Cougarette auditions not a simple twirl in the park

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Macie Gee had kept her eye on one of the coveted BYU Cougarettes team member spots for a long time when she auditioned last spring.

The freshman graphic design major and first-year Cougarette has two older sisters who were previously on the dance team. She had been watching, training and waiting for at least eight years for her turn to come.

“I was just preparing my whole life,” Gee said. “I always just took as many (dance) classes as I could and did whatever I could to be good enough to be on the team.”

Each spring 75–100 dancers audition for the 16–20 spots on the Cougarettes.

Every dancer on the team has been through a grueling audition process. Auditions for a spot on the 13-time national champion team are held every year on a Saturday in March. Registration begins at 7 a.m., and for the choice few who make it to the end of the day, auditions last until 4 p.m. Veteran Cougarettes also have to re-audition for the team each year.

During the audition process, candidates compete through three rounds of dancing to demonstrate they possess superior dance skills. Each Cougarette has training in ballet, modern and jazz technique, according to the Cougarettes website.

In the first round of auditions, dancers do several across-the-floor combinations. In the second round, they learn and perform both a jazz combination and a hip-hop combination.

Dancers in the final round must exhibit advanced-level turn combinations to demonstrate their flexibility. After the dancing portion is over, each girl is interviewed. This final stage of the audition process is the most stressful, said senior Savannah Thompson.

“They just want to see who you are and your personality mostly, and that was always the scariest part for me, because it’s like, I can dance,” Thompson said. “I know that’s what I love to do, so I love doing that and even though you get nervous, you know that that’s why you’re there.”

Coach and artistic director Jodi Maxfield said she looks for dancers who have both a stage presence and the potential to set an example for younger girls.

“Number one, we’re looking for young women who are going to be great role models, who are going to be great ambassadors for the university and for the Church,” Maxfield said. “We’re looking for young women who are exemplary in all areas of their lives. Cougarettes isn’t just a dance team; it’s a team of women who are dedicated to BYU, to growing their testimonies, to being — like I said — role models and really serving in all capacities.”

The audition process may seem grueling, but it’s only the beginning. Dancers are not only expected to continually improve their skill, fitness and flexibility while they are on the team, but also to fulfill certain requirements before they ever step onto the audition room floor.

Cougarette hopefuls must bring certain items to audition: proof of a current physical, a release form and a $20 cash audition fee. Each prospective Cougarette fills out an online application complete with a résumé.

The dancers also read an article about the differences between high school and college dance teams.

The afternoon before auditions, letters of recommendation are due to the Cougarettes office. These letters are to be filled out by people who have trained with the dancers and include sections that describe whether the dancer is a team player and if she has any “grooming or health concerns.”

When dancers arrive for auditions, they register and participate in a range of motion test before they are allowed to compete for a spot on the team.

The most important preparation for Cougarettes president Meri Christensen, though, is to develop a strong mindset.

“You … have to go into any audition mentally prepared for any outcome. Because, odds are in most auditions you won’t make it, so you just have to prepare yourself mentally to go in and do your best, and that has to be enough for you,” she said.

Senior Natalie Zippi tried out for the team twice, once at the end of her freshman year and then again after her sophomore year. Her second time she prepared more extensively, from taking a daily ballet class to working with the Cougarettes’ former assistant coach in private lessons. She said that auditions were an intense experience.

“It was an intimidating environment, but I think that’s unavoidable when you’re trying out for anything at the collegiate level,” she said. “There are just a lot of girls who try out, so I think sometimes it’s hard for the judges to see everyone and sometimes people slip through the cracks, especially during the first round of auditions. You have to work hard to get noticed.”

Although she didn’t make the cut, she said that she is grateful for the experience.

“As hard as it was to put myself out there and get told no, I don’t regret trying,” she said. “If I hadn’t tried I would have always wondered. Even just auditioning taught me about myself, and preparing for try-outs kept me dancing, which kept me happy, which was maybe all I really needed anyway.”

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The Cougarettes compete annually in the college nationals and perform throughout the year at football and basketball games, along with their own full concert every February. They are known nationwide for both their dance skills and the standards they uphold as BYU students.

Maxfield said the 2015 auditions are set for March 21, giving prospective Cougarettes a chance to be prepared for when their time to tryout arrives.

“People are already calling; they’re making plans already,” Maxfield said. “This is something that they’ve dreamed about for years and years, so they’re looking toward auditions and planning for it and taking classes and getting ready, making sure they’re ready to go.”

Gee said the day she found out she was a Cougarette was one of the best of her life.

“I felt so relieved and like all my hard work was paying off finally,” Gee said. “It was really good.”

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