To be 100 percent honest, I always found the profession of adult cheerleader to be sorta perplexing.
I know … I know—I’m insulting my newest Quaz guest one sentence in. Really, though, I mean no harm. I just long thought it quirky to dress up in skimpy clothes and root on adult men dressed in tight pants and numbered shirts.
Then, however, I welcomed Brittany Jenell to the Quaz. And my eyes were truly opened.
Brittany is the 2013 captain of the Detroit Pride, a cheerleading outfit that, according to its mission statement, encourages “spirit and enthusiasm for the Detroit Lions football team and it’s fans.” Brittany sees herself not as a sex symbol or a mindless chick with pompoms. No, she seeks to exude pride and confidence in a city that’s often struggled and a team still trying to dig itself out of Matt Millen Hell.
Here, Brittany talks up the joy of cheerleading the the anger of hearing people dump on her hometown. She wouldn’t date Titus Young, doesn’t love the number 729 and wore a big yellow dress to her prom. One can visit the Pride’s website here, and follow Brittany on Twitter here.
Brittany Jenell, welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Brittany, so rarely have I gone into one of these interviews knowing so little about the person I’m interviewing. Which leads to an interesting point/question. Almost all NFL and NBA teams only release the first names of their cheerleaders/dancers. Why do you think this is? Is it to prevent crazy stalker fans from tracking you down? Is it to have an air of mystique, a la “Madonna” and “Prince.” And would you be comfortable with the team using your full name?
BRITTANY JENELL: The team only releases our first names for our own protection. It does help to deter people away from finding all of our personal social media profiles, employee records, etc. But every season a few people are able to read between the lines and track us down, and that can lead to some disturbing interactions online and occasionally in person. That can get scary, so I prefer that the team just sticks to the first name rule.
J.P.: Brittany, I don’t really like the idea of my daughter, who’s almost 10, ever becoming a cheerleader or dancer. A. Because I don’t want her being an overt sex symbol; B. Because I hate the idea of her in a skimpy outfit; C. Because I’d rather she play a sport than root on the men. Tell me what I’m missing here, and if I’m wrong …
B.J.: There are a lot of benefits and life lessons I have received through my years in cheerleading. I have become a more confident individual, with increased self-esteem and the ability to communicate with large audiences. We don’t set out to be sex symbols, but confident and physically fit women are generally seen as more attractive. What you may consider “skimpy” is decent coverage when compared to some fashionable swimsuits that are out today. And when it comes to playing sports, I wish I could play football! I would love to knock some people around, but I’m just not built for that, I guess. So instead of putting my body on the field as a human sacrifice, cheering from the sidelines has been my way of getting as close to the sport as possible. I have been a huge Detroit sports fan my entire life, so why limit your ability to cheer on the team? And to anyone who doesn’t think of us as athletes or consider what we do a sport, I challenge you to come do what we do. We work our tails off at practice, events, and games. When we’re not in season, I play on a co-ed softball team and get into volleyball tournaments throughout the summer.
J.P.: Here’s what I know. You’ve been with the Detroit Pride for three years, you surely like to dance and you have a winning smile. What I don’t know is, well, everything else. So Brittany, what’s been your life path to this point? Were you a cheerleader growing up? And dancer? How did you wind up with the Pride? And what do you hope to do for your full-time career?
B.J.: Life has been good to me thus far. I started cheerleading in second grade and I haven’t been able to give it up since then. From little league, to high school, then on to the Michigan State University All-Girl Competitive Team. I then transferred schools and ended up on the University of Michigan Co-Ed Team (big change). I was able to run out of the tunnel at The Big House and got a taste of cheering on the field in front of thousands of people, and I knew I would do anything to feel that rush every chance I was given. I learned about the Detroit Pride auditions through a newspaper ad and jumped at the chance to be considered a “pro cheerleader.” I was ecstatic when I made the team, but I didn’t realize it was truly a startup company. We had a lot of ups and downs the first year; from pushback from the old-school fans, questioning who we were, to competing dance groups, but all that was worth it when we were able to take pictures with the little kids who just beamed when they saw us. They were the next generation of fans, and we were able to make an impression on their game-day experience. That is what keeps us going. Our team has grown every year, and even though we’re not official Lions Cheerleaders, we are official Detroit Cheerleaders, and we’ll cheer on our hometown until they drive us out. I’d like to wind up on the sidelines someday soon, if not as a Lions Cheerleader, then as a sports reporter or Director of Community Relations for the team.
J.P.: Just being honest here—the general perception of Detroit is, well, awful. Poor, unmanageable, condemned buildings, corrupt politicians, etc. Recently, as you surely know, the state government basically took over, with the idea that Detroit can’t save itself. Brittany, can Detroit be helped? What, in your opinion, needs to happen? Is there a silver lining, or is a deadened city a deadened city?
B.J.: This is where I have a huge issue. To outsiders, Detroit is portrayed as decaying. The media loves to show images of the bad parts and crumbling buildings, but never seems to shine a light on all the great things happening. I work downtown everyday, and everyday I discover something new and amazing, and I brag to everyone I know about how lucky I am to be a part of the revitalization of a great American city. I tried out an internship in Chicago after I graduated college, and I quickly realized that I couldn’t make a splash in such an established city with thousands of interns vying for the same limited number of positions. In Detroit, I can affect the outcome and help change the city for the better. Detroit can absolutely be helped. From the little things, like supporting local businesses and events, to bigger ideas like moving your business to the bustling downtown area, it all starts with a trip to Detroit, where you will see the positive changes for yourself. The people in Detroit have such a strong willed demeanor to them; we will never let this city die. There is too much opportunity in Detroit to let it go. Speramus Meliora. Resurget Cineribus—we hope for better things. It will arise from the ashes.
J.P.: Two years ago the Lions were awesome and fantastic. Last year they, ahem, were not. As a member of the Pride, does it matter? Like, how does the team’s on-field play impact your gig? Is it harder to get pumped, or get the fans pumped, when the Packers are winning 45-3? Do you feed off of the game itself, or are cheerers and players almost like two far-apart islands?
B.J.: We support our team and our city, win or lose. Detroit fans are not usually bandwagon fans. We were born and raised to be passionate about our hometown teams and the game, regardless of the score. The fans in Detroit (and Michigan in general) may have fallen on hard times in the past few years, but you can always count on having a good time on game-day. Our job is to improve that experience, so when the team is down, it just drives me to be louder and crazier, and the fans feed off of that energy. That struggle our team and fans go through makes celebrating a well-fought win all the better.
J.P.: What’s your week like? How do you prepare for games? What sort of training goes into being a professional?
B.J.: The women on our team generally have full-time careers or are working alongside attending school, so we’re all extremely busy. Personally, I like it that way. I like having different avenues to keep my mind working. We have practice and workouts two-to-three nights a week and we may have appearances and charity events around Michigan thrown in there as well. We’re required to work out on our own an additional four hours per week. We’re working with a Crossfit trainer, kickboxing instructor, and nutritionist this year. We go through special dance technique classes and PR/media seminars throughout the season. We will also be attending the P.R.O. Conference in Atlanta over the summer with many of the other professional cheerleading and dance teams from the NFL, NBA and semi-pro leagues. The night before games usually includes some type of team gathering, mostly because we have to wake up so early on game-days (5:00 a.m. at the salon). Like I said … busy!
J.P.: There are, in this nation, millions of overweight and obese girls. Some of them, surely, want to be dancers, and have skill. Looking at the Pride photo, everyone looks to be in amazing shape. If you’re overweight, is there an unspoken rule that you have no shot of making the team? Is it a sad-but-true reality: Fat people need not apply?
B.J.: Thank you for the compliment of our team. We work extremely hard to maintain strong, athletic bodies. Our coaches, trainers and choreographers are keeping us moving. You have to be physically fit to dance for three minutes straight while keeping a smile and not breaking too much of a sweat. If you have the talent, confidence, and physical ability to do that, we encourage those girls to try out.
J.P.: When you perform, you look like a sex symbol, you dress like a sex symbol. But do you see yourself as a sex symbol? Are you comfortable with the idea/role?
B.J.: I don’t see myself as a sex symbol at all. If someone else wants to think of me that way, that’s their choice. Some people think anime cartoon characters are sexy … everyone has their own opinion as to what is attractive. I like the idea of being an attractive role model for young girls compared to some stereotyped fantasy. The people that take the time to talk to us on game-days and at events are always pleasantly surprised with our attitude and conversation. They are able to see past the uniform.
J.P.: Before last season the Miami Dolphin cheerleaders did a Call Me Maybe video that got millions upon million of hits and was, frankly, brilliantly done. I’m sure you saw it. Do you feel like the bar is raised for the cheer/dance troops of pro sports teams. Is standing on the sideline, getting people excited, no longer enough? Also, you’re new to Twitter. Is this coincidence, or part of the Pride being more interactive?
B.J.: The bar was definitely raised with that video, but we’ve got something in the works to challenge it! Social media has allowed us to interact with fans on a little more of a personal level. It’s exciting for people to see us at the games and say “Hey, I know her!” I’ve received Facebook fan page messages from people thanking me for taking a picture with them or their kids. That is exciting for me, seeing how I can make someone’s day a little bit better. I created a DPC Twitter page to keep fans up to date on where we’ll be performing during events and game-days, and to get the latest updates from news sources on what’s happening around Detroit during the game. We’re working on becoming more interactive with the fans, through video posts, conversational Tweets, Instagram photos from our performances, etc., but we need to get our name out there first and buildup the fan base.
J.P.: I think there’s a common misconception among fans that cheerleaders and players hang out all the time and date and blah, blah, blah. What’s the relationship really like? Is there even one?
B.J.: There is no relationship there. Just a mutual respect. They know we exist and support us as a team … we cheer them on. Game over. We’re actually not allowed to fraternize with any professional athletes on the Detroit teams (Lions, Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons) outside of team events. It’s a rule we put into place ourselves for our organization to keep a high level of professionalism.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BRITTANY JENELL:
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details: Not really death, but I have prayed for a safe arrival on a few occasions.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): placemats, Matt Millen, Kirk Gibson, Prada, water aerobics, tuna salad, Dave Bing, George Clinton, Bill Clinton, Aaron Rodgers, strawberry milk, airport security line, McDonald’s, the number 729: Kirk Gibson, Strawberry Milk, Tuna Salad, Water Aerobics, McDonald’s, Bill Clinton, Airport Security Line, George Clinton, Prada, Matt Millen, Dave Bing, Aaron Rodgers, Placemats, the number 729.
• In 30 seconds or less, write a cheer suitable for a high school pom pom squad that incorporates “Starbucks,” Randy Jackson and a fork: I have literally been trying to come up with something for two weeks now, and I’ve got nothing. I’m stumped on that one.
• Three memories from your senior prom: Dancing with my best friends, a huge yellow ballgown, and bad food.
• Thoughts on Dave Bing: He’s doing what he can with the circumstances he’s been handed, but it’s time to bring on some proven businessmen and young, creative minds to revitalize our city.
• Five reasons one should make Detroit his/her next vacation destination: You can meet a professional cheer team, we are the No. 1 sports city in the U.S., you can experience one of the largest open air farmers markets in the country at Eastern Market, walk along a beautiful riverfront dividing us from Canada, and see some awesome live performances in the second largest theater district in the country.
• Titus Young calls. “Hey, Brittany, how about a date?” Your response?: No thank you. Try one of the Bears cheerleaders.
• Your favorite part of a football game?: The video on the big screen that plays right before your team runs out onto the field. It makes your heart race every time.
• My brother thinks Carrie Underwood is better than Jennifer Hudson. I think my brother is on crack. Your thoughts?: That is like comparing apples and oranges. Both are wonderful, but they are totally different tastes. Talented, beautiful, confident women in their own styles.
• Worst line a guy has ever used on you?: “Can I have your e-mail address?”