SOOO important to allow your body to rest and repair itself. I am going to stretch a little, though, and allow my muscles to really lengthen out and maybe use my roller to roll out any tight spots.


8 pm

I spent way too much time tonight searching online for the perfect shade of blonde that I want for my hair for the auditions. The past three years it was a really bright blonde and was cut in a tight bob. It may seem silly to be so concerned with obtaining that perfect shade of blonde, but something like this can be the difference between you making the team or not.

Thursday 9 am

This morning the Patriot cheerleaders headed to Minnesota. Looking at all of their posts as they begin their Super Bowl journey gave me this insane burst of excitement, nerves and motivation. I feel like I have butterflies in my stomach, even though I'm not even on the squad. Maybe it's the idea that one day that could be me?!

3 pm

As I make my drive over to Dean, I am constantly choreographing in my car, which is totally safe. I am thinking of potential routines and freestyle moves that I can put into my solo during the first round of tryouts.

5 pm

Tonight I am at Dean College again. Working with students of this age and caliber really pushes me as a dancer and educator. It continues to help with my memorization skills along with building my stamina and flexibility when demonstrating things for my students.

8 pm

I made it through the week...barely. As I prep for the Super Bowl on Sunday, I continue to remind myself why I am making all of these sacrifices. To be able to perform on the biggest stage of my life in front of thousands of fans! That is the motivation that continues to keep me going. #NOTDONE #GOPATS

I will be sure to check in with you all again soon as the journey continues on my quest to become a New England Patriots Cheerleader.

Stay tuned for Taylor's experience at the audition in March!

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.


Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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