We all have a clock hanging over our heads but as women, at times, it seems to move much faster. By 40+ I would have been expected to be married with children, possibly even divorced and on my way toward a second marriage. Or maybe I was channeling my inner status quo when I thought of my life stage status as a 40+ single woman in greater Miami, USA. This year as I turned 41, I decided that I would push my limits, challenge the convention, saddle up and do something that I lived through almost 20 years ago – try out for the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders.
With so much positivity going on with women supporting each other this past year I was inspired by my own mantra of why not me and why not now. Fueled by my love of dance, being in the best shape of my life and the right timing, I thought I’d give it ago. I thought perhaps I’d get this one last fix and maybe even inspire other women 40+ along the way to live their dreams however big or small.
Back in 1999 at the age of 21 I auditioned for the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders and won a spot on the squad. I have to say it was a lot of work, the pay was enough to cover my SunPass, but what I got in return was priceless. I had the most amazing time, I traveled and was at the apex of a cheerleaders life. Along the way, I met some of my closest friends, performed in front of tens of thousands, built up my confidence and most importantly expressed my love for dance.
After you’re done, whether you’ve performed for one season or five, life takes over and year after year you settle into what’s expected. The opportunity to try out again fades as the years go and even though the desire may still be there in some way or another, the stacking up of years doesn’t slow down and at some point you give up, telling yourself “it’s too late and you’re too old for this”.
Typically after the NFL season ends, the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders offer dance classes once a week. I wanted to take a class just for fun, but my schedule didn’t permit. As it would happen, they also offered prep classes leading up to auditions for the new season and I thought it would be my last opportunity to take a class before the season starts. How fun to be able to do participate after so many years. The thought of auditioning never crossed my mind. I wasn’t there for the competition. In fact, I just wanted a little reprieve from my normal 30-minute cardio treadmill routine. I stood in the back as not to disrupt the beautiful younger women from practicing and taking their headshots in preparation for the auditions. In the process, the choreographer noticed my dancing and asked who I had danced for because I had their style, to which I said I danced for the Miami Dolphins 19 years ago. She encouraged me to attend another class they were having that Friday and that it would be fun. At that point I had not signed up for the class nor did I have any intentions to take it, but I ended up having so much fun at the prep class that I decided to give it a chance. I guess part of me also wanted to see if I still had it and could keep up with women half my age.
Friday came around and as the choreographer had mentioned, I had a blast and was brought back to my initial tryouts back in 1999. After the class, I thanked the choreographer who went on to tell me that I should come to the auditions the following day and that “I still got it”. That, of course, was music to my ears. Wow, this 41-year-olds’ still got it! I felt great and I appreciated her encouragement but I wasn’t going to audition, my time had passed. However on the way home, this nagging voice kept saying… ”what if”, “could I possibly make it”? I immediately called my sister so she could talk some sense into me and remind me I’m too old for this, but she actually did the opposite. Instead, she said to go for it and asked me what I had to lose.
I was really nervous and concerns about my age kept popping up. What would others say? I decided to keep the news between my sister and me. As a cancer survivor, she was my biggest advocate. She knows that life is too short and too precious to not take a chance. That I should not live my life based on the opinions of others. The more I thought about it the more excited I felt about auditioning. What if I could help encourage others to push the limits. I wanted to prove the adage right, “age is really just a number”.
For those who have never been through a Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders audition process, there are several rounds. Even though things have changed quite a bit since 1999, for the most part, the process was still the same. We’d start off with freestyle where a few seconds of a song is played and you basically dance your heart out. This is also when you first walk in front of the judges and introduce yourself, which also happened to be the first time the Director of the Cheerleaders saw me. She seemed to have been taken aback. I guess it’s what could happen after you see someone audition again after almost 20 years.
After the first segment, the judges make a round of cuts. I was beyond excited when I saw my number 171 posted. Now on to round two which consisted of a quick interview with some of the judges. I ended up at the table that included the Director. Obviously, she was interested in knowing what I was doing there and mentioned to the others that I had danced many years ago. After the interviews, we moved right into the choreography portion where we performed in groups of 5 and another cut would be made. I didn’t know what to expect, and I kept telling myself I was there for fun until I heard my name called out. I was one of 53 finalists among 160 candidates. Amazing, I couldn’t believe it! I was at an all-time high. As family and friends started to find out, the outpouring of support came through. Proud and courageous were just some of the adjectives being thrown my way. I would love to say that’s all it took but years of society telling you you’re supposed to be a certain way at a certain age is a lot to try to change in just a few days. The fear was still all too real.
In preparation for the final auditions, we’d have to go through another round of interviews and participate in three rehearsals to learn a new choreography. As a disclaimer, it was mentioned that the selection process was not based on being the best dancer. In fact, I’ve seen the best dancers get cut while some with bad kicks or who forgot the entire routine get selected. What they are often looking for is if you have a certain look, hair or background that matches what they want for the season. During the last rehearsal as we took a moment to address any last minute questions, the choreographer pointed out to me and mentioned to everyone that I danced back in 1999. She was really proud of me for coming back after all these years and mentioned I looked amazing and that my solo was great. I was actually hoping to keep this a secret a little longer, but the cat was out of the box now. The other finalists were shocked to find out I was 41. A few even came up to me and mentioned they wanted to look like me when they were my age and were so inspired. The feedback confirmed I made the right decision in auditioning.
The final audition that following Sunday began with the bikini round, followed by group dances and kick line. Each woman then performed her individual routines. I gave it my all and reminded myself once more that I was there for fun whether I made it or not. I chuckled at the thought of asking my 21-year-old self if I’d ever be in this position, not in a million years.
To my dismay, I did not make the final cut to go on and become a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader. The competitor in me knows that I should have joined the list of older woman cheering and rocking to their truths like Cincinnati Ben-Gals, Laura Vikmanis and Kriste Lewis of New Orleans Saints’ both who made the squads at the age of 40. You inspire me to keep dancing and cheering.
At the end of the day, it was a reward itself knowing that “I still got it!” Now, what would this 41-year old tell herself another 20 years from now…I guess we’ll have to wait another 20 years. Until then, keep doing you, don’t let age keep you from doing things just because that’s what’s expected.
With lots of Xs and Os,