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The Sisterhood of Burgundy and Gold

The evolution of Washington Redskins cheerleaders, from Redskinettes to Generation Next.

As couples slow-danced across the floor at her reception, newly-wed Jennifer Goode knew only one thing could make her wedding night more special. She gave the DJ a request, and then the bride pulled her girlfriends and her matron of honor onto the dance floor to share the moment. The DJ pressed “play” and the familiar words, charged with emotion for so many of the wedding guests, poured from the speakers.

“Hail to the Redskins! Hail Victory! Braves on the warpath, fight for old D.C.!”

On the dance-floor, Goode and some of her best friends performed their most familiar routine to the Redskins fight song. “I danced it in my wedding dress,” she recalled. “You can’t really get your kick up in that big thing.”

In 2003, Goode, who lives in Old Town, auditioned to be a Redskins Cheerleader because she was new to the region, dating long-distance and working for a small company. “I just really wanted to meet some new people and kept seeing the ad at my gym for try-outs. I’d danced when I was young. And it worked out.”

She met her best friend on the team, and served as her maid of honor before reversing roles at her own wedding. Goode met her husband at a cheerleader promotion in Dewey Beach. She was walking out of the ocean when she saw her coach “talking to this amazingly handsome man, and we started talking and we didn’t stop all afternoon.”

Like Goode, Terry Lamb (1979 to 1983) she said she formed some of the most important relationships in her life as a Redskinette (in 1987 they changed their name to Redskins Cheerleaders to increase their international recognition).

“We call it the sisterhood of burgundy and gold. We all have a common bond,” Lamb said. “It’s a big sorority.” Seeking to formalize the bond, Lamb formed the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders Alumni Association in 1984, after getting permission from team owner Jack Kent Cooke. The association and its collection of memorabilia — including the only existing original uniform, an all-leather mini-dress made for the 1962 cheerleaders by the sister of boxer Sugar Ray Leonard — is based out of her house in Kingstowne. “We’ve been going strong,” Lamb said. “We were the first Redskin alumni association in the NFL”

ON A RAINY DAY LAST WEEK, retired Alexandria-area cheerleaders from three decades: Goode, Lamb and Deb Antonini-Cefaratti, who cheered from 1976 to 1978, met in the alumni association headquarters (Lamb’s living room) to reminisce about life in the burgundy and gold and to meet one of the youngest members of the sisterhood. Dazelina Williams, seven-years old and in second grade at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary, has been cheering this season for the Redskins Junior team.

“She’s the new generation,” said Lamb.

Devina Williams said the experience has been good for her daughter. She’s made friends with other girls on the team, and has adjusted to the rigorous, two-hour practices on Saturday mornings. “She just has become really more confident about herself and is just opening out a lot more.”

Like every Redskins cheerleader, Dazelina has a background in dance. Goode explained that “cheerleader” is actually misnomer for what most pro-football teams’ cheerleaders do: dance routines with complex choreography that seems to grow more challenging each year.

But Antonini-Cefaratti said that when she tried out in 1976 at a friend’s urging, she’d hoped to use more of the skills she’d developed as a majorette, “twirling fire or whatever.” But she never had the opportunity. The Redskins cheerleaders had been founded as the Redskinette twirlers, but by the 1970’s they had become dancers.

According to Lamb, the next evolution was dramatic in the 1980s. “We had the Michael Jackson era. Some of the dance routines were a little more advanced.”

In the new millennium, change has come even faster. The cheerleaders have gone corporate, with their own choreographer, a dance studio in Fed Ex field and paychecks from the Redskins organization. “It's much more of a business than it was before,” said Antonini-Cefaratti.

After the 2002 season, costumes got smaller (a trend that has continued), routines became more complex and practices more frequent. Non-dancing “ambassadors” — who are ineligible for the alumni association — began making the rounds in corporate luxury boxes. The annual calendar took on even greater importance, and cheerleaders have been expected to participate in a press of international promotions.

BUT CORPORATE INFLUENCE can’t change that relationships that spring from the cheerleader experience. Goode said that many cheerleaders have met their husbands like she did, during promotional events. Antonini-Cefaratti fondly recalled two encounters with dramatically different outcomes. “I was actually tackled by Joe Theisman on the sideline,” she said. “Of course it hurt quite a bit, but when I got up, I thought, ‘It’s okay.’”

The star quarterback had been forced out-of-bonds while carrying the ball.

“And there I was,” Antonini-Cefaratti said, “in the way.”

But all she took from the encounter were some bruises. Things worked out better with a fan in the stands she met only decades later. Her cheerleading career put Antonini-Cefaratti in front of her future husband every week. His family has had season tickets on the 40-yard line for 50 years. “When I was cheering he was actually watching me in the stands. But he was only 11 years old.”

It may have been a good thing they met for the first time long after Antonini-Cefaratti hung up her uniform. “They were not very attractive,” she said of the 1970’s era uniforms. “They were pretty deadly.” “I can’t believe I’m even holding this thing,” said Antonini-Cefaratti after Lamb brought down the bright red dress. “I never liked it.”

Lamb recalled sitting in an airplane to Taiwan surrounded by her teammates madly sewing beads onto their uniforms to have them ready for their first foreign exhibition. She was lucky enough to be seated next to a helpful Taiwanese tailor.

Dazelina was wearing her outfit with a traditional pleated skirt. She said she liked it. “When she puts it on she’ll go to the mirror with her pom-poms,” her mother said.

When Lamb produced the 2002 uniform from storage, Goode looked with bemusement at the tiny piece of white fabric in her lap. “I like it a lot,” she said. "As soon as you get in it you feel kind of special and glamorous.

“My second year the shorts got smaller. They barely cover your behind. Every year they seem to get smaller.”

Lamb said that the night before Super Bowl XVIII, the director decided they would make a statement. “We thought we’d get a little daring.”

Each cheerleader put on her top, and the director came around with a pair of scissors. She snipped off the fringes to reveal the women’s stomachs.

SPEAKING OF THE SUPER BOWL, Lamb recalled the flight from D.C. to L.A. in a jet chartered by Cooke and decorated with Redskins seat covers. The pilot played the fight song over the intercom and the cheerleaders partied across the continent with D.C. VIP’s like former Mayor Marion Berry.

But the cheerleaders’ excitement peaked as they stood in the tunnel of the Rose Bowl. “The adrenaline that is running through your veins right before you go on the field is so hard to describe. You’re so pumped up. We just couldn’t stay still,” Lamb said.

Even cheerleaders who have never reached the Super Bowl get to taste that feeling each gameday. Dazelina has been in two games already, and will perform again on Dec. 3 in a game against the Atlanta Falcons. She admitted to being “a little bit” nervous before performing for 90,000 people, but ultimately, it was fun.

“There’s nothing like hearing all those people screaming and being excited to see you,” said Goode. “I think some people are as excited to see the cheerleaders as to see the players.”