Cheerleading isn't just a sport or a hobby for Michelle Brandon: it’s a lifestyle.
She began cheering competitively when she was 8-years-old, and now, more than 10 years later, Brandon has not stopped.
The 2006 Robinson graduate from Burke found out on Sunday, April 15 that she is now a Washington Redskins cheerleader, or Redskinette. Brandon, who turns 19 next month, was cheering her high school football team one year ago, and now she has made it into the National Football League.
"I’m looking forward to being on FedEx Field," she said.
While her new stage is certainly larger than what she’s used to, she is ecstatic to continue performing in front of a crowd. High school cheerleading is more about stunts and jumping, though, while NFL cheerleaders do a lot of dancing. Brandon is excited about the change. She loves to smile, and said she gets her energy from the crowd, whether she’s dancing or doing stunts.
"People go to a football game to be entertained. If they’re not entertained by the game, then it’s our job to entertain them," said Brandon.
Brandon’s father took her to a Washington Redskins game when she was 8-years-old, she said. Ever since that game, Brandon has been a die-hard Redskins fan.
"I had red marks around my eyes because the binoculars were glued to my face [while watching the Redskins cheerleaders]," said Brandon.
It is the only team that she follows in the NFL, and she can hardly believe she will be a part of it come football season. Her mother, Marina Brandon, said her daughter isn’t scared or nervous; she is excited about everything that comes with being an NFL cheerleader.
"I love being a role model to anyone younger," said Michelle Brandon. "That feels so good to me."
THE REDSKINS TESTED a new audition method this year. The judges wanted to see audience interaction and a cheerleader’s ability to perform in front of a crowd, so they held final auditions at the Arlington Draft House and ran it like a beauty pageant, said Michelle Brandon.
"It was intense, just like it’s supposed to be for any professional try-out," she said.
The women performed and modeled bathing suits, and the judges ultimately cut the 50 finalists down to the squad of 40, plus two alternates.
"I was clenched to my chair," said Marina Brandon.
"I think [my mom] was more nervous than I was," said Michelle Brandon.
While the audition was competitive, Marina Brandon said she had a feeling her daughter would make it. She’s confident and poised, Marina Brandon said, "more than anyone I know at her age."
Michelle is not just a cheerleader, though; she is also a full-time student at George Mason University. Last fall, she was a GMU cheerleader, but she gave it up for the chance to cheer in the NFL. She plans to continue coaching the Robinson cheerleaders, but she gave up her junior varsity coach role and traded it for the freshman coaching position because of her Redskins scheduling conflicts.
"I like being busy," she said.
Michelle Brandon will practice with her new team twice a week, for three hours each practice. NFL cheerleaders are also required to appear at several charity events, and if the Redskins make it into the post-season, she’ll cheer at away games too.
"I’m basically on-call," she said.