Cheerleading: What It’s Like to Perform in Super Bowl 50

The feeling of utter bliss set in when I was applying false lashes. When I am really excited for something, I go into hamster mode; that day, I wanted to jump around and run in place and just scrunch myself into a ball and squeal with anticipation. I set my alarms for 6:45, 6:50, 6:55 and 7:00 a.m, to make sure I could wake up with enough time to get ready before leaving for the bus at 9:00. After months of anticipation, and weeks of practice, the emotions that I felt that day couldn’t be compartmentalized by words. I was just ready.

Twelve of the LAHS cheerleaders, all 16 years old and above, were scouted by someone from Touchdown Inc., to perform in Super Bowl 50’s halftime show this year. Unbeknownst to us, we, among a few other high schools and many other dance troupes, had been chosen to submit an audition tape of a choreographed dance, and thus ignited our mini spotlight.

In my car, I cranked Beyonce’s “I Am Sasha Fierce” album loud enough to put on my own concert. As I was belting the lyrics to “Single Ladies,” I recalled our first day of practice at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds, eager and hot in layers of unmarked, dark clothing with snacks stuffed in every pocket. The cheer squad, clad in our fresh-out-of-the-box black on black tennis shoes, which we all bought the night before, said our goodbye’s to bus-driver Rudy, and his yellow “limousine”. I remembered the weeks of practicing tricks with the custom flower umbrellas and getting pinched and cutting fingers while doing so. At the empty warehouse, we spent long nights preparing and revising the choreography with hundreds of other dance troupes in our cast.

It was during our mini showcase of choreography on the first day that we realized we were one of the few high school cheer teams (without dance experience) there. All the things that went wrong only seemed to bring us closer together. Lost in Cold Play’s “Adventure of a Lifetime,” there was, quite literally, no sense of time or obligation because of the lack of windows, clocks and most importantly, cell phones. Jokes aside, this was the greatest experience of my life, and solidified my passion of dancing and performing. I felt so harmonious with not only the squad, but the other dancers, looking up to the groups who were clearly more experienced than us, like Yoko’s Dance and Performing Arts Academy.

On the Sunday of the Super Bowl, we left LAHS with anticipation and a few dozen selfies. Receiving our last placement sticker, last wristband and last water bottles, we waited in the transformed warehouse, now filled with the 1,000 plus people involved in the halftime show. The freeway between the Santa Clara fairgrounds and Levi’s Stadium was shut down to let the 37 busses filled with the halftime crew through, clear of traffic. In the days prior, we were constantly surrounded by police officers and flanked by military escorts.

When Superbowl day arrived, above us were not only the Blue Angels, but security helicopters watching our every move. Although we waited for hours in the fairgrounds in our costumes, then outside Levi’s while the game was going on, we still felt very much apart of the whole ordeal. We shared in every cheer and jeer we heard echoing out of the stadium, as we sat with our life-size red, white and blue posters for forming the Pepsi logo card mosaic stunt, and a fleet of Port-a-Potties.

The last ten minutes of the second quarter finally arrived. Gathered up and waiting to run for our lives, we ran from the super-sized 49ers helmet in front of the stadium through the south entrance locker rooms on to the field. We were met with applause and flashing cameras, and a noise so deafening you couldn’t even hear the stage directions coming from the headphone radios we were supplied with. The show was stunning and went off without a hitch, aside from the fact that I twirled my umbrella counterclockwise in the finale, but that was so my family could point me out at home.

Seeing Beyonce in a robe, Bruno Mars smoke a cigarette, and Chris Martin be the most gracious person ever, I can most definitely say that we have a uniquely close bond with some of America’s most famous pop icons. This journey has caused me to not only realize how lucky I am to be 16 and on a cheer team at the same time that Super Bowl 50 was held in the Bay Area’s own Levi’s Stadium, but it has also solidified my life’s goal of being one of Beyonce’s backup dancers.

After the show, I was too excited to even run. Leaping and jumping the whole time, I think I must have tripped at least a few people. Through all the running to get back on the busses, we encountered backup dancers, who I got to high five, camera crews and news reporters. So, if you were wondering, we were paid in the form of experience, exposure, and serendipitous opportunity. Plus, the free swag is priceless.