This week’s author, Go-getter Emilyjo Levy believes that authenticity provides the strength to move mountains and achieve your biggest dreams. That’s how she made it all the way to the NFL! For more tips and inspiration on “making it,” send a note to Emilyjo on our contact page.
Last year, I became a cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals. I performed on one of the grandest stages in the country—an NFL stadium. My team and I performed dances and cheers before crowds of more than 60,000 people at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. On any given day, this role placed me in the company of celebrities, NFL champions, and community leaders. Perhaps most importantly, I was granted the opportunity to speak to young women who’d like to do what I did—make it in the big leagues.
How I reached the NFL and what I discovered inspired me to go get the world. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way:
1. Define what “making it” means to you, and stay true to it. Don’t let anything stand in your way of getting there. #staytruetoyou
Ever since I can remember I wanted to make it as a dancer. To me, making it meant Broadway, American Ballet Theatre, or the NFL or NBA platforms. All were fairly different, but one thing was the same—the level of courage and dedication it took to try was extremely high.
I’ve danced since I was three years old. (Well, supposedly I didn’t pay attention until I was five, but we’ll go with three.) Besides schoolwork, dance was my number one priority growing up. I was at the dance studio several nights a week, for several hours each night. I was never the best at tricks—nailing triple turns, leaping the highest, or even being the most flexible; however, I had passion in my movement. My teachers would tell me I pulled focus enough to be in sync, yet still stand out. Every time I performed, I let my passion mantra replay in my mind: “I can dance with more passion than anyone else. I feel it the most.”
At 15, I became a platinum-level soloist and placed as a top 5 regional soloist. Reflecting on this moment, I was grateful for the incredible support system who allowed me to explore my love for dance: my parents, my brothers, my teacher.
2. Remain positive and steadfast about your strengths (passion vs. technique), rather than wasting your precious energy fearing the strengths of others. #ownyou
This lesson stood me in good stead throughout high school, my college dance teams, and post-college. As my confidence, technique, and passion developed, I became more dedicated than ever to make it. With the incredible support of my entire family, I went all the way to Dallas, Texas, to audition for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
As soon as I walked into Dallas Stadium’s courtyard with washed-out yoga pants and half-done makeup, I quickly realized I wasn’t fully prepared. We entered in an extremely organized fashion and had hours to practice our “freestyle” dance. Since I did not come prepared with choreography, I patiently waited for our next direction, in my simple outfit and worn jazz shoes from college.
Finally, my row of eight women took the audition floor and freestyled to Jennifer Lopez’s “On the Floor.” Observing most had prepared pieces of choreography, I focused on my strengths and not theirs: “I can dance with more passion than anyone else. I feel it the most.”
More than 1,000 women auditioned in 2011, and I was one of the top 100 women who made it to the semi-finals round! My passion got me far, but what I lacked in preparation finally caught up with me during that audition, and I didn’t advance to the next round.
Did I re-define what making it meant to me? No—rather I reflected on what I did well, what I could have done differently, and I was honest with my areas of controllable opportunities.
3. Every step in making it matters. Literally. You will fall, but you will learn how to get back up. #everystepmatters
Fast forward to 2017. I decided I was ready to go for it again for the Cincinnati Bengals, and I vowed to be passionately prepared. Final auditions were scheduled for May and prep classes began in March. No matter what it took, I attended those prep classes, asked questions, and learned the definitive expectations of the Ben-Gals audition process.
The multi-week audition process was the most challenging process I had been through to date: exigent choreography was taught quickly, and I had to prove my performance ability was more than enough for an NFL football stadium, as well as prove I had the physical strength of an NFL athlete. Candidates were expected to be the at their best at all times, therefore these high standards tested the mental and physical endurance of us all.
This time I made it to the finals. “I can dance with more passion than anyone else. I feel it the most.”
On May 11, 2017, I made it: I became a 2017-2018 NFL Ben-Gal, a cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals! Practice began the following Tuesday.
4. Once you’ve made it, you can’t stop trying. Pushing your made-it mountain allows you to develop as an individual. #movemountains
Practices were held Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings – sometimes with an additional Saturday. For an NFL cheerleader, practices are several hours long, consist of vigorous dancing, fitness boot camps, and the responsibility to continually demonstrate your individual progress. I committed 100% to this schedule every week, in addition to the roundtrip commute from Columbus to Cincinnati. I had made it and I was going to give it everything I had. My passion AND preparation had paid off!
Every time I look back at my experience of standing next to my Ben-Gal sisters, performing the dances we had practiced for weeks, my sense of pride charters a new level. Together we overcame many physical and mental obstacles, and we were all there, dancing in euphoric unison, memorizing upwards of 40 different pieces of choreography at any given moment, to burgeon the experience on one of America’s most beloved pastimes.
My experience as an NFL cheerleader has given me some of my highest highs and lowest lows. I will forever be grateful I received this opportunity, and I remained present at every practice, game, event, and moment.
Some experiences will challenge you, and they may uplift you. Some experiences will motivate, yet cause self-doubt. Notice your feelings, recognize what is driving them, and start defining what it means for YOU to make it. #nevergiveup
5. I encourage and challenge you not to shy away from a dream based on how you should get there. Commit to your dreams with all your energy and #gogettheworld.
*All Ben-Gals photography by Steve France
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