Cosmo: An Oral History of the Viral Dance
Story by Elisa Huhem. Graphic by Gabby Stockard. Video by Sarah Houssian.
What can we learn about iconic moments in BYU sports from the people who were actually there in the moment? The Daily Universe is creating a series of oral histories to do just that.
On Oct. 6, 2017, BYU Football played Boise State at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Cosmo came out and performed with the Cougarettes during the first quarter timeout and a video of the performance soon went viral with millions of views on social media. The performance changed the Cosmo brand forever. This is the oral history of Cosmo: The Dance.
Part I: The Dance is Born
Charlie Bird (Cosmo): I don’t know if it’s possible to feel confident at Cosmo tryouts. I felt out of place and I was worried because I was gay, and at the time I didn’t want anyone to know. Essentially, the way Cosmo tryouts are set up is they try to physically destroy you before tryouts even start. I tried really hard to fit in and tone down anything that could be perceived as gay. So when the dancing portion came around, which was what I was most excited for, I didn’t dance or do anything that I actually know how to do — just the bare minimum to prove that I had rhythm. I didn’t make the team officially, and for that year I was the coach’s assistant and no one really knew that I could dance because I hid it.
Bird: I would do a couple of small events, but I wasn’t the main Cosmo. (My journey to dancing Cosmo) started the year before; 2016 was the first time I danced with the Cougarettes. I’ve always been a dancer, and every time I’d be helping on the field — bringing water or carrying towels — I would watch the Cougarettes and think, “I can do that. I know I can do that.”
Bird: The Cougarettes posted a video on Instagram and I just learned the choreography. I went to one of their practices and I don’t know where I got this confidence, but I was super bold.
Emry Wride (Cougarette Captain/Choreographer): He taught himself a Cougarette timeout and then showed up to our coach and was like “I know this dance. I’m Cosmo. Let me dance it with you guys.”
Bird: I felt like we were in some sort of chick flick video where they were like, “Alright, line up, ladies,” and I walked over there. And I’m like, “OK,” because I knew the choreography. And then afterward, everyone was like, “Oh my gosh, he knows the choreography.“ And after that I proved myself.
Nicole Quesenberry (Cougarette Captain/Choreographer): Charlie was amazing because he was so passionate about it. He learned it and had it down to a T on his own.
Jodi Maxfield (Cougarette Coach): We had done performances with Cosmo in the past, but it’s dependent on if there’s a Cosmo that can keep up with the Cougarettes.
Bird: I wasn’t in the suit the first time I went in and the coach saw me dance. Then she talked to my coach and was like, “we need to get him for the football game.”
David Eberhard (Cosmo’s Coach): I’ve been a professional mascot in my days. And I’ve done dances with dance squads, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody work as hard or take the time that Charlie has.
Maxfield: Charlie’s work ethic is second to none, he works really hard and he wouldn’t accept not being as good as the Cougarettes.
Bird: What a heist, right? I really just tricked my way into becoming Cosmo.
Part II: The Lead-Up
Bird: The first go around (in 2016), we did a dance and it got pretty popular. Then the second year (in 2017), I knew some of the girls and I explained to them what looks good in the suit, and we did more of a collaborative dance. They choreographed it around the way I moved in the Cosmo suit.
Wride: We knew that we wanted to do a timeout with Cosmo. And we knew that it was probably going to be big if we did it.
Wride: That next year, Charlie reached out to me again and was like, “let’s do it again. Let’s collaborate.” I got familiar with the way that he moved, and he started to get our style, and we just meshed really well together.
Wride: We had been searching for hours for all these songs and we heard “Rolex” (by Ayo and Teo) over the summer. We brought it up to our coach, and we were like, “We don’t love it, but it’s really the only song that we have right now.”
Bird: I hate the song. I’ve just always been annoyed by the song. It’s really catchy and that’s probably why I hate it.
Wride: None of us were sold on the song but because the game was coming so soon, that’s the one we went with. The captains of the team, Nicole Thorley, Shaye Edwards, and I, all choreographed the dance.
Bird: I’m not trained or anything, but I just know how to dance. I remember face-timing (Emry Wride) … And I was like, “OK, I want you to put these specific moves in the dance.” I don’t know how to describe her ability to understand the human body as it relates to dance, but she knew exactly what I would look good doing and she created the dance for me as Cosmo. The formations, movements, lines and tricks were tailored towards what I’m good at and what looks good with Cosmo in the suit.
Wride: Charlie is very particular and wants to learn it right away because it takes him a little bit longer than us to learn the choreography because he’s not trained in dance.
Bird: I requested that they send the video (of the Cougarettes doing the dance) from the back view so I could watch them and pretend like they were in front of me. I just watched it in slow motion. They sent it as an unlisted YouTube video and I learned it myself. Then I went into their practice for like 30 minutes two times and then we performed it.
Quesenberry: He would practice so much and he just killed it.
Maxfield: He’s a great performer. And, you know, like I said, it had to have been somebody that could keep up with the Cougarettes, because we didn’t want to water down our choreography in order to have him keep up with us.
The Cougarettes decided to perform with Cosmo during the nationally-broadcast game against Boise State on Oct. 6, 2017.
Eberhard: Cosmo has about five or six places he needs to be before the football game even starts. We did everything we could to lighten his load that day, but it was just brutal because he wanted to go through the choreography and still do everything that he needed to do to nail it.
Bird: I really wanted to make sure that Cosmo looked really good. So I had the suit pressed. We have a cat hairbrush that we bought at the dollar store and I was in there combing the eyebrows and making sure that the wave patterns of his fur were perfect. I felt like I was ready for prom.
Wride: We actually don’t have a dressing room in the football stadium. So we go to the girl’s bathroom and fans are just walking past us practicing.
Maxfield: I remember being very excited and nervous for this particular performance. I knew going into it that it was something really special and that the crowd was going to go nuts when they saw it.
Part III: The Moment
Maxfield: It was a perfect night. We were playing Boise State and it was a packed crowd there in the stadium. I just remember the electricity that we felt — I could feel it from the team.
Tyler Rostedt (Videographer/Cosmo Team Social Media): Leading up to that performance, Charlie was talking to me about the dance and would send me clips from their practices. He would say, “This is what it looks like. Just so you’re aware.” And I began visualizing it. We always have issues with ESPN cameras, so we talked to the right people to make sure that we could get the center angle.
Wride: Once we got out into the field and in position, we just knew what to do. Our bodies went into autopilot.
Bird: My brain or my body just took over and I just did it.
Greg Wrubell (BYU sports broadcaster): When I felt a reaction growing during a break, it struck me as quite unusual.
Savannah Swenson (Cougarette): Right as we ended, all of us were literally screaming. It came straight from our hearts. You don’t even know what to do but scream because we just crushed it.
Bird: Usually you can’t really hear much because there’s so much padding and fur, but it was loud, and I thought, “If it’s this loud and my ears are covered, imagine how loud it really is.”
Rostedt: There are a few Cosmo moments in my five years where I remember the crowd just being piercing loud and that was one of them for sure.
Part IV: Cosmo Goes Viral
Bird: (Another Cosmo) was doing the second half, so I ended up leaving because I wanted to get the video out as soon as possible. So, I went to my buddy’s apartment and we edited the video and overlayed the music.
Rostedt: The stadium didn’t have the best internet, so we went straight back to my place, I did the edit, and we watched it a few times on my TV and tweaked a couple of things.
Bird: We released it and it went viral within 30 minutes.
David Almodova (BYU Athletics Marketing Director): For that next week, our Cosmo coordinator received calls from everybody.
Eberhard: It just took off like wildfire. There was nothing else in the world going on. We were getting calls from Japan and from Indonesia. I got calls from the Middle East and we were getting calls from everywhere. They wanted to learn more about it and get permission to share the content.
Bird: I didn’t study for like two weeks. I was so distracted because I was just reading comments and saving videos. I would tally up and track the number of views and I put it on a spreadsheet.
Bird: That was the first semester I didn’t get a 4.0 because I was practicing and the aftermath was so busy. The Washington Post, the New York Times and NBC Sports were all wanting to interview the “guy who does dancing Cosmo.”
Rostedt: I probably sat on Instagram and Twitter for 14 hours a day so that I could be on top of retweeting. The few times I’ve had really big viral moments I’m always logging 100 hours a week on social media trying to be on top of all the comments.
Wride: Usually we get 10,000 views for our timeouts, but after this, our followers on Instagram kept climbing. Celebrities were reposting, and House of Highlights and ESPN. They were all showing our video and it was just so surreal to have that happen.
Swenson: We gained about 80,000 followers in that next month. We were at about 17,000 and now we are over 80,000 followers.
Bird: I was tracking it for a while, but I lost count at 800 million (views) and that was a couple of years ago. It has well over a billion across social media platforms.
Part V: The Impact
Wrubell: People don’t expect someone in a big bulky costume to be able to pull off the moves that he pulled off that night. It’s just incongruent, you wouldn’t expect one to go with the other.
Wride: There were some funny comments afterward like, “Mormon girls can’t dance like that” or, “there has to be a dancer in the suit.” We got lots of questions about Cosmo’s ethnicity.
Bird: There were a ton of people that thought I was a girl and that I was one of the Cougarettes. To me, that’s really flattering. You know, just feeling that I was as good as them.
Quesenberry: I don’t think there’s a single person that I talk to today, where if I brought it up and said, “Do you know that video of Cosmo?” they don’t go, “Oh my gosh, I watched that.”
Eberhard: A huge part of Cosmo’s identity now is being a dancer. Most of the guys that I cut could go anywhere, even professionally. I’m cutting kids that can do standing folds, throwbacks, tumbles, tricks and all kinds of crazy stunts because I already have that. But can you dance?
Bird: The amount of appearances that I was doing after that was exponentially greater because everyone wanted the dancing Cosmo. For that whole semester, I was skipping class. Then ESPN flew me to Atlanta for a week. There were a lot of opportunities that came out of it and I decided to put that to the forefront and make that the priority, which I don’t regret at all.
Almodova: He’s one of those mascots that adds a whole other element to our in-game production because he can do so many things and he’s so versatile.
Bird: After I started dancing as Cosmo, a lot of other mascots kind of caught on and it created a trend for schools across the nation.
Maxfield: It started a movement throughout the country, where everyone now is performing with their mascots.
Wrubell: He’s created an expectation that Cosmo has to be able to do special things.
Bird: This put me on a more public scale. There were a lot of people who expressed interest in the program and came to BYU just because they wanted to be a mascot. They were wanting to go to BYU because we have the best mascot program in the nation.
Eberhard: We still get requests for dancing Cosmo. I look for dancers now in my recruiting process.
Bird: I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I got as Cosmo because it made me confident. I wasn’t really confident in who I was before, but for some reason, being able to put on that suit, and pretending to be someone else, I became myself. I really think there was a reason that that specific performance got so big and that I was the person that did it. It felt very much like the beginning of a mission for me.