When we were mere pee-wee cheerleaders, Kirsten Dunst high-kicked her way into our hearts, starring as cheerleading captain Torrance Shipman in the smash hit Bring It On. Over the next few years, our fave cheerleading flick spawned four super-sweet sequels, including Bring It On: All or Nothing with Heroes’ Hayden Panettiere and Bring It On: Fight to the Finish with singer Christina Milian. Now, the franchise is moving from the screen to the city that never sleeps.
Fresh off a 13-city national tour, the new production Bring It On: The Musical takes the cheer sensation to Broadway. Led by the Tony Award-winning director and choreographer of the dance-packed In the Heights, the musical delivers daring stunts and gravity-defying feats to a crowd full of cheer. In addition to experienced stage actors, the cast includes about a dozen of the most skilled competitive cheerleaders in the nation. The cheerleaders — who collectively hold over 25 national and 50 team titles— spin, flip and tumble to center stage, stealing the spotlight in vibrant, jaw-dropping musical numbers. During the national tour, one critic said the cheerleaders are like “breathtaking displays of human fireworks;” another said their sky-high stunts “could put Cirque du Soleil to shame.” (That’s certainly reason to cheer!)
AC caught up with two of the show’s top cheerleaders (and former camp instructors) between routines to talk about their transition to the stage.
Former University of Central Florida cheerleader & UCA instructor
AC: You’ve been a cheerleader at football games, on competition squads and a camp instructor— and now you’re a cheerleader in a Broadway musical. What’s been your favorite so far?
Lauren: It’s hard to choose which has been my favorite so far; because they each brought something that I absolutely loved! What’s so wonderful about all of them was being able to do what I love (cheerleading), work really hard at it, and being able to see a finished end result and feel satisfied that all of my hard work paid off!
AC: How long have you been cheerleading? When did you realize it was something you loved?
Lauren: I have been cheering since the seventh grade! I was taking a tumbling class at a gymnastics gym that I went to, saw their competitive all-star cheer program, and told my mom I wanted to do that! Once I got in a stunt, learned a new tumbling pass, and met my incredible teammates, I knew that this was the sport for me!
AC: How did you get involved with Bring It On: The Musical?
Lauren: Andy Blankenbuehler (the director) hired some of the UCA staff to do the stunts that were in the show, so he could see what he created put together and worked out. I was part of that staff, and at the end he asked if any of us wanted to do a mini-audition to be a part of the show! Since I was just graduating from UCF, it was perfect timing for me. He invited me to call backs in New York, and I was hired for the show! It’s been an amazing experience so far!
AC: What’s the best thing about being in Bring It On: The Musical and the biggest challenge?
Lauren: My favorite thing about being part of the show is learning something new and working hard to perfect it. I had no idea about singing and dancing (other than what I sang in my car, or the cheer dances I taught during the summer), so it was very challenging to learn all of that. With the help of the other cheerleaders and the guidance of the musical theater pros, we all learned together, which brought us closer as a team – as a family. So I guess my favorite thing about being a part of this show is also the biggest challenge!
AC: How did you train to sing in the show? Did you have any vocal or music experience beforehand?
Lauren: Every single person sings on stage, even when we are stunting sometimes! The most music experience I had beforehand was when I was in the fourth grade choir at my school and, needless to say, I didn’t remember too much of that. So Alex Lacamoire (the musical supervisor) played the notes on the piano for us cheerleaders, since none of us knew how to read music. The rest of the cast helped us learn singing technique as well—in order to be able to sing for two and a half hours, eight times a week, and be okay!
AC: Do you feel nervous before the performances? What do you do to calm your nerves?
Lauren: We have had more than 200 perfor- mances on tour so far, so I don’t really get nervous anymore. We have learned how to save almost any stunt by now, and I know all the choreography and songs. However, when we learn new choreography or stunts, it takes a lot of concentration to get it right. I have to practice the choreography a few times before I go on stage to make sure I’ve got it. The best way that I’ve learned to calm my nerves, whether it’s with cheerleading in general or this show, is to just sit on the ground with my legs extended and breathe slowly. It works every time!
AC: Do you have any advice for girls who hope to continue cheerleading after high school?
Lauren: My advice would be to work hard in everything you do! That means studying hard in school so you can get into whichever college you want to, first and foremost. Second, would be to work hard at practice – even if that means going in and working on a new tumbling pass before practices. The last advice I have is to never cut yourself off of a team before you even get to tryouts. In college, there is a program out there for everybody, whether it be non-competitive, all-girl, small coed, or large coed. Know what your goal is, and set your mind to getting the skills required to be on the team. YOU CAN DO IT!
Billie Sue Roe
Former University of Kentucky & Morehead State U. cheerleader and UCA instructor
AC: How did your friends and family react when you told them you were Broadway bound?
Billie Sue: They were thrilled; it’s a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, especially for someone who doesn’t have a serious and well-studied background in musical theater.
AC: What do you miss most about college cheerleading?
Billie Sue: I loved cheering at games and competing. Being on stage is kind of like both! I dress up, do my hair and makeup and still get to flip around.
AC: Some of your castmates probably weren’t familiar with the world of cheerleading before Bring It On: The Musical. What do you hope they’ve taken away?
Billie Sue: I hope they take away the teamwork aspect of cheerleading. Musical theater sometimes can be very individualistic but our show demands teamwork because of all the stunts we have to do together.
AC: We read that you got your start in gymnastics. How did gymnastics prepare you to be a cheerleader?
Billie Sue: Gymnastics taught me body control, flexibility and how to trust my body. In cheerleading, whether you’re partner stunting or learning a new basket, you have to be strong, flexible and trust your body to take direction and do the skill right.
AC: How long have you been cheerleading? When did you realize it was something you loved?
Billie Sue: I started cheering when I was 14— I’m 27 now and have cheered in high school, college and even after college with UCA. It was something I loved even before I tried it!! Watching the girls fly in baskets at the games in high school and tumble across the track was the most fun thing I had ever seen. I knew I had to be a part of it!
AC: Do you have advice for girls who want to cheer after high school?
Billie Sue: Cheerleading is more than just pom-pons and skirts . . . there are a lot of life lessons that can be learned, whether it’s teamwork, leadership, or learning how to get involved in your community—who knows where the physical and life skills you learn will take you! I wouldn’t be where I am today without having been a cheerleader in high school and college.
AC: How does cheerleading at games or at competitions compare to cheerleading in a Broadway show?
Bille Sue: The most challenging difference is that in cheerleading—whether you’re learning a cheer or a dance or a stunt – the goal is for everyone to look exactly the same. When we learn choreography for the show, the most important thing isn’t looking the same, but as Andy tells us, to do the step with the right intention behind it. The steps are dancing, they’re a physical extension of a thought or feeling. We don’t have that kind of intention in our movement in cheerleading.
AC: Has this experience changed your opinion of Broadway? What’s the most surprising thing about being in a show?
Billie Sue: The only opinion I had about musical theater and Broadway was that it’s really difficult and the only people who ever make it are the people who have been doing this their entire lives and who really eat, sleep and bleed the craft. That was never me, but it just goes to show that with some talent in one area (my cheerleading skills) and the work ethic and courage to try your best at something new (singing and dancing) who knows where you will go! You never know your potential until you just give everything and leave it all on the floor!