College Dance Team Central

Friday, November 07, 2008

Former UConn Dancer Joins Patriots Cheerleaders

Life in the NFL: Ledyard native Leah Krieger describes life as an NFL cheerleader

By Russ Morey
The Thames River Times

Growing up, 22-year-old Leah Krieger of Ledyard had many interests but a singular passion: dancing. Throughout her childhood and into her teen years, Krieger trained at the local studio, Alison’s School of Dance, where she learned various styles and the value of hard work. Looking back to those times, Krieger said she would have never believed it if someone were to tell her she’d end up as a cheerleader for the New England Patriots.

“Growing up I never thought I’d be a Patriots cheerleader,” Krieger said. “I never even contemplated cheering at all. I’m actually a trained dancer. I’ve been a dancer my whole life, and when I graduated high school I was really upset because that meant leaving behind my dance studio. So the first thing I set out to do once going to UConn was to try out for the UConn dance team. Luckily I made it as a freshman and I made the team each year after that.”

Krieger explained how following her passion at the University of Connecticut led to her first real taste of performing in front of large crowds, something that was quite different than what she was used to. Instead of performing on a stage in front of hundreds of people, she was performing on a basketball court in front of thousands, and at times, millions when the UConn men’s and women’s basketball games were aired nationally.

Majoring in business management systems, Krieger said her college years seemed to fly by, and before she knew it she was nearing graduation and confronted once again with those same bittersweet feelings over the end of her performing career. While she had already received a job offer to work as an IT auditor with a company based outside of Hartford, Krieger felt that she just couldn’t stop dancing yet. She had known two girls, one from her former dance studio and one from the UConn dance team who had tried out and made the Patriots cheerleading squad.

“I said to myself, ‘You know what? I’m not ready to give it up just yet. I still really love dancing.’” Krieger explained. “So I thought, ‘What the heck?’ and I went and tried out for the Patriots.”

Krieger said that knowing a couple of girls who had made the team previously made it seem a little more of an attainable goal, yet as she began researching what it entailed, she began to take this new challenge very seriously. Training months before the audition to look her best, Krieger showed up to auditions with approximately 300 other girls to compete for 24 spots.

The audition process started with an optional workshop (which is strongly recommended) that gave Krieger a better understanding of how things run and allowed the judges to become a little familiar with their potential recruits. Krieger explained that during the first round of auditions, the judges look at things like how fast the girls can pick up the choreography, athleticism, appearance, smile, and enthusiasm. After the first round of tryouts, the group of hopefuls went down from 300 to 55. At this time the 13 veterans who were still interested in being on the team and were still eligible (a Patriots cheerleader can only be on the team for a maximum of three years) joined the group, as even the veterans are required to try out every season.

In the second round of auditions, the 68 girls left were required to learn even more choreography, and, as Krieger explained, the judges weren’t necessarily looking for a perfect performance, but rather the most well-rounded dancers who were able to make a quick recovery after a mistake.

This group of 68 was then narrowed down to 35 girls, who underwent two weeks of boot camp, practicing with the team. They also met for one-on-one interviews with the head coach. After the two weeks, the final 24 girls were announced as the 2008 New England Patriots cheerleaders. Krieger said the feeling of hearing her name announced was almost indescribable.

“It was sheer excitement and joy and an overwhelming feeling of what’s to come,” Krieger explained. “I knew that all the hard work had paid off and there was still more ahead, and it was exactly what I had wanted. I had actually achieved the goal I had been working toward for months, and in a sense years, because it also validated all of my dance training.”

While ecstatic to begin preparing for the NFL season, Krieger soon came to realize just how hectic of a life she was about to lead for the next 12 months.

“Being a Patriots cheerleader is not a full-time job,” Krieger explained. “It’s a part-time job with a very, very extensive time commitment. Some people joke and say that it’s a part-time job but a full-time commitment, and it really is. We have mandatory practices two to three times per week, 12 months a year, and we do charitable and paid promotions, which we’re required to do by contract. All of us girls volunteer for them because we enjoy them. They’re a lot of fun, but they often mean traveling all over to the other side of Connecticut or to Massachusetts or Rhode Island, or to Maine. And, of course, game days. There really is a lot that goes into it.”

Krieger explained that the two or three practices during the week tend to last three hours or so while the Saturday practice lasts for six hours. On game days, practice is five hours before the game and then the game itself lasts for around three hours, yet the cheerleaders often stay after the game for autograph signings and other appearances. In addition, Krieger works full-time (50 hours a week) as an IT auditor, which requires her to travel to client locations all over the area.

Krieger describes her new life as a balancing act, joking that she is constantly on the road and basically lives out of a suitcase which has been a hard transition for her as she is not a light packer. But every Sunday when she steps out on the field, Krieger remembers why she continues to work so hard.

“Oh my gosh, it’s unbelievable,” Krieger said. “Performing for 70,000 roaring fans really does just take your breath away, and then you have to quickly catch your breath because you have to keep moving, you have to keep performing. It’s a very, very special experience. And now that I’ve gotten past the first few games where my mind was racing and I had butterflies in my stomach I’ve really been able to take it all in and enjoy it...and of course I’m hoping we make it to the Super Bowl; my fingers are crossed.”

And while her days don’t consist of a lot of lounging time, and some days she barely finds enough time to sleep, Krieger said she is thoroughly enjoying her first season as a New England Patriot and would definitely do it all over again. To those girls who may come from a small town, but have big aspirations, Krieger offers a message.

“Nothing worth achieving ever comes easily,” Krieger said. “It’s so much more satisfying when you’ve worked hard for something rather than when it’s just given to you. There were girls at auditions that I helped that I stayed after auditions with and I helped them really nail the choreography and take it to the next level. It was those girls who were even more thrilled when they made it because they worked that much harder to get there...With dancing, even if you don’t make it past the first cut, just keep your head up because one audition can always lead to another and every audition is going to make you a better dancer. There is just no downside to it in my mind, and if you stick with it, look where you can end up!”

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