REDBLACKS Cheer and Dance Week – The Vets

Every day this week Ottawa Life will be profiling the Ottawa REDBLACKS Cheer and Dance Team. Articles will feature spotlights on team captains, alumni and rookies but today we take a look at the vets.

Photos by Gord Weber, Ruslana M and Diana B

Yesterday we explored being a rookie on the Ottawa REDBLACKS Cheer and Dance Team. Today we will explore being a veteran or as they refer to it, a ‘Vet’. Vet’s have the experience and knowledge of what to expect but they are just as driven as the rookies. We recently caught up with Diana and Amanda, from the dance team and Tracy and Ruslana from the cheer team.

What is your occupation?

Amanda: I’m an Administrative Officer for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces

Diana: I’m a Security Analyst, Department of National Defence

Ruslana: I’m a a DJ and Pastry Chef

Tracy: I’m an Early Childhood Educator

Diana and Tracy, how has the second year been so far?

Diana: It has been a great season so far. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to return to the sidelines at TD Place for a second year. I found my first year very exciting but also overwhelming. In addition to learning new choreography on a weekly basis, there is quite a learning curve to understanding how we portray our team in public, from how we walk on field to social media etiquette. In my second year, these behaviours have become second nature so I can focus more on the game and share my experience with the rookies so it is easier for them.

Tracy: I have really enjoyed working with the individuals I’ve been paired with in my stunt groups, and it’s been really nice to have the opportunity to meet new athletes and develop new friendships. We’ve come up with some pretty great routines so far, and I feel like our team this year is getting stronger with each practice and game.

Ruslana, outside of the team you travel around performing as a DJ and you’re a pasty chef. Where do you find the time?

Ruslana: In all honesty I am still trying to answer that question myself! In all my endeavours I have created a super hectic schedule for myself which has taught me the importance of time management and balance. It has played a huge part in how I have been able to pursue so much in so little time.

What do you like to do outside of your work with the team?

Diana: I am an avid runner and volunteer in the running community. Every year, I run various distances and volunteer at the race expos for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, Canada Army Run, and Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. My next races are the Canada Army Run 10K in September and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon in October.

Amanda, The team does many community events and you are a great leader in that regard. What is your motivation behind that?

Amanda: My participation in community events started as fulfilling my commitment to the team. As I became more engaged and started creating relationships with the REDBLACKS organization alongside the Ottawa/Gatineau community –it became increasingly rewarding. The Ottawa REDBLACKS Cheer and Dance Team make such impact in the lives we touch but I believe that impact is felt tenfold amongst my teammates and I. The children, teens and adults we have the privilege of interacting with over the course of the season, and otherwise, represent everything I want to personify in life: strength, resiliency, commitment and passion. At this juncture, community events are experiences which encourage me to be better. How simple it is to make someone happy by showing up in a uniform –I will (as long as I can) continue to do that.

What has been the biggest challenge of being on this team?

Diana: There are times where we encounter circumstances that are out of our control. A great example of this is weather as football is played in almost all conditions from June to November. We have cheered through the heat, rain, and even snow. The biggest challenge is being able to quickly adapt to unexpected situations in order to provide our fans with a great experience at games or community events

Tracy: The biggest challenge I face is managing my schedule between working full time, commitment to the team and coaching the Ottawa Sooners Cheer Team, along with making time for my personal life. However, I’ve been lucky enough to have individuals in my life that are accommodating and understanding which allows me to make it all work.

What keeps you coming back to the team?

Amanda: There is no one way to answer this. The best I can offer is if you've seen the REDBLACKS story from its inaugural season to now, you know it's been a fairy-tale.

Ruslana: Before joining the Redblacks Cheer & Dance Team, I had competed as an all-star cheerleader for 13 years. This sport has played a huge part in who I am as a person today, and as the old saying goes "There's no such thing as retirement". As I finished post secondary at Le Cordon Bleu and got my first serious job in the culinary industry, it became clear I could no longer balance the intensive schedule required to be on an All-Star cheerleading team. I was sad to give up the sport, but it wasn't long before I learned about the auditions for the Redblacks! I love being able to keep a sport so close to my heart in my life, and this has become a great outlet for me to continue to practice the sport in a different setting. The feeling of performing in front of 24,000 people each game is addicting, and the bonds and relationships you create are irreplaceable.

What is a typical game day like?

Amanda: Let’s use a 7 o’clock game as an example. From 4:00 the team will all change and head out to do an on field where we block out routines and run through choreography. Following that, we head back inside to our change room and switch from our practice uniform to our official uniform. We then are back out and mingling with fans in the stands and on the concourse before heading back into our change room. We are back out all together to head to our players entrance tunnel for pre-game performance (usually 20 minutes pre-kick off). Back on field for players entrance. And following the anthem we start our rotation around field –cheering North and South side alternating every quarter with a performance. Following the game, we do a last on field with fans!

What is something people are surprised to know about your role on the team?

Diana: I have found most people are surprised at the level of commitment required to be on the team. Our season begins in March and ends in November. It involves weekly training sessions, team bonding activities, community events, home games, and the Grey Cup game and festivities. It is not a career or job for us. Many members are pursuing their post-secondary studies or working full-time jobs while volunteering their time to be on the team. We do it because we are passionate about the team and being part of the RedBlacks community.

Tracy: I think what surprises people most about cheerleading is how much hard work and dedication it is. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop routines and make sure they are ready to be preformed. Some people don’t realize how physically demanding this sport really is. When we preform, it may appear easy and effortless, however, in order for us to make it look effortless, we’ve put in countless hours of hard work and dedication to make sure our execution is flawless.

What’s your favourite movie?

Diana: Forrest Gump

Tracy: Beauty and the Beast. Although I love the newest version, I still have to say the original will always be my all time favourite.

Ruslana: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, hands down

Amanda: I love Hacksaw Ridge –it's been my go to for a while now.

Thanks for your time everyone!

Diana: Thank you

Tracy: Thanks Keith

Ruslana: Our pleasure

Amanda: Anytime

Ruslana, My birthday is coming up; can you bake me something nice please?

Ruslana (Smiling): But of course! You are the best cheerleader to our team