On Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams will meet the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. Inside Cheerleading goes behind the scenes with three rookie NFL cheerleaders to learn more about what goes into their preparation and performance on one of the world’s largest stages.
“Heading to the Super Bowl is history in the making for the Rams Organization and the City of Los Angeles, and I’m feeling an abundance of pride to be a part of something so special during my rookie year as an NFL Cheerleader! “ ~Brendan Ryan
By Jessica Walz
Eyes wide open, heart beating in your chest as you take a deep breath and that first step onto the field – a great rookie season is what dancers and cheerleaders dream about when becoming a member of an NFL team!
Inside Dance takes you behind the scenes and gets personal with Teegan Zeh, Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader, Geena Rojas, Seattle Seahawks Dancer, and Brendan Ryan, Los Angeles Rams Cheerleader, to talk training, how their collegiate dance team paved the way and the steps they took to audition for their respective NFL team.
Chatting with Teegan, Geena and Brendan, I am greeted with warm smiles, and genuinely kind individuals. Their energy exudes o! their words as they describe their first season highlights and how performing makes them each feel so alive. Each shares an enthusiasm and excitement that you come to expect from performers.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to pursue a professional dance career,” says Teegan. “I started researching NFL cheerleading teams my sophomore year of college. When the pandemic happened, it opened many virtual opportunities to take classes from various teams across the country. While taking online classes, I was able to explore teams’ choreography through online interactions. I wanted to be sure I attended as many as I could, as I knew it was one of the best preparations for auditions.”
For Geena, the audition process was “exciting, and I was just so happy to be dancing again and have the opportunity to try-out. I’m one of those people that love auditions. I love the excitement around building a new team, getting to meet new people, and showing off my talents. However, my favorite part of the Seahawks Dancers’ auditions was getting to perform a solo. I love that they gave us the opportunity to show the judges our creativity, hard work, and other skills that we might have.”
There is always an excitement to the audition process which brings along a bundle of nerves and a new feeling of joy. For Brendan, there’s a bigger reflection: “I will never forget the day I got to watch history being made on Good Morning America when Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies were announced as the first male cheerleaders in NFL history,” he said. “I remember so many people sending me articles and interviews, telling me how they could see me doing this one day. At the time (2018), I was finishing my freshman year at the University of Michigan, where I became the first male in history to make the Michigan Dance Team. Of course, like any college freshman, it was so hard for me to envision what my path after college would look like.”
Historically, the path of male cheerleaders and dancers in the NFL was a long one dating back to 1978 when Glenn Welt was the first male to try out as an NFL cheerleader, though the Miami Dolphins would not let him compete. In 1998, the Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders were the first cheerleading squad to start using male stuntmen. In 2018, the first male dancers were added to both the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints. In 2019, the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles added males to their squads, and the Seahawks Cheerleaders became the second permanent co-ed squad after the Ravens. In 2021, for the first time, the Panthers TopCats had three men make the final team with the Kansas City Chiefs Cheerleaders also adding a man to their team.
Brendan immediately began to see a future doing what he loves, all thanks to these trailblazing actions. “Quinton and Napoleon quite literally paved the way for me to have the opportunity to be here today. I cannot even begin to describe how proud I am to be a part of an organization that broke down barriers and changed the professional cheerleading world forever,” he reflects. “I feel like the luckiest man in the world to have a platform to inspire a younger generation of dancers in the same way that my idols, that I now get to call my teammates and friends, have inspired me.”
Having a collegiate dance team background helped each of them in a variety of ways. When discussing how it assisted their transition, their responses were unanimous: College Dance Team can be one of the best ways to prepare you for the NFL!
Geena, who danced for the University of Washington, shared that her coach told the team to always “perform for the highest level in the stadium and always engage with fans… and to put power and purpose behind every move.”
“As vital as performance is, so is gaining experience of being an ambassador to an organization and serving your community,” Teegan said. “After making the University of Pittsburgh Dance Team, a new world of possibilities began. Once I gained experience dancing at Pitt, it led me to love cheering on a different type of stage. I fell in love with cheering for sports teams and being an ambassador to a university.” Her pathway of dancing on a collegiate team led her to audition for the Atlanta Falcons. “Throughout my collegiate career, I was able to attend various charity events as a representative of my university. Learning how to engage in a highly effective manner with important stakeholders, community leaders, and grass root supporters in college contributes to being a member of an NFL cheerleading organization.”
Brendan found a similar experience at University of Michigan. As one of the captains his senior year, “we found that we were most successful when we implemented fun and positivity into everything we did. I’m so proud of the authentic work ethic that the University of Michigan dance team helped me create, and I cannot even begin to describe how much the Los Angeles Rams Cheerleaders value the same things I do. The team dynamic is so healthy and motivating, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.”
As each of these dancers went into the audition process, they all had a common theme: research. Brendan describes, “it was so important to me to make sure I knew about the organization that I was auditioning for. The thing that stuck out the most to me about the Los Angeles Rams organization is how dedicated they are to their community involvement, and how they’re constantly putting the people of Los Angeles above all else. Of course, the opportunity to get to dance is a huge plus, but it means the absolute world that we are able to actually go out and make a difference in the lives of others.”
Teegan took advantage of the multiple online classes being offered in 2020. “I started taking audition prep classes sophomore year of college to my senior year. It was one of the most helpful ways to learn about the cheerleading organizations, coaches, and veterans on the team. Most importantly, it helps you understand the different styles of every team, and which one may fit your personality best. After I took the Falcons Cheer prep class, I knew I wanted to audition. The love for the city, organization, and coaches shined through. Once I was through the first round, I made sure I learned the material as best as I could so it would be second nature by the time I performed it in person on audition day.”
Ultimately, each prepared themselves as best as they could, and Geena took it one step further by also getting comfortable with virtual learning. “I did a lot of Zoom dance classes!” she notes. “I took all different styles; Salsa, Jazz, Hip Hop, and NFL Jazz/Pom to help get me used to picking up choreography and challenging my brain and body to do different styles of dance. I believe that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying new styles enables you to grow as a dancer. I knew that virtual learning could be a part of the NFL season this year, so getting myself comfortable with that was a skill I wanted to be strong at.”
These three dynamic dancers are not only ambassadors on the field, but also in the community they serve. Sharing guidance to the next “rookie squad” Geena notes, “start early and start slow. Start your prep journey early on, focusing on fitness, nutrition, overall health, and of course, dance technique. Starting early will help you feel more prepared going into auditions and concentrate on the essential parts of the process.”
Brendan’s advice is to remember that “this isn’t only an audition, but rather, a job interview. You could be the best dancer in the world, but if you aren’t a good teammate at the end of the day it’s not going to be a healthy fit.”
In addition to appreciating the process, incredible personal highlights mark each of their journeys to date. For Geena, it was one of her very first community events at a local high school. “One of the biggest reasons I have always wanted to be an NFL cheerleader is because of the impact we get to have on the community and the role models we get to be. At this event, we got to meet and hang out with the high school cheer and dance teams. I had such wonderful conversations with them. Not just about dance, but about college, life, and how I got to where I’m at. I love helping others chase their dreams, so getting to engage with these dancers who also have the same goal is by far my favorite part about being an NFL cheerleader.”
Brendan has already had “an abundance of ‘pinch me’ moments” throughout his rookie season so far. “I think the biggest highlight was getting to step onto the field at SoFi Stadium for the first time,” he told us. “Last year was the first year the Los Angeles Rams played in the newly built, 5.2 billion dollar stadium. However, due to the COVID-19 precautions in place at the time, the Rams Cheerleaders were not allowed on the field. The August 14 preseason game against the Chargers was the first time any of my teammates and I got to take the field. It was such a magical, indescribable feeling! I instantly thought about my younger self, and how proud he would be to watch our wildest dreams come true at that moment.”
And for Teegan, “When I touched the field at my new home stadium, it felt incredible. I had a new sense of gratitude for everything I worked so hard for. I took in the atmosphere of the fans cheering and encouraging comments from my coaches and teammates. When the announcer called out “Welcome your Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders” as we took the field for our first game it gave me chills! It reminds me to never take any moment for granted and to stay present through this awesome experience.”
That’s great advice. And we couldn’t agree more!
About the Writer
Jessica Walz began her dance career at age 14 as an apprentice with JazzMet Dance (BalletMet) in Columbus, OH. She received her B.A. in Dance from Point Park University. With over 30 years of dance experience, she has coached national champion collegiate programs such as Hawaii Pacific University and San Diego State University. She continues to be requested as a motivational speaker, choreographer and master class instructor across the US and abroad, as well as judge for local, national and international events.
Saskia Potter \ Seattle Seahawks
Falcons – Art Morrison (white) Karl Moore (red)
Carrie Giordano – therams.co
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