TD Place is widely acknowledged as having one of the best stadium atmospheres in the CFL. While rowdy members of R-Nation undoubtedly do their part, one contributor to that great game day atmosphere that sometimes get overlooked is the Redblacks Cheer & Dance Team. In an effort to understand a bit more about what it takes to put on a great performance, I caught up with Stephanie Constantinidis, one of the many talented and beautiful members of Ottawa’s Cheer Team. A Kingston native, Stephanie moved to Ottawa in 2012 to pursue a Communications degree at the University of Ottawa and hopes to one day be involved in sports management or the public relation aspect of sports media.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you decided to try out for the Redblacks Cheer team.
I’ve always taken an interest in the performance aspect of sports. When I was very young, I figure skated for a few years and also did competitive dance (at TK Danceworx in Kingston, Ontario) for five years.
I found my love for cheerleading in 2010 when I joined my high school’s varsity cheerleading team. I attended Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School and was on the cheerleading team for the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 season.
In university I continued my cheerleading career and was on the Gee-Gees competitive cheerleading team when the word got out that the Redblacks were to host auditions for their inaugural cheer and dance team. A few of my teammates and I decided to attend the auditions together. I saw this opportunity as my chance to grow as an athlete and challenge my limits.
What was the selection process like?
The selection process for the team took place over two days. There were separate auditions for those interested in becoming a part of the dance team and those interested in trying out for the stunt team. The first day of auditions was closed to the public and took place at the Delta on Queen Street. Day One gave all prospects a chance to learn the material before it was showcased to Ottawa’s football fans the next day.
The second day of auditions took place at the Rideau Centre and was open to anyone interested in watching the process. In addition to our coaches, the judging panel included representatives from our sponsors, dedicated CFL fans and Redblacks players. Doing a public audition gave the judges a chance to see how prospects reacted to performing in front of a large audience.
What kind of events do you participate in as a member of the team?
A big part of the job is being active within the Ottawa community. We participate in a wide range of events; everything from fundraisers for various charities to requested performances for local events in the Ottawa area.
Before joining, did you know anyone else on the team? If not have you made some good friends?
I actually did know quite a few of the girls on last year’s team from my time on the Gee-Gees cheerleading team. In addition to the friends I already had on the team, I definitely made some new and lasting friendships. There’s nothing that can compare to the bond that you have with your teammates. I’ve become very close friends with a lot of my teammates and as a whole the team has a lot of fun together. It’s an amazing group of athletes and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.
How many hours per week does the team practice?
The team typically practices about 2-3 hours per week. Aside from that, every member of the team is expected to be confident with the material/routines so inevitably we need to practice and go over choreography on our own time as well. As the season picks up, so does our number of practices in order to ensure we’re prepared to give R-Nation our best game day performances.
Describe the atmosphere at TD Place as someone who is at field level.
Being at field level during a Redblacks game is definitely a unique experience. As a cheerleader I have to have my ears open for my coaches/captain’s commands while remaining poised and in the proper position for the entire game.I also love being so close to the fans, the excitement of R-Nation when they see us coming towards our spot on the sidelines makes the experience even more surreal.
I feel a lot of respect from the fans and I know they appreciate and recognize what we add to the game day experience. Fans often come up to us after games and say things like “You guys are so awesome!” or “I had no idea it was this acrobatic” or “You guys are so much fun to watch!”. We’re so lucky to have such an amazing fan base and the support we have from R-Nation is something I’m grateful for. I might be biased, but I’d say that we have the finest fans in the league.
What was the highlight of the 2014 season for you personally?
I’d say that the highlight of the 2014 season for me was the very first game in Redblacks history, the home opener (July 18th). It was honestly the most exciting day ever. It was the first time we performed at TD Place and it was the first time I experienced doing what I love in front of such an enormous and spirited audience. Initially, the large crowd was pretty terrifying but when I realized how much support our team had from the fans, I became more excited and less intimidated. There’s no way to totally describe how it felt to step onto the field and see the excitement of Ottawa’s fans beaming from the stands. That moment made every tough practice and doubt I had worth it.
What would you say to those who want to try out for the team but may feel too shy?
I’d say to them what my mom said to me when I told her that I was afraid to tryout. Last year, I was extremely nervous to tryout for the team, I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t know if I had the necessary skills to be a part of the team. My mom encouraged me to take the chance and told me I had absolutely nothing to lose from trying out. I remember her saying “Think about how much you would regret it if you didn’t try out and you never knew”. My biggest advice to those who may be intimidated is to realize that trying out is 100% worth the risk, if you don’t try out, you’ll never know if you have what it takes.
What kind of characteristics does someone need to be a good cheerleader?
For this type of cheerleading, athleticism, coachability and strong interpersonal communication skills are definitely important. What we do is physically demanding and every member is expected to keep up with the high expectation of athleticism.
Our coaches value athletes who are coachable and who can adapt easily to changing positions, adjustments in choreography and being able to calmly manage any situation that may come our way. Our director Lisa always says that we need to be able to “manage the crisis”, whatever the situation may be.
Being personable and outgoing is also a key aspect to being a successful cheerleader in the CFL. As we are so involved within the Ottawa community, one needs to be well spoken, approachable and enthusiastic.
Are you in the cheer team calendar and where can members of R-Nation get their hands on a copy?
Yes, I’ve been selected to be featured in this year’s calendar. I haven’t done anything like it before so I’m very excited for the experience. Once the calendar is finished, they’ll be sold at games. When we are further into the process, details on where fans can get a copy will be announced, so I definitely encourage R-Nation to keep an eye on the Redblacks Cheer social media accounts!
What do you enjoy doing away from cheerleading?
My time away from cheerleading mostly involves school. The combination of cheerleading and a full course load leaves me little time for much else for the most part haha. When I do have free time I actually like to do touristy stuff within Ottawa or work out and watch old Disney movies (my favourite is Beauty and the Beast). I also just started watching Game of Thrones too. I spend a lot of time with my teammates outside of practice as well, doing movie nights together, working out, going to the beach, etc. I hang out with my teammates a lot as they’re some of my best friends.
Did you go to Vancouver for the Grey Cup? If so, what did you enjoy most about it?
I was lucky enough to make it to the Grey Cup in 2014. I think the best part was the enthusiasm that surrounded the event throughout the entire week. Performing in front of CFL fans from every team was such an exciting experience and I loved seeing the energy and positivity that fans across the league had for Ottawa being back in the CFL fold.
It was also exciting to meet the cheerleaders from the other CFL teams, I’m friends with a few girls from different teams that I met on social media so I was happy to actually meet them in person in Vancouver. All CFL cheerleaders share similar experiences and the passion is definitely carried across all cheerleading teams in the league.
As a returning veteran from last season’s team, how has your role changed? Are you more of a leader now?
I’d definitely say that the role of all veterans has turned into more of a leadership role. We all have a season under our belts and have knowledge and tips to share with all the new members of the team. We know the ropes and we know what it’s like on game day so we’re able to help prepare the rookies for when step onto the field.
Who is your favourite player on the Redblacks?
My favourite player is OL Matt Albright. I respect his involvement within the community and I admire how humble he is despite being in the spotlight as a professional athlete. The ability to remain humble while having such success says a lot about his character.
What’s something most people probably don’t realize about cheerleading?
I could honestly write a 30-page essay on the misconceptions about cheerleading. I think that people who haven’t seen what cheerleading is like in today’s world are not really aware of how truly athletic and competitive the sport is. Fans of R-Nation who have attended games have seen what we can do and I think we’ve allowed for people who may not have known a lot about cheerleading to see just how athletic and entertaining it really is.
There are a lot of outdated, negative stereotypes about cheerleading and I believe that the demeanor of the Redblacks Cheer and Dance team does a pretty good job of squashing those stereotypes. We pride ourselves on being a dignified and elegant and group of ATHLETES.
Thanks so much for your time Stephanie and keep up the great work!