Friday, June 28, 2013

Blood, Sweat, and Cheers Show Wrap-Up

It's been almost 3 weeks since Blood, Sweat, and Cheers closed our 8-show run at the Salvage Vanguard Theater here in Austin. Things are finally settling down, and I wanted to take a moment to say thanks
Our run was a huge success, and thats thanks in large part to you all, our supporters and loyal readers. Our Kickstarter donors and Creative Fund Grant made it possible for us to rent our blue cheer mat, buy costumes and set pieces, and pay our hardworking crew, cast, and cheerleaders. Your continued praise, questions, thoughts, and volunteering helped us to get this show on its feet and keep it going, even when things got rough. 
Your patronage and support helps us to continue to do our best to make Austin one the nation's best cities for experimental, affordable, and accessible arts and theater.
Overall, Blood, Sweat, and Cheers was a big WIN. We had great audiences for every single performance, and by our final performance we were at standing-room-only capacity. We received amazing media attention with mentions or articles on KUT's Arts Eclectic, Austin Lifestyle Magazine, The Austin Chronicle, and The Austin American-Statesman. We received countless amounts of remarkable and joyous audience feedback throughout our entire run as well as helpful criticism. We successfully incorporated 9 brave kid and teen cheerleaders into our show with no accidents and left the Salvage Vanguard Theater in better condition than we found it. 
This show gave us a lot of new and challenging parameters as creators and performers, from scripting the show ourselves using improv as a major element, to the intensive training of the 5 cheer leads, to the sheer scale of our 19-cast production (with some of our cheerleaders being as young as 8-years-old). We learned a lot and we're excited to see what comes next.
Now for some fun links!
There are many professional photos from the show online that you can view and/or download (I've added a small number of them to this update, as you can see). We don't mind if you use or share these photos as long as you credit the photographer!
Steve Roger's Photos:
On Facebook: 
High Resolution Gallery:
Claudio Fox's Photos:
Michael Yew's Photos:
Our Sunday June 2nd performance was filmed and you can view it for free on Vimeo here:
Or, if you just want some quick razzle-dazzle, the video of our big finale cheer routine is viewable here:
Once again, thank you so very much for supporting our risky, exciting, and challenging project. This show took over 10 months to create, but we had so much fun making it come alive from scratch.
All My Love,
Kaci Beeler
Producer, Mr. and Mrs. Danger Productions
PS: A training follow-up is still to come!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cheer Machine

It's impossible for me to write a wrap-up post for this cheer show process without myopically expressing my piece of this experience as though it represent the whole. I worry that this isn't quite the right kind of piece to write for a promotional blog on the day when the show should be most aggressively promoted. But, of course, the only truth I can speak is my own.

When I look back at my blog posts throughout this cheer show process, they all have a theme of body image and navigating my relationship with it by doing this work. It is embarrassing to admit, but I pinned a lot of hopes on this show. I thought by the end of the cheer training, I would have some "ideal" body that would look and perform exactly as my brain wanted it to. I still look very much like I did before. I did not gain some sort of super split or jump or dance powers. But change doesn't happen like that. Change is just a slow series of accumulating new habits. We grow accustomed to the new things we learn; they are old news and no longer titillating and impressive.

And so I  have to keep reminding myself that the dance and cheer routines we perform are impressive. To quote Woody Allen quoting Groucho Marx: I don't want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member. As in ... it's easy for me to write off the physical accomplishments I've made in this process by the virtue that if my body can do these routines, they must never have been that challenging to begin with.

But what we've done these past few months is hard. And these past few months have been valuable. And not because we made a play and we're putting it on a stage and asking people to come see it. I believe the five of us, Kaci, Karen, Halyn, Courtney and myself, have experienced something really unique throughout this training process. We mashed together physicality and creativity and female camaraderie and vulnerability and commitment and hard work into this strange-ass metamorphic process. I've certainly been changed by this experience. One piece of art hasn't magically resolved more than a decade of a fucked up body image, but although I can't erase my history, I can write more compassionate pages in each present volume. I've learned it's a lot easier to love your body when you train it and have fun with it and enjoy the rush of the exhilarating things it can do. ... such as this dandy ol' cheer play that opens tonight.

Maybe that's why we've done this whole she-bang: waking up far too early for the past dozens of Saturdays and stretching at home on our kitchen floors and listening to far too much Ke$ha* -- it's because we were putting on a show, right?

Well, maybe. I already feel fulfilled and satisfied from this process. For me, the product is just icing on the cake. Perhaps I'll feel differently after our two weekends of performances, but I hypothesize that it's not the shows that will stick around in my memory as much as the workouts and the choreography sessions that it took to get there. It feels good to create a sisterhood on the foundation of hard work, and it feels even better to work so hard you eclipse your own limits and foreshortened possibilities.

As for a final word on my Blood, Sweat and Cheers experiece, I believe that my character, Chrissy, says it best: "I didn't pass out! I didn't trip! I smiled the whole time! I am a cheer machine!" 

* for the record, "far too much" is a low threshold to cross when measuring units of Ke$ha.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

From T-Kicks to Kempo Kickboxing

It's May! I'm finally done with school, and I will be graduating next week! With my newly abundant free time, I'm excited to train for Blood, Sweat and Cheers and push myself farther than before. Today, I tried a new kind of work out to help me build strength and endurance for the show: Kempo Kickboxing.

I bought the set of ten classes on a whim from Groupon about a month ago, while trapped in my sedentary student lifestyle of paper-writing and shuttling my ass from school desk to school desk. I romanticized the idea of working up a sweat in a martial arts gym, heart pumping and music blaring. However, when the day of my first kickboxing class arrived, I felt completely intimidated. Everyone who entered the building was clothed in black muscle tees endowed with the gym's paradoxical logo -- an impressively muscular skeleton dude. Their rippling muscles canvassed with tattoos, this crowd looked like a motorcycle gang of Greek gods. I looked like I was dressed for a powderpuff football game or a Zumba class. I  sported a sea foam green t-shirt with a sweetly saccharine logo of an ice cream store on the front and the neckline cut to make a more flattering shape. I thought about turning around and going home, stopping at the thrift store on my way home to go dress shopping. 

Instead, I marched my heart-patterned socks and puffy white cheer shoes to the front door of the gym. Ralph at the desk was incredibly tall. And muscular. And handsome. He looked like Clark Kent with a CBGB makeover, his massive body coupled with a square jawline, a trim boyish haircut and dark, thick-rimmed glasses. He informed me that I might want to take it slow or follow the class at my own pace. Gauntlet thrown, Superman. 

I took off my shoes and joined the group, jogging in circles around the mat. The instructor called out different kinds of jogging, skipping, and shuffling. It reminded me of my old tennis drills. As we stretched, I felt proud of the flexibility I'd gained from the cheer workouts. But when we began learning the kempo punching techniques, I realized just how out of my element I really was. It's generous to say that I "wasn't very good". In fact, I was spectacularly horrible. I feebly jabbed and flopped my limbs around with the efficacy of wire hangers in a sword fight. The technique of kickboxing, routinized sequences of punches and kicks, felt like a dance that I had never even seen performed, much less tried to replicate in my bedroom while listening to the soundtrack from Girls.

You, too, can become a scientific anomaly. 

One of my favorite moments of the class occurred when the instructor gave me general tips about keeping your head up and retaining your fighting stance at all times while "on the mat". It was an instant mental callback to the same colloquial cheer-ism. It seems no matter what your athletic (or artistic or professional) discipline is, when you're "on the mat" you better take your dedication, focus and intensity to 11.

As the class progressed, I started to get a better feel for the kickboxing technique. Like choreography, I began to kinetically understand what my body was supposed to do. Even if I couldn't execute the punches and kicks powerfully or consistently, I started to commit the technique to muscle memory. The session ended with more cardio: an eternity of jump roping. A playful childhood activity corrupted and repurposed into single servings of self-imposed torture. But I was determined to keep participating until my instructor gave me permission to give myself permission to stop. 

By the end of the session, I was dripping in sweat. I was tired, and I worried that I'd embarrassed myself by being such a clumsy novice. But I also felt fierce and brave and powerful. I kept up with the group the whole time. I never stopped or slowed down. I didn't slink away during the water break and head home. The novelty of a new challenge was stimulating both physically, emotionally and intellectually. Kempo kickboxing was worth getting out of my car and following the fear. And although I'm probably not going to commit to training for a UFC championship any time soon, I'll definitely finish out the last 9 classes of my Groupon. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Y'all Ready For This?

This is not like that
THAT is school cheer. The pom-pons, the megaphones, the yelling. The cheering on of athletes. Mostly male athletes.
THIS is competitive cheer. It's that thing you see on ESPN at 2 in the morning that makes you go "THAT'S NUTS!"
The girls (and guys) who do THIS, they ARE the athletes. They have muscles in places you didn't know muscles could be. There are no instruments, no bats or balls or weights or pads or rackets, just the power of the body propelling itself up, around, across and through. THIS is a sport.
THIS is not cheering for anything but cheering itself.
Don't let the bows deceive you. Beneath the bow is an athlete that can out run, out lift and out smile you all at once.
THIS will be on full display during Blood, Sweat and Cheers. You'll get to see it live and you'll think to yourself "THIS. IS. NUTS. Is this really happening?"
Yes, this is.
Y'all ready for this?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kaci vs. Kaci or How This Show Came To Fruition

Me in my cheer uniform.
We are currently at 220 days into training for this show.
That's 7 months, 1 week, and 1 day.
How has it been lately?

I see my own progress pop up in a noticeable way here and there. For instance, I have these... protruding muscles in my legs. Like, rocks these muscles have become. Never in my life have my legs taken this shape. My abs are tight. I've got some "guns" (small, but legit). Yeah, I like that. I can jump higher. I have more control over my limbs when moving. I have more endurance. I can go harder for longer. I can do the splits, though I can't yet fully touch the ground. I can kick high. I have more body awareness, I know when I finish a move or jump what I did wrong.

That's a lot of good stuff, right? But then why, oh why do my shortcomings still haunt me? Lately I have been so damn worried about looking stupid and clumsy when it comes to executing choreographed dance moves - and this show has a LOT of them.

Things I know about myself:
I am a hard worker.
I am very self-motivated.
I take direction easily.

Things I've been told in the past by others:
"You've got two left feet." - Dance teacher
"You don't know how to move your body." - Dance teacher
"Theater won't get you anywhere...stick to your visual art work." - Peer

Let me back up...
I took several dance classes when I was a kid. Jazz and ballet at a studio when I was 9, Hip-Hop when I was 13, and Jazz, Ballet and Tap in high school when I was 14 and 15. I also took visual art and theater classes. I like them all. While I was probably at average or above-average for my age in art and theater, I was definitely close to the bottom of the barrel in dance. I was in the middle or back during the recitals. I knew enough to know what that meant about my skills. I really loved dancing, and I figured I would get better in time, so I kept pursuing it.
Dancing in an improv show.

When I was at the Westwood High School Fine Arts Academy I finally gave up on my thoughts of being a dancer in any serious capacity. I was asthmatic (still am, but now I have it under control) and I didn't have much body awareness. If I had hips I didn't know how to move them. I had a well-meaning dance teacher who was the sort that shouted back-handed compliments at me in front of the rest of the class from across the room.

"Hey everyone, look at Kaci, when this girl came in here she didn't know her right foot from her left, but now she just successfully executed a double pirouette!"

Somehow this was much more discouraging than encouraging. I didn't know that I looked so clumsy when I first came to the class. I practiced at home and ultimately no one noticed. I was always off-rhythm and I hated feeling stupid when I was trying so hard to pay attention and do well. Meanwhile, I was getting a fair amount of positive feedback in my art and theater classes, so I dropped dance entirely for another theater class.

When I was a sophomore I was invited to the Senior Prom. On the dance floor, I just let loose since I was around my friends. Soon enough they were complimenting me, dancing with me. I didn't feel stupid at all. Over the years I grew to enjoy dancing freestyle at parties and clubs, completely sober with a goal to keep moving and try new things with movement. At weddings and such, after tearin' up the dance floor to some top 40s hits, people often ask me if I'm a dancer, which feels like an incredible compliment. I say no, because I'm not. I enjoy moving and dancing like no one is watching. Dancing to set choreography?
It was safe to say at that point that it terrified me.

So how did I come to the place where I am producing and creating a show that requires LOTS of choreographed movement and dance? I've tried to to trace my thought process back to the very seed of the idea...

I got an incredible jolt of inspiration when I saw this K-Pop video by Girls Generation in 2009:

I became completely obsessed with it. Their matching outfits. Their simple yet complex dance pieces. There's NINE of them out there! Nine! Singing and dancing and being so adorable it seems impossible.

One of my close creative partners, Curtis Luciani, who I have a duo improv troupe with (The Amazon and The Milksop) also found Girls Generation interesting. Probably not to the same level as me, but he was on-board for an idea we came up with together after talking at length about the k-pop group. We created an 5 woman/1 man improv show that featured fully choreographed dance pieces called Girl Embassy World Team. GEWT debuted in Spring of 2010 and lasted until Fall of 2011.
All 5 performers created a character from a different country and the show featured their "in-concert" dances and "comedy skits" and then an improvised sitcom-like episode of their adventures backstage and on the road.

You can check out a video of a Girl Embassy World Team show here:

Girl Embassy World Team performing at The Ladies Are Funny Fest in 2011

We had rehearsals for both the dance and improv components, and while the dance aspects of the show took up a lot of our time, it was also one of the most rewarding aspects of our work together for me. Performing and creating GEWT was one of the first times I had focused on a predominantly female project, and I really enjoyed it. After our last performance, at The Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in 2011, a talented performer friend of mine named Katie Hartman from the NYC sketch group Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting commented on how she enjoyed our show but thought we were perhaps overexerting ourselves trying to improvise a new sitcom plot in 10 minutes in every 25-min show we performed. She wondered, since we created the characters and memorized the dances...why didn't we just use our improv to create a loose script to work off of? Then we could have more fun.

The show had always had improv in it, so I wasn't sure how to procede with the information. But it got me thinking...why did every theatrical project I had created in recent memory HAVE to have an improv component? Could improv be used to create a script, and then used again to freshen up dialog?

The very next month at was at the Vermont Studio Center for a month-long painting residency. While I was there I had a lot of alone time working in my studio to think. I began to listen to podcasts and audiobooks to occupy my mind while my hands were busy working. I stumbled upon an Improv Resource Center podcast about The New Colony, a theater company in Chicago that uses improv to develop scripted plays.

It was fascinating and very inspiring. As an actor I am comfortable with improvised, scripted, stage, and film work. I try to see lots of theater here in Austin and sometimes it is hit or miss. Even when a piece of scripted work is a hit, it often sounds...stilted to me. Sometimes if it's stylized I really like that, but if it's a modern piece and the dialog sounds a little fake, pre-planned, all of that - I realize all too quickly the conceit of the situation and I can't enjoy the work as much. Improv, on the other hand, often sounds very natural. But, improvising a brand new play is no piece of cake. I do it all the time with my troupe Parallelogramophonograph, but it's taken us a long time to get to a place of consistency and confidence.

Halyn tumbling for ACF at competition
I had had it in my mind for some time that I wanted to create a full production, with lots of my talented female actor friends, and I wanted it to be about cheerleading. I thought at first it might be improvised, but improvising a new plot around choreographed cheers might be a bit complicated. After hearing about The New Colony's process, I thought, maybe this is the perfect marriage of those two things - improvised theatre and scripted theatre!

I knew my good friend Halyn Erickson had cheered in the past and coached others in cheerleading, so I asked for her opinion. Soon, we were brainstorming if it were possible for an adult woman like myself to learn how to actually cheer like they do at the All-Star Cheer gyms around the country. Could I learn how to jump, base stunts, and do cheer dance? She was fairly confident that with enough time, I could.

In December of 2011 I went looking for a venue to stage my production. My idea of a production, anyway, because it was nothing more than a fun dream at that point. I was on a waiting list to rent a couple of weekends at The Salvage Vanguard Theater for 7 months. In the meantime I began putting feelers out to people about the project. Amy Gentry agreed to be my writing parter. My husband Roy was interested in directing the piece. Halyn was on-board for acting and coaching. As soon as I was presented with our current dates (May 30th-June 9th), I said YES and we got the ball rolling.

So now I'm practicing our cheer dance, a lot. I'm learning choreographed dances that will be high-energy transitions between scenes. Some days I think I suck and other days I think I'm doing pretty well. There are these little voices inside of me that rear their ugly heads every once in awhile, "You have two left feet." "You don't know how to move your body."

Those voices are momentum killers.
Those voices don't know what I am capable of.
The thing is...I don't even really know what I am capable of. This training has proven that ten times over.

This is my life and I'm going to do what I want. Plain and simple.

I've got 37 days of training left until the show opens. Let's do this!

Friday, April 19, 2013

So many things! Kickstarter! Promo photos! Website!

Hey everyone!

We are really ramping things up here. In addition to our usual workouts we've been adding dance practices with different choreographers (shout out to Amanda Butterfield and Cortney DeAngelo for their awesome work!) into the mix, as well as additional cheer practice.

We're several weeks into acting rehearsals and have 12 days until we're all supposed to be off-book (no scripts in hand for rehearsals).

We recently launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise $5,500 worth of starter funds. Our Kickstarter has tons of great backer rewards, and you can even pre-buy tickets to the show via your donation! Please help us reach our goal!

We also have a brand new website: 
And Facebook page:

You might notice that we're looking a little snazzier lately. That's thanks to Jon Bolden, local photographer and designer who took our promotional photos for us last Saturday morning.

Here is a small sampling of his photos, and you can see a lot more on the website and Facebook page!

Monday, March 25, 2013

New Uniforms! Two months to go!

Working on my splits in my kitchen!
Kaci here!

We've been training for over 6 months now. I know, it's a little hard to believe. For me, the time has flown by. We started out slowly getting into things, learning terminology and basic stretching and conditioning exercises...and now we're in the middle of working on choreography for the dance portion of the cheer routine and continuing our path to jump excellence (which is a much more difficult form of jumping than the kind you do when you're scared by a cockroach).

I still personally feel like I could be stronger and more flexible. I start to get in my head about it, and then I remember that I'm NOT actually a cheerleader and I'm not exactly expected to be awesome at this. Still, it's been exciting to get better at something that seems so impossible at first glance.

Kaci, Halyn, Karen, and Kayla (Courtney not pictured)

This past Saturday at 8:30am we got to try on the athletic, super sparkly cheer uniforms that we will be wearing in the show to match the boys and girls in Austin Cheer Factory. We went ahead and bought our own from the same supplier, and boy, they were NOT cheap (but still worth it!). Speaking of which, we're going to be launching a Kickstarter soon to help us with some starter funds for the production. Don't worry, we'll have lots of fun goodies as rewards for donors, and some inside sneak peaks as the show develops.

As far as the play portion of the show goes (which is honestly a very, very important component I haven't mentioned here much) things are moving along well! All the ducks are in a row! All the shoes are on the mat! All the girls a pyramid formation?

We've got most of our design and technical crew on board for the show including a stage manager, sound tech/designer, scenic designer, several choreographers, stage hands, and more. The working script for the Blood, Sweat, and Cheers (written by myself and the very talented Amy Gentry) is finished and we're having a live reading tonight with all of the actors. We used improv to help develop the characters and script and we'll continue to use improv throughout the process to keep things lively and fresh! So far the feedback on the script has been very, very positive to I feel good going into crunch time.

We've got about 2 months and 5 days until the show opens on Thursday May 30th at The Salvage Vanguard Theater on Manor Rd here in Austin, TX. Now the real countdown begins! We've got acting rehearsals, dance/cheer practices, and more on our calendar to keep us busy. I'm personally planning to ramp up my fitness goals as well to strengthen my endurance as much as I can.

This shit is happening. Damn!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

My Cheer History, Installment 1: 1995-1998

For those of you who don’t know, my name is Halyn Erickson. I did competitive cheerleading for 13 years. I won 73 national titles, multiple grand champion awards, I was the overall champion for individuals when I was 12, captain on many teams, the first Hall of Famer at Austin Cheer Factory and I was the flyer on the first stunt team to compete a kick double at a Cheer Power competition. I play a character named Kennedy who is very intense and harsh. She’s basically who I was as a cheerleader times 10. My other role in the show is helping these lovely ladies jump like cheerleaders, dance like cheerleaders and speak like them too. I have a long, strange journey to share, and I’m happy to do so. I’ll be doing in in installments, and this is the first one. Here’s my story.

5, 6, 7, 8

It all started when I was about 4, around 1995. My mom, Rhonda, was asked to help out on the Leander Cedar Park cheer team. She was a world class soccer player, and they thought she was a good fit as she was a woman athlete. She took it up as she thought it might be a good influence on me. I destroyed her dreams of ever becoming a soccer player, as I danced on the field most of the time and punched a kid once, then took the ball off the field with my hands. She had literally no idea what she was doing at first. She scouted the talent, watched videos (she would order vhs tapes), and learned the rules. She pushed the girls as hard as she could, and taught them everything she knew. I would go to the games and practices, and to this day I still remember some of the routines. They usually featured a heavy disco influence, as my mom LOVES disco. 

My parents always knew I was a performer. I wasn’t particularly funny, or emotional- I just loved to dance, sing, and do tricks. I was never shy if I was performing, I was only shy in real life. My mom asked me over and over if I wanted to do cheerleading and I always said no. I had a knack for remembering dances, and I started to stretch the way my mom taught the girls, just for fun. Still, for a long time I refused.

So my mom also loves sports, mostly football. She used to listen to this radio show that just talked about sports all the time, which I found horribly boring. One day, when I was about 7, she called in and answered a trivia question, winning her “audience” passes on the set of Varsity Blues. I think we went to the Georgetown stadium, actually. I was terribly bored. My mom had friends there, and I remember playing on a friend’s gameboy because I was so bored. We were in the stands, and when people told us to we had to cheer wildly. Mostly it was a lot of standing around.

And then I saw them- they threw girls in the air, and the people cheered.  The girls smiled and waved. The mascot danced. People laughed. People pointed. They took pictures. The girls jumped. The guys held the girls while the girls held their legs over their heads. I turned to my mom and said, “I want to do that.” She told me to run down and ask if I could. I shot down the bleachers and said, “Can I go up?” The guys pulled me over, and the audience clapped. The boys put me up in a partner stunt, and the guy under me told me to do “longhorn hands”, the girls below showed me what to do and I did. The crowed roared and the girls smiled at me. I was twiggy, scrawny, probably had a messy blonde ponytail and ugly clothes-but I was in the air and so who cared? The guy holding me told me to smile, and the crowd laughed- I can’t imagine how terrified I looked.

This is my first cheer memory. It means so much to me. Whenever I think about it I cry. This was the first crowd I ever heard that cheered for me. This was my first time doing something scary, and loving it. I came down and the cheerleaders took to me right away. They thought I was so funny and they had a million questions. My mom was down at the bottom at this point, talking to one of the guys. The girls put the mascot head on me, and I’ll never forget that. We just laughed and they made me do stuff with my arms and legs. Finally, I ran back to the stands, and the boys lifted me up and over the railing. My mom told me on the ride home that someone named Jason told me to take classes. He told my mom I had a natural ability and to start my training now.

My mom enrolled me at a tumbling gym in Georgetown called something like “Flipz” or something, I can’t remember. But I spent hours there in a leotard and shorts, desperately trying to learn a back handspring. They would put me in a harness attached to the ceiling and I would try to do stuff. On the wall I remember there were tons of hand-prints in red, green and blue with girl’s names on them. The gym was very loose, and fun- it was pretty much daycare with equipment.

My mom recorded a special that Discovery Channel did on cheerleading, that we watched for years and years to come. The competition was NCA, and it was the nationals. It featured Cheer Athletics, Top Gun Allstars, Gymtyme and World Cup. Here’s a link where you can watch what NCA feels like, and what I watched and idolized as a young girl: I watched this video so much that I ruined the tape. I wanted so badly to be like these girls, they were my idols.

It was around this time my mom started coaching in Georgetown, for the Georgetown Eagles. She was the head coach, along with a woman named Sonya, and another woman named Laura. For a short while we just did that team. We practiced outside of the Georgetown rec center, when there used to be a bit of field in the back. Bugs biting, the sun blazing, we worked hard to be the best. We went to competitions we weren’t competing at just to see what we wanted to be. We sat on trailers in local parades, had sleepovers, and I was so young that I can barely remember other stuff. I was only 8. I didn’t have any tumbling skills, I was just a great flyer. I was fearless. I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t cheer very loud, my jumps were okay though. I really wasn’t a good cheerleader in the beginning, it took a while to overcome a lot of my natural awkwardness. 

Quick sneak peek about my life- I had a full by 11. (this is a full: A full is an elite level tumbling pass, so I came really far in 3 years. But that all comes later!

Then there was the split. There was a dispute over a few girls having to miss practice for family issues. One girl’s father was out of jail, and visiting for a little while so a girl wanted to go see her father in another state. Another girl’s grandmother was dying, and she wanted to go spend time with her before she passed away. The other coaches thought it unfair to the girls who were staying and practicing, and thought they should be kicked off. My mom refused, and the coaches went outside of the gym we had rented out, and fought extremely hard and loud. They came back in, practiced ended, and so Cheer Authority was born- my mom’s legendary rec cheer team.
I am second in from the right on the second row, bending over holding our knees. I have long blond hair, and my face is so washed it out from being so white. This was my mom’s cheer team, and this the end of the first bit of my story.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

You want me to do what with my leg?!?

Karen Jane here! I can't believe it's already been four months since we started conditioning for "Blood, Sweat, and Cheers." It seems like just yesterday that we watched on in amazement as our cheer coach and co-star Halyn did back flips, thinking it would never be possible to reach that level of flexibility and agility.

Actually, it was just yesterday. Halyn does back flips a lot. And none of the rest of us can do back flips yet. And holy cow, Halyn can kick her leg up high!

So, can we do it? Can four adult women learn in 8 short months what Halyn started learning at the tender, jelly-like age of seven?

During the process of learning the cheer components, there have definitely been moments of panic (You want me to do what with my leg?!?) and whining (I'm so sore!) and self-doubt (Man, I suck at dancing!). Even the simple parts of cheer are a challenge for me. Getting those movements sharp (or jabby, as I like to say), sticking to the counts (and 1 and 2 and 3 and..), and using my upper body to get more air on the jumps (counter-intuitive, right?) have not come easily, but they have come.

It never fails. Halyn will show us some new double-triple-spread-eagle-something-or-other and on the inside I'm flailing and screaming, "Good Lord, I'll never be able to do that!" But on the outside I'm like, "Yeah! Let's go! I'm unstoppable! Rah! Rah!" Still, on the inside I'm screaming, "What do you think you're doing?! You're too old for this!" BUT I KNOW BETTER THAN TO LISTEN TO THAT VOICE.

I try it. I fail miserably. I try it again. Hey, it looks better. I keep trying it. Usually within the next week something magical happens and BOOM! The seemingly impossible was made possible!

Cue inspirational music!

When we started cheer practice four months ago, I couldn't stretch as far, I couldn't do all the intense ab workouts we do, and I sure as heck could not do a toe touch while soaring majestically like an eagle through the air. Well, I'm still working on the majestic part... and the soaring part... and the toe touching part... but I'm so close!

We have four more months of training ahead of us, and while it's unlikely that I'll achieve the level of flexibility and agility as our pink-haired ringleader, I will nevertheless continue to loudly proclaim, "Yes, I can! And I will!" Because I want to know just how high I can jump. I want to know just how far I can stretch. I want to know just how many dance moves I can memorize. And no inner voice of doubt is going to keep me from finding out.

We can do it!

Do I sound like a cheer leader yet? :)

Saturday, January 19, 2013


I’ve started practicing yoga as part of my own quest for mindfulness, but also to gain the strength and flexibility for cheerleading.
Drawing a connection between yoga and mindfulness isn’t too far of a stretch. (Oh, pun definitely intended.) But mindfulness and cheerleading? Before training for “Blood, Sweat and Cheers”, I thought that cheerleading was an impersonal, rigid discipline that required perfection and precision above all. Not very zen. But although the routines aim to be sharp and homogenous, cheerleading hinges on the same mindfulness practice found in more conventionally “enlightened” activities.
Through my training, I’ve learned to be aware of the places my body holds tension. I can feel my creeping anxiety in my shoulders. Or my existential crisis du jour in my hips. I’ve learned that a feeling is literally felt, more than just an emotion that I ruminate on, theorize about and react to.
And most recently, I’ve learned that how I respond to physical challenges is the same way I react to challenges in my life.
Last week, we worked on toe-touch jumps and handstands. Every time, I would get halfway up in the air and then flail my legs and halt abruptly.  Although I was safe and supported, I would panic and stop myself from pushing further. I was convinced I wasn’t “ready” yet; I was too afraid to leave the ground. I kept kick-and-flailing long after all the other ladies stopped for a break. I felt stuck. 
Like a hurdler to the side of the head, I realized I was letting fear — not physical limitation — get the better of me. With this realization, I became mindful of the roadblock. And now it didn’t loom so large.
Today, I can’t do a headstand. Tomorrow, I likely won’t be able to do one either. But I’m not going to learn to strengthen my abs and kick my feet to the ceiling by reading about it or talking about it or trying and pulling out of it. I can’t just say I’m “not ready yet”. The skills and strength to do a handstand are learned by doing a handstand. Commiting 100% to trying it as though I already can. I’ll fail and I’ll fall. But I’ll be closer than every time I prepped and prepared only to pull myself down. 
Fear masquerades as self-sabotage, or a list of rational reasons why not, or the fateful word “someday”. Something deep within us whispers that failure has dire consequences, but failure is seldom more destructive than falling out of a handstand. We get dusty; We get back up. We recover and try again.  When pursuing our goals, fear hisses deceit. It promises we’ll make it eventually, but only if we train to perfection before we dare to do it. But in cheerleading, in yoga — and in life — the doing is the training.


(...Not actually about handstands.)