- Nashua native Brittney-Lynne Stanley during the New England Patriots' season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 12, her first game as a team cheerleader. Photo by Keith Nordstrom, courtesy of the Patriots.
- Nashua native and rookie New England Patriots cheerleader Brittney-Lynne Stanley. Photo by Jim Stouffer, courtesy of the Patriots.
Nashua teen dances way onto Patriots cheerleading team
A stadium packed with about 69,000 football fans didn’t make Brittney-Lynne Stanley nervous.
And the potentially unnerving fact that millions of people would watch the New England Patriots’ season opener on television also didn’t intimidate her.
What felt unusual was sharing a stage with fast-moving, over-sized professional athletes.
“I’m used to performing,” Stanley said. “Performing in front of all those people didn’t bother me. What was different was there were players on the field next to you. There was chaos all around. In a dance recital, it’s just an audience and it’s quiet.”
So the 19-year-old Nashua native had to focus on staying synchronized with her fellow Patriots cheerleaders, all the while wondering, “Am I going to get hit by a football?”
Stanley nonetheless danced and cheered without a hitch as the home-team Patriots started their season with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Sept. 12 game marked her first as a cheerleader. She has since performed at the team’s second home game of the season, a win over the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 27.
She is the squad’s youngest member and the only one from New Hampshire.
“The camera crews are right next to you,” Stanley said. “You can hear the crashing of helmets on the field. It’s an amazing experience.”
It’s an experience Stanley had never considered until her mother suggested it earlier this year.
“My mom looked it up online,” Stanley said. “She said, ‘You know, that would be a great opportunity to put yourself out there.’ But I thought, ‘A cheerleader? I never did that before. That’s not me.’ ”
Stanley has danced most of her life. In fact, her life has consisted mostly of dance.
She performed last year in “Swing” with the Teen Actorsingers, and had previously choreographed “Once Upon a Mattress” with the Peacock Players.
But despite never having time or a curiosity for cheerleading at Nashua High School North, Stanley decided to give the Patriots a shot.
In February, she attended a workshop to get a sense of a cheerleader’s duties, and immediately recognized that it appealed to the dancer inside her.
“I just had a feel for what a Patriots cheerleader did,” she said. “It’s the moment I fell in love. It wasn’t cheering. It was dancing. I thought, ‘This is me.’ ”
So, Stanley embarked on a journey not too dissimilar from an undrafted athlete who never plays football in high school or college but who still tries to make an NFL roster.
She attended auditions in March, watching as about 400 women were cut on the first day. She made it to the last day, and had to pass muster in two practices.
Then, at the final audition, Stanley tried on a swimsuit and interviewed with the cheerleading coach.
But that wasn’t the final step. Stanley, as with other potential rookies, then spent two weeks with cheerleaders from the past season’s squad who were also trying out again. The test was to see how rookies interacted with veterans.
Cheerleading squad director Tracy Sormanti was impressed with the newcomer.
“Though the Patriots cheerleaders perform cheers and chants throughout the game, the majority of their repertoire is choreographed dance routines,” Sormanti said.
“As Brittney-Lynne has an extensive dance background, she did very well in the audition process. Some women who audition for the squad make it on their first attempt, but for others, the entire process is a learning experience and it may require more than one try.
“Brittney-Lynne did very well on her first audition, impressing the judges with her dance ability, showmanship, confidence, level of physical fitness and interview skills.”
Stanley learned she had made the squad in an e-mail.
“I was shocked,” she said.
She was almost as shocked when attending a promotional event before the season started.
There, a fan asked if she could autograph her picture in the Patriots cheerleaders 2011 calendar, the photos for which were shot in the Dominican Republic.
“That was so cool and humbling,” Stanley said. “How many girls can say, ‘This is me.’ It was the biggest reality hit that I was a cheerleader.”
Stanley has danced many styles, including ballet, ballroom, swing and musical theater. She particularly likes to dance in 3-inch heels. The Patriots gig allows her to dance in 3-inch heeled boots.
“It’s a lot of training and a lot of work,” she said.
The squad practices twice a week, and in the mornings before home games. Her game-day routine consists of three components.
First, there are the expected cheers, which are recycled each season so that fans can participate, Stanley said. These come during defensive stands or when the Patriots near the red zone.
Stanley and the her fellow cheerleaders also follow a planned routine: two dances every quarter.
The third component keeps them on their toes. It’s a filler routine in which a random song is played during a break in play.
A cheerleader moves forward and dances. The other cheerleaders then join.
“You don’t know what’s coming up,” Stanley said.
Stanley will balance games, practices and promotional events with college. She’s studying arts and entertainment management, with a concentration in dance, at Dean College in Franklin, Mass.
But it’s unlikely that a walk to class will surpass the excitement of walking onto the field at Gillette Stadium.
“You walk out for the first time, and all those fans are screaming,” Stanley said. “It’s the coolest feeling in the world. It took my breath away.”
Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or firstname.lastname@example.org.