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It's five minutes before the start of a Caps hockey game and Michelle D. is getting ready to work. She straightens her bedazzled bolero top and zhuhzzes up her long brown hair. Then with shiny silver pompoms in hand, she descends the stairs between sections 115 and 116 and takes a position at Row J.
Michelle is a Washington Capitals Red Rocker, which means it's her job to get the fans amped up for the game. But don't call her a cheerleader. That's not really what she is.
"Some of the comments that are out there are always like, 'Oh my gosh, why does hockey need cheerleaders?' Or you know, 'I'm really surprised we have a cheerleading team,'" she says. "I think what the Washington Capitals team was really envisioning was a family friendly team that's able to talk to the fans and really serve as ambassadors."
It's fitting that the professional hockey team in the nation's capital has "ambassadors" rather than cheerleaders. And Michelle's right on about the Red Rockers being family friendly. You won't catch the women on this team twerking in the center of the rink during intermission or shoveling ice in sparkly booty shorts and bikini tops. Though you will see that in Boston, Chicago and Dallas — just a few of the many hockey teams that employ what they call "ice girls." Just Google it.
But that's not what the Red Rockers are about, says Becca, another Red Rocker.
"A lot of times people don't know what a Red Rocker is. They don't know if we're cheerleaders, if we're dancers, if we're just there for fan interaction," she says. "And we're kind of all of that rolled into one."
Becca had never done dance or cheer team before joining the Red Rockers. Needless to say, when she auditioned to be on the team, it came as a bit of a surprise to those around her.
"I thought, 'You know what? I'm just going to do it.' And I told maybe like two or three people. And my mom was like, 'What are you talking about?'" Becca says. "When I made it everyone was just totally shocked because I've never done cheer or anything like that. Only theatre."
The Red Rockers, who only go by their first names, have a range of cheer and dance experience. But what doesn't change from girl to girl — and that's what they call each other, girls — is the fact that they are all kind of unlikely members of a cheer or pep or dance squad.
Members are distinctly D.C. in terms of their day jobs. One works on nuclear non-proliferation for a bipartisan think tank. One is a staff assistant for a Congressman. Another is a Congressional scheduler. Becca is a high school Spanish teacher. And Michelle is a budget policy analyst for the D.C. government.
Michelle did her undergrad in political science. After that, she went to the London School of Economics for a master's degree in international development. Then she got another master's degree in public policy in Canada.
"It's very atypical of what you might think of what a cheerleader would be. Not that everyone has a misconception but I certainly thought so as well," she says.
Becca says her life outside of the team is a boon when it comes to her Red Rockers gig.
"We can talk to people about a variety of things. Sometimes people come up and you start a conversation, 'Oh, where do you work? What do you do?' And you find out maybe you're a teacher also or oh, you also work for the government. You can have that conversation," Becca says. "Being able to talk to people is probably the number one requirement."
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