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  • Jennifer Howard

Back to Cheer Camp

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

I have to admit, when I saw the instagram stories going up from my alma mater collegiate cheer team's summer cheer camp, I got all the feels. Wondering if you have what it takes after a summer of not dancing, packing just the right spirited workout attire, learning the camp routine, dreaming of those blue ribbons and spirit sticks, but more than anything, feeling so excited for the friendships that would form and the bonds that would occur. Dancing on every team, squad or in the studio was a trademark of my teens and twenties. I loved it and still have the muscle memory that comes with years of dance instruction.

It goes without saying that when I heard about the Fired Up! Grown Up Cheer Camp event in Scottsdale, my heart started beating with that feeling you get the night before tryouts. "Can I really do this?" Me. A 41-year old, grown-up, writer, attend cheer camp. I looked closer at the website to learn that this was not just "cheer camp." This was an entire day of master class dance workshops by famed international choreographers, pro dancers, NFL cheerleaders with some -- straight off of Broadway. Who is running this camp? Neeley Neal, former NFL cheerleader, collegiate coach, podcast host, and founder of the Go Fit Win community. Her goal? To help women find joy and life full out. As this seems to be a season where I am chasing joy like it's my job, I decided, with utter glee, to attend cheer camp.

Arrival at camp was very fun. I checked in, got a swag bag full of great goodies, and golden poms (squads were determined by which color poms you received). There was a full breakfast, a cute backdrop for photos, and tons of happy women getting to know one another before camp started. The good news about attending camp at 41 instead of 16 or 18 is you are not afraid to chat, get to know people and let yourself be seen for who you are. I made friends quickly (both on my squad and off) and three of the girls on my squad were pro NFL dancers. I loved it!

Camp started with a warm up, freestyle sort of tunnel with campmates lined up on either side (omg, I was so not ready for this, but there was no turning back.. and it was fun. I was high kicking like a Rockette and shaking my poms all the way down the line). After, we met the one and only master choreographer, Oscar, "Big O," Hernandez who taught us the most incredible, fierce routine to Britney's "I'm a Slave For You." Can anyone say, head whip? Next, we saw three sets of game day routines showcased by a variety of dance pros, and got to choose which class to take. I chose the "Back in Black" routine with Jada Davis. You guys, this was a pro-level class, and Jada is a very pro two-team NFL dancer. When heading into these breakouts, you weren't with your squad, you just went where you wanted, and the minute I walked into this session, my vulnerability kicked in. This routine was fast, fierce, and required a high level of skill, and ability to learn and execute quickly. I had confidence in my skill level, but the ability to learn and execute quickly (and I mean, really quickly) made me nervous. I did my best, learned from the girls around me, messed up, recovered, and told myself... there is a reason you put yourself in this room. Commit.

As an aside... I had no idea how many of these women dancing with me in class were pro dancers. No idea. They didn't brag about it, mention it, we were all just learning, dancing, helping each other review, and having fun. I really didn't learn until much later that I was surrounded by so many professionals. One of whom was named, Comfort. I loved her name, and just when I was worried I would forget a step, she would call it out. Already a sense of camaraderie...and she was pro too. After lunch, we were invited to create a squad skit using an 80's movie we were randomly given and our spirit stick. Our movie was Dirty Dancing and the skit was fabulous! We may or may not have danced down the aisle in unison at "the end of the year show" after our Johnny jumped off the stage with the spirit stick. ha. Next, we were introduced to Powerhouse Woman, Lindsey Schwartz, Author, Community Builder and future Golden Grannie. (Check out #goldengrannies to better understand our future fierceness). Lindsey was powerful, indeed. But she was also real, funny and endearing. She helped every woman in the room feel seen and understood in our vulnerability. She reminded us that we are always creating energy and transferring it to others. And that everything we want is on the other side of the thing we don't want to do. "Step into the next thing that's really going to challenge you," Lindsey urged. The next thing that's really going to challenge me is the end-of-day showcase where I have to perform that pro level Back in Black routine, but we'll get back to that later.

Following Lindsey's incredible keynote, we circled up in our squads, passing the spirit stick, and sharing the area of our lives where we need to step into our greatness. Where it is time to move beyond our comfort zone, where the growth, learning and rewards are waiting. It was a really moving time where we all got to support one another. I felt like some real bonding happened right there, in the circle.

With a little more time to go, we learned another fun routine by the incredible Oscar Hernandez. Then, we chose a different breakout session to attend, and this time, I chose a fun routine taught by Broadway actress and pro NFL dancer, Courtney Krauss. You guys, a camp custom mix of NKOTB "Right Stuff" was just too good to pass up. I loved this routine -- high v's, low v's, kicks, pumps, body rolls, poms being moved in precise motion, levels, and let's not forget those signature pro NFL hair whips. What I remember most from this session is when Courtney said, "Find the moment that is yours, and own it." As our day at camp was drawing to a close, it was time to showcase the routines we had learned earlier. As in, the pro level Back in Black routine, that I feared I had forgotten two workshops ago. I was so scared. There was a huge part of me that did not want to do this. Learning was one thing, but showcasing?! With pros?! I decided to do it. I didn't want to miss that experience with the girls I had danced beside all day. I didn't want to be the person who wouldn't have fun and give it my best because I feared not being perfect. So we got up in front of all of our other campmates and performed the routine. It went by in a fast blur, but I remember smiling and laughing, owning those moves to the best of my ability, hearing the cheers of my squad mates, and after, feeling the sweet relief of knowing I had done it.

Here's what I learned: Put yourself in the room where you have the most to learn, and let the pros support you in learning it. Let loose, have fun! You are fully supported. That was my #1 takeaway from cheer camp. I am heading into a big season in my life, and this little gem of a lesson had synchronicity written all over it. When you get in the room with the pros and you want to run, don't. When you realize you're not perfect and a lower vibration wants to take you back into the comfort zone, you stay high vibe. The rewards are on the other side. The night ended with Michael Jackson, champagne and a dance party. The next two days were packed with texts and Instagram stories from camp sisters, talking about how much fun we had, how we already miss it and how our necks are sore from those hair whips. I'll tell you one thing, one woman following her inner guidance to create the Fired Up! Grown Up Cheer Camp ignited a whole wave of energy, connectedness, confidence, authenticity and joy. And I am so grateful I got to be a part of it.

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