Showcase for cheerleaders

JULIE HORBAL -- For the Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

From her six seasons as a Winnipeg Blue Bombers Blue Lightning dancer, Dena Clark recalls one particular instance as her favourite Canadian Football League memory.

Shockingly, it has nothing to do with a football game.

Clark, who is in her third year as Blue Lightning coach, cites a picture taken at an undetermined Grey Cup Festival as the ultimate embodiment of her experience in the CFL.

And the photo all boils down to one thing -- the undying spirit of Canadian football evident most at the league's ultimate event.

"I have this picture from one of our cheer events of three women -- one of whom was in her 90's at the time -- dressed head to toe in Hamilton Tiger-Cats colours," says Clark, who has participated in 37 Grey Cup-related cheer demonstrations in the last six years.

"It was three generations of complete fanaticism and that's what Grey Cup week is all about. To be part of something so special and so unique is probably the most rewarding part of what we as entertainers get to do."

As the coach of the 2006 Grey Cup host cheer squad, Clark is nailing down the final details of this year's Cheer Extravaganza -- the pinnacle event for CFL dance teams who will all convene for one giant performance (and more) in Winnipeg between Nov. 16-19.

The Cheer Extravaganza tradition was started at the Edmonton Cup in 1997, when Eskies cheer coach Diane Greneau invited every dance team in the league to perform during Grey Cup Festival.

The squads did not compete, but rather showcased their talents and -- save for Winnipeg's slightly last-minute Cup in '98 -- have continued to do so since. The showcase has taken every shape and form from a child-like dance recital environment to a full-blown cheer social.

Though details for this year's event have not yet been confirmed, Clark predicts a two-part affair -- one night for the 18+ crowd, which will likely be at a casino, and one outdoor day for family fun -- combined with the multiple hospitality room performances each dance team will take part in over the week.

According to Clark, when the dance teams travel to each city's hospitality events, the cheerleaders are often front and centre and the face of their respective clubs -- which garners them a hugely magnified fan following, if only for that week.

"For the teams that don't make the big game, they most often stay as far away as possible because coming is like pouring salt on a wound. The teams that do make it are usually under lock and key, so us and the mascot are as close as the fans get," Clark says.

Twenty-one of the 32 Blue Lightning dancers will perform in at least their second Grey Cup Festival this year and will "reap the benefits" of a year's worth of hard volunteer work.

"We found that if you ask most girls their favourite thing about being a CFL cheerleader, they will unanimously say Grey Cup," Clark says. "The opportunity to go to another city, where it's complete Grey Cup fever is just amazing. For the entire week, the air is filled with fairy dust. It's just a magical, surreal week of meeting people and experiencing something fantastic."


Videos

Photos