Monday, May 26, 2008

Finding Out If You've Got What The DCC Needs

IRVING, Texas - While the nation was rushing to get Mother's Day gifts and spend time with their moms, Katie Schouten was making her way to Texas Stadium to take a shot at possibly becoming a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.

The process is long, and it's not easy, and for some, just showing up at Texas Stadium with hundreds of cheerleader-hopefuls can be intimidating.

When Schouten was 12 years old she moved from Atlanta to Southlake, Texas, and was first introduced to the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders organization by her first dance instructor in Texas, former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Pamela (Jagger) Purcel, who also turned out to be the first director of the Dallas Desperados Dancers. Back then Schouten was asked by Purcel to attend a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders' Family and Friends Performance.

"From then on I knew I wanted to continue dancing and become a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, I fell in love with the team," Schouten said. "I believed they were beautiful women, and I knew I wanted to be one, one day."

Now 24 years old, Schouten has nearly completed her Bachelor in Fine Arts from the University of North Texas in dance, and has been a member of the North Texas Dancers for two years, finishing her last year as the squad's co- captain. She decided now was time to take her shot at trying out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Jennifer Cloutier, director of North Texas Dancers and former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, encouraged Schouten to continue dancing and live her dreams. Cloutier's dance style resembles that of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, giving Schouten added confidence during the auditions since she had been under Cloutier's guidance for several years. Unlike most of the candidates, she already had been exposed to the "style base dance training" of the DCC.

"I believe Cloutier has prepared me for this style of dance," Schouten said. "She has also encouraged me to continue dancing beyond college, and to try out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders or Mavs Dancers."

So let's take a look at what the weekend is like for a young lady trying to claim one of the precious 38 spots on the famed Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders squad, having to go through a two-day process just to qualify for the finals, which will be held this Memorial Day weekend, with the interview portion of the auditions held at the team's Valley Ranch complex on Friday with CMT cameras rolling and then the talent portion out at Texas Stadium on Saturday.

Schouten awoke at 5:30 a.m. on May 10, the first day of tryouts, and made her way to Texas Stadium, where found a long line of beautiful women, all with the same hope. She would stand in line for two hours, and quickly realize this was much different than what she had seen on the CMT special Making the Team, which has become an annual TV special.

"It was surreal, I was so tired and a little delirious, and there were so many girls and they are talented and beautiful. It was a little intimidating," Schouten said.

While waiting for her shot at America's Sweethearts, Schouten said she mentally rehearsed her choreography time and again, but found herself quite anxious to get it on with her dance.
"My emotions went back and forward over time, at times I was saying I want to go dance, I want to go dance, I want to perform," Schouten said.

Schouten waited five hours before it was her turn to freestyle in the preliminaries. She obviously impressed the judges with her charisma and style of dance; tired and sleep-deprived, Schouten was extremely excited when she was asked to return for Day 2.

But the wait to find out if she was moving on must have seemed like an eternity. Schouten's number didn't appear among those asked back for Day 2's semifinals until 8:30 that night. She was only halfway to the finals.

Day 2 began at 7:30 a.m., Sunday's line of ladies much shorter than Saturday's since the panel of judges had cut the girls from some 400 to 150. But the semifinals are much more difficult than preliminaries.

"Preliminaries are a lot different from semifinals because in preliminaries you do whatever you want and in semifinals if you miss a step, or mess up, the judges know," Schouten said.
This time around the contestants would performance the same dance, one choreographed by former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Audrea Ulmer and Megan Fox to Piece of Me by Britney Spears. The dance was a jazz-based dance, and Schouten and the other 149 girls were taught the routine in one hour. The ladies were given an additional hour to do makeup and then it was on with the tryout process.

"I like the dance and I keep redoing it in my head," Schouten would say while preparing for her shot. "You know there is a fine line in practicing it enough and practicing it too much. I feel good about it. I am hoping when the moment comes I am able to focus."

Maybe it was all the waiting. Maybe it was the anxiety. But after Schouten finally danced, she just wasn't impressed with her semifinal performance.

"I made a couple mistakes," Schouten said. "I hope the judges understand I learned it that day and that they would acknowledge my showmanship and have seen enough to invite me back to finals."

And they did.

Schouten was absolutely thrilled when she found out the judges chose her as one of the 64 ladies to advance to the Memorial Day weekend finals, and making it to this level of the auditions was a huge step toward her lifetime dream of becoming a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.

But the finals aren't really the absolute finals, just the next level in the audition process before training camp, where the final squad will be chosen. The competition becomes even more intense since the 64 candidates to advance will now meet up with the 25 returning DCC veterans. And depending on the quality of the candidates, the group of 89 will be whittled down to the best 40-45 candidates heading to training camp.

There will be two parts to this weekend's finals: An interview with a panel of judges, including the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders director Kelli Finglass, and then a talent competition in front of a panel of judges. Some might sing, some might dance and some might play a musical instrument.

Schouten said dancing is her best talent, so she will perform a self-choreographed routine for the talent contest.

"I am eager for finals to begin, because now I would be able to show my strengths in dancing," Schouten said.

Getting this far in the auditions to become a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader takes years of preparation, big dreams and serious ambition. Not everyone is able to claim one of the final coveted 38 spots.

And now we'll see if a 12-year-old dream will come true for this Southlake dancer.