Saturday, May 30

New and current Bruins look to land a spot on UCLA’s Spirit Squad

Julia, a first-year psychology student, was one of the 19 Bruins who auditioned for a spot on the 2014-2015 UCLA dance team. Julia was on the team for the 2013-2014 season, but had to audition again for next year as the team does not save spots for returners. (Jessica Zhou/Daily Bruin)

A line of five hopeful Bruins sit patiently in front of a panel of 15

The verbal test that awaits them is a change of pace from the dance showcase they put on just prior to moving on to this section of the audition.

Using the most of the 45 seconds they’re allocated, they each give a different verbal testimony that mirrors the storm of different colors represented by their tops in this event. But each one of the different qualities each individual brings all converges to the same dream: they want to be part of the 2014-2015 UCLA dance team.

What started as 32 participants entering the Preparatory Audition Clinics was eventually cut down to 19 through what Spirit Squad director Mollie Vehling describes as a “self-eliminating” process, after prospective members experience firsthand the demands of being on the team.

Whether it was performing their best replica of pre-choreographed routines, improvising dance moves to the repeating tunes of “MMM Yeah” by Austin Mahone ft. Pitbull or thinking on their feet in a different way by answering questions posed by the panel of judges, the remaining 19 women spent the entirety of five hours trying to prove they had what it takes to be a member on the 2014-2015 UCLA Dance Team.

Many of the candidates vying for a spot are students and prospective students who had and still have ties to other dance teams from their high school or even here at UCLA and want to take that connection with the realm of dance one step further.

But joining the ranks of fresh faces are veterans who’ve decided to return to the team for another year. Although they might have proven that they’ve got what it takes last year, they’ll have to go through this year’s audition just like everyone to ensure they don’t stay complacent and to renew their commitment to the team – they’ll be judged on equal footing with everyone else.

“It’s a different kind of nervous,” said Julia, a first-year psychology student. “Having been on the squad for a year, the style came quicker and routines came faster to me so I think it’s just more of showing the judges and our coaches that I was on the team for a reason and that I’d like to be on the team again, so really just pushing that envelope of what you can bring.”

The hours spent in the Student Activities Center gymnasium will be but a mere glimpse of the continuing commitment they have to put forth as members of the dance team.

“You look at Brett Hundley just as football, but our teams, they’ll be at football, at basketball, at softball and water polo and volleyball,” said Ryan Finney, associate sports information director who also serves as a judge in the auditions. “They have the same time commitments that any other student on campus has, but they have all these other things, because they show up at all the other events.”

Because of their ubiquity in UCLA events, the members of the dance team inevitably become Bruin icons.

“This is a unique experience that they can’t get anywhere else,” said Vehling, who was also a part of the dance team during her time as a UCLA student. “They’re really in the middle of everything in campus.

“Whether it’s with the athletic department … or on the campuswide, we can go from being on the field at the Rose Bowl, then on the next night at the chancellor’s residence to facilitate a group of donors and guests at the campus.”

With that status, however, comes attention both of the good and, unfortunately, bad variety.
An audition for spots on the 2014-2015 UCLA dance team was held on Sunday in the Student Activities Center gymnasium. The women who auditioned ranged from prospective Bruins still in high school to returners who wanted another year with the dance team. (Jessica Zhou/Daily Bruin)

It’s because of the latter that the Spirit Squad has a policy that the last names of members are kept secret, to retain whatever anonymity for the faces that will grace posters and television screens.

But it’s also the same feeling of representing the school, leading the fans in attendance to cheer on a late-game comeback or celebrating a winning Bruin team, that serves as the impetus for many of these women to dedicate their time to the team.

“Being on the field at the Rose Bowl and being on the court at Pauley Pavilion, there’s really nothing better,” said Kelly, a first-year world’s arts and cultures/dance student who was auditioning for a second tenure with the dance team.

Before the 19 women finally get a chance to return to their homes and take a well-deserved breather, one of the judges had some final parting words.

Lisa Estrada, known for holding dance team auditions of her own for the Los Angeles Lakers, approaches the unavoidable topic that comes with every selection process – rejection.

Having been an orchestrator of numerous audition processes herself, she tells the dancers to keep auditioning and keep trying out for teams even if they may face a setback after the day’s events. With a final stamp on her words of encouragement, she says, “Please, come back.”

The high school senior who only just set foot on campus, the freshman inspired by her mother’s tenure as a Laker girl and the returner hoping to relive the magic of her previous year as part of the team all leave the final audition as hopeful as when they first started.

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